Plans for a dock in Rehoboth Beach for a water taxi serving Lewes, Rehoboth and Dewey Beach have yet to win an endorsement from city officials. The primary issues include parking, public use and funding.
Mark Carter, member of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal Improvement Association said to pay for the proposed $850,000 dock, the association is looking at several public funding sources, including state grants from Delaware Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Delaware Economic Development Office. He said funds would also come through private donations from citizens and businesses.
To pursue state grants, Carter said the city would have to endorse the plan. He said a letter of endorsement is necessary to get into the 2014 grant cycle.
Lewis Councilman Ted Becker said while the upfront costs of the dock are substantial, annual maintenance is expected to be $1,000 to $1,500 per year. It is undecided who would pay maintanence costs, but Becker said the city would have an administrative role.
The dock would be built on the banks of the canal, next to the canal bridge at the Rehoboth Beach Museum. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the banks, and the corps has required that any dock built there must serve a public purpose beyond a single water taxi.
Based on the presentation, Mayor Sam Cooper said if the city were to apply for grants, constructing the dock would become a city project. "We take on risk there," he said. "There’s a difference between endorsement and the city applying for it. The city can’t apply on behalf of someone else.”
At the commissioners’ Dec. 9 meeting, Commissioner Bill Sargent, as he has all along, said he was wary of spending city funds to build the dock. Commissioner Stan Mills said endorsing the design of the dock implies that the city endorses the project as a whole, without considering issues such as parking and maintenance and management of the dock.
Carter said the city has to be on board with the project before it can go any further. “This is a moving target,” Becker said. He said the association was willing to give the city updates on its progress monthly or quarterly.
The association presented a parking study of the area surrounding the museum, showing 105 total spaces in the area, including 32 spaces in the Grove Park parking lot, 23 spaces on Henlopen Avenue and 50 spaces on Canal Street.
Association board member Scott Thomas of Southern Delaware Tourism said the city has enough parking spaces to accommodate water taxi users. Thomas said the association would instruct customers where to park, and parking information would also be included on marketing materials and multiple websites.
“This adds to that location as a welcome point,” Thomas said of the dock, which would sit at the entrance to Rehoboth.
Cooper said, “The plans we saw originally included a kayak launch, which I think could be a huge parking generator if it’s used."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will lease the site to the association only if it is available for public uses. The lease says its intent is to prevent the property from being used as a type of private exclusive club.
In addition to allowing access for kayaks and canoes, the association’s engineer, Matt Spong, said another way of facilitating public use is to provide one or two slips for boats to temporarily dock. Carter clarified that the dock would not be a marina, and that the dock could be used for people to launch kayaks from.
"It’s still all up in the air at this point,” Cooper said.
The Cape Water Shuttle, which currently runs from Fisherman’s Wharf in Lewes to Dewey Beach, would most likely operate the water taxi service.
Capt. David Greene said one boat can board a maximum of 70 passengers, and the shuttle would be operated seven days a week for 156 days, or about five months, per year. Greene said the taxi currently averages about 43 passengers per day during the summer season, with ridership increasing in each of the service’s two years.
The city previously gave a letter of recommendation in August for the association to move forward with $150,000 in design work.