Fenwick Sidewalk Estimate Gives Officials Sticker Shock

FENWICK ISLAND – Town officials will continue to seek funding opportunities for a sidewalk construction project after receiving a high cost estimate.

In a meeting of the Fenwick Island Pedestrian Safety Committee last Thursday, members received a cost estimate from Century Engineering for the first phase of a sidewalk construction project.

“They’ve been working with us, and they’ve already surveyed the six blocks that we’ve looked at,” Councilwoman Vicki Carmean, committee chair, said. “We got a cost estimate, and we were thinking like $50,000 per block. I hate to even put the number out, but it’s closer to $700,000 for the six blocks.”

Last year, Fenwick Island received $250,000 from the state bond bill to begin the first phase of its sidewalk construction project, which included the six bayside blocks south of James Street.

Instead of pursuing a state-led sidewalk project – which had a cost estimate of roughly $10 million – town officials decided to handle the first phase of the project themselves and worked alongside state legislators to secure the bond bill funding.

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With roughly $100,000 of that money, the town hired Century Engineering. Now, officials say the town would have to seek additional funding sources to complete the first phase.

“I don’t like what it costs, but I don’t know what other choice we have,” Councilman Richard Mais said.

Officials have already reached out to Representative Ron Gray and Senator Gerald Hocker for assistance in seeking grant money.

“This is a state highway that runs through the town, and all the other beach towns that have a state highway running through their town have acquired state monies to handle the sidewalks,” Carmean said. “I don’t mind committing to maintaining the sidewalks once we get them, but I really don’t like the idea of borrowing money and having the taxpayers here in town fund the sidewalks.”

Carmean noted the town was ready to move forward with the first phase, but funding challenges have since hampered its progress.

Councilman Bill Weistling also noted that the town had moved down the Delaware Department of Transportation’s priority list for capital projects to be completed in the next five years.

“Last year, Fenwick Island was 13th on the list. Now this year’s we’re 26th …,” he said. “If you look at the 113 projects in the five years, out of all those projects there’s only one sidewalk project throughout the state of Delaware on that list, and that’s us.”

Carmean said the only option for the town is to move forward with the project and spend the funds that have been committed to Fenwick Island in the state bond bill. In the coming weeks, for example, officials will meet with eight commercial property owners to talk about how the first phase would impact their properties.

“If we got it, we’ll spend it until we run out of money,” she said. “But my feeling is I don’t want to ask the taxpayers to take out a loan for something that the state should be funding.”

Carmean said the town would continue to explore grant programs for the construction project.

“We’re shovel ready, we’re ready to go, we just need the funds …” she said. “There’s no way we’re going to start this fall.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.