Archive for July, 2009

Weeds and wildflowers on neglected trail

July 31, 2009
Weeds overtake the trail.

Weeds overtake the trail.

What if they built a trail and forgot to take care of it?

That is exactly what has happened along the first mile of the Junction and Breakwater Trail in Lewes.

Miscommunication between two state agencies, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Division of Parks and Recreation and Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), has resulted in a mess along Gill’s Neck Road.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why no one has complained about the condition of the trail. I sure did.

Telephone calls to the two agencies set off a chain-reaction of other calls. At first, it didn’t appear the left hand knew what the right hand was doing.

When DNREC stopped maintaining the 1-mile section, it assumed DelDOT would pick it up. It didn’t happen. The last time the grass was cut was sometime around Memorial Day.

Since then, weeds and wildflowers have overtaken the trail. Only two tracks, cut by walkers and bicyclists who frequent the link between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, remain between the underbrush.

At some point during the week, someone did cut grass along part of the trail.

Officials at the two agencies say the lines of communication are now open and the maintenance plan that was supposed to be in place will soon be a reality. No one is sure just when the trail will be restored.
Division of Parks and Recreation staff maintains the other four miles or so of the trail. DelDOT staff will be responsible for the section along Gill’s Neck Road.

The Junction and Breakwater Trail is a gem, and one of the few downstate trails provided for biking, running and walking.

Let’s hope the acronym agencies can get their acts together and take care of the trail in the manner it deserves.

Two tracks on the trail.

Two tracks on the trail.

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Night is right when it comes to meetings

July 29, 2009

As a reporter of facts, I’m supposed to be neutral when it comes to issues going on around The Circle. It’s hard sometimes.

One of the issues that disturbs me is the current county council meeting schedule. In a word, it stinks.

With the Republicans taking control, and because Councilman George Cole pushed for it, the council meeting time was changed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Public hearings for subdivisions and zoning changes are scheduled in the second half of meetings at 6 p.m. There is supposed to be time allotted for a dinner break between the afternoon and evening sessions.

In the past, on a normal month, the council held three day meetings starting at 10 a.m. and one night meeting with public hearings.

The rationale for the change was to keep from extending the night meeting into late-night hours and to keep county staff overtime hours to a minimum.

It was also changed to allow more access to meetings. Having a meeting at 10 a.m. leaves the working public in the dark. The theory was that starting at 3 p.m. would allow people to take off work for one or two hours instead of a half a day or so.

So far, not many 6 p.m. public hearings have started on time. Every council meeting this year has ended with an executive session that runs into the aforementioned dinner break.

Yet, council members do take time to eat, as the public sits and waits for hearings to begin.

Council members seem to be under the mistaken impression that it doesn’t matter what time meetings begin. They feel if there is an important issue on the agenda, people will show up.

Their perspective comes from people who are either retired or work on their own schedule as owners of their own businesses.

The rationale is flawed. The meetings are still held during the day and exclude working people from attending, and the night sessions still require the same planning and zoning staff and recording secretary be present for public hearings.

Many times not enough time is allotted to conduct regular business before the public hearing sessions begin.

I am willing to bet that there are some upcoming public hearings that will keep people out very late beyond their bed times, so the idea of keeping residents off the roads late at night is also blown out of the water.

I have never understood why the council held its meetings during the day except that it was for the convenience of busy council members who didn’t want to be out additional nights.

Most public bodies hold meetings at times amenable to the public. That’s why most town councils and school boards have meetings at night. And some town councils in resort towns plan their meetings at odd times like Saturday mornings so weekend residents can attend.

Do they know something the Sussex County Council does not know?

Meetings should be at night when most members of the public are able to attend. Perhaps a more viable schedule would be to start regular meetings at 6 p.m. and when public hearings are scheduled, they could back up the schedule to 5 p.m.

I’ll give the council a “C” for trying, but the new schedule is not much better than the old one.

I would also hate to be out four nights every month covering the meetings, but it’s not about me, and it’s certainly not about the five members of the council. It’s all about the residents of Sussex County.

Photo of the week

July 27, 2009

 

Hanging out at the Arches.

Hanging out at the Arches.

Scary: My annual Route 1 ride

July 16, 2009

If I were king of the world, I would do away with the bike lane on Route 1.

In its place I would construct an actual bike lane – not one with gravel as its base – away from traffic so bicyclists and pedestrians could safely get from one point to another in the Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach areas.

As an avid cyclist, I do everything in my power to stay off Route 1 as much as possible. It’s not safe – bottom line.

Although the lane is well marked, nice and smooth and wide, it is also a bus lane and a turning lane.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Junction-Breakwater Trail. It is a viable route from Lewes to Rehoboth Beach for those who are riding fat-tire bikes, not those riding road bikes.

The trail is heavily used and has probably saved lives by taking people off Route 1.

Yet, any given hour on any given day you can find bicyclists riding along the highway. Most ride without helmets.

Thank God for Sussex Cyclists and DelDOT for providing summer safety checkpoints to alert those riders to the rules of the road. Once again, their efforts have saved lives.

Each year I take a ride from Lewes to Rehoboth Beach along Route 1 to access the situation. My annual ride this summer was Wednesday, July 15, between 6:30 and 8 p.m.

Although I consider myself an experienced rider with tens of thousands of miles under my belt, it was a scary experience. I’m also not a timid rider and am not the least afraid of riding in traffic.

On at least four occasions, motorists turned off right in front of me instead of waiting for me to cross the turnoff.

To be perfectly honest I don’t know how some of the bicyclists I see riding along Route 1, without helmets and wearing IPods, get from Point A to Point B in one piece.

Even DelDOT officials warn people to stay off Route 1 as much as possible.

So what is my assessment for 2009?

Route 1 is still not a safe place for anything without a motor, and the jury is even out on just how safe it is for motor traffic.

Does what the people say matter?

July 16, 2009

Public hearings are an important part of the democratic process. During my adult life I have attended thousands of public hearings and seen a little of everything, including a reporter being physically removed from the premises for asking a question.

I’ve often wondered just how influential public hearings are.

For a period of 15 years, I was sitting on the other side of the table as a Seaford councilman and had to listen to testimony by members of the public.

Believe me, when a room is filled with people who are for or against (usually against) a particular issue or project it tends to get your attention, and it doesn’t matter what your opinion is.

As an observer and reporter of public hearings over the years I’ve noticed there is no rhyme or reason how elected officials will react to public input.

The recent Pelican Landing rezoning decision by Sussex County planning and zoning commissioners and county council is a perfect example. If you went by public opinion, there was not doubt the rezoning request would have been turned down. There were letters, petitions and plenty of residents who spoke out against the rezoning and proposed 75,000-square-foot shopping center along Route 24 near Love Creek bridge.

Yet, it was approved.

Lewes residents turned out to oppose a housing and commercial project along Gills Neck Road and Kings Highway. The public hearings were among the longest in county history because of the amount of testimony. County officials were inundated with letters, emails and phone calls from people opposing the projects.

The Governors housing project was approved, and the developer withdrew the rezoning request for The Village Centre, to reevaluate the scope of the project. It will resurface again this fall.

There are times when public input has played a pivotal role, or at least it appeared to play a role, in county officials’ decisions. One of the best examples involved a proposed project near Bridgeville.  Dozens of Bridgeville-area residents, with legal representation, turned out to oppose a Christian-based school for troubled teens in a rural area west of the town. County officials did not approve the project.

Just how much influence does public opinion play in land-use decisions? Although public officials mention it from time to time, I’ve come to believe that it doesn’t count for much.

Although public officials would deny it, most tend to be swayed more by what lawyers, engineers and developers have to say than what “the little people” have to say.

Members of the public get frustrated when they turn out to protest against a land-use application and it still gets approved. They tend to give up and not fight the system.

Several residents who live in the Trap Pond State Park area west of Laurel have told me on several occasions they are about to give up or have given up. Over the past two years, nearly 10 subdivisions have been approved in the rural, farming area.

Of course, on the other side of the coin, county officials are faced with the legal issue of following zoning and code regulations. Under current zoning, subdivisions are permitted in AR-1 zone districts, which cover most of the county.

If they deny a project without darn good reason, it will end up in court.

No vacation with this Florida crew

July 15, 2009

imagesEach summer as a young boy growing up in western Sussex County I joined my friends working in the watermelon fields. Helping to unload melons and cantaloupes at the Laurel Farmers’ Auction Market – the Block – or actually picking and packing in the fields were, back in the 1960s and 1970s, about the only jobs available to those of us who didn’t drive.

But it was hard, dirty, crazy work. On more than one occasion we ended up with Florida crews – professional watermelon pickers who followed the crop north in ramshackle trucks.

The crews were a cutthroat group that lived from day to day with little regard for the future. They were like land pirates.

How we survived with that lot is still a mystery to me.

I’ve witnessed knife fights, seen things a boy of 14 should never see and heard stories that would keep most people up at night.

I saw one guy spend his entire Friday paycheck at a quick market. I got into an argument with another who claimed there were 52 states. I saw one man nearly drown when he got tangled up in snakes in an old dirt pit pond.

Some lived in migrant camps outside of Laurel; others shared rooms in run-down motels. I’m convinced some slept under their trucks.

The crew lived in a world and culture of its own. There was a hierarchy as well. Only certain members of the crew were permitted to cut the ripe melons; others were designated as stackers in the trucks; others were pickers. I never saw members of the crew change jobs, but I presume they did.

Those of us who were added to the crew were always pickers who grabbed the cut melons and passed them down the line to the stackers.

There is one thing the crews did well – pick watermelons. Once you got in the line, melons literally flew by you to the truck where they were loaded for shipment.

Once work started, usually at dawn, it didn’t stop until noon. And then after a lunch break, it didn’t stop again until sunset. And if the truck wasn’t full, they broke out lights and kept on working.

If you weren’t a man when you started on Monday, you were by the end of the workday on Friday – if you could survive the week.

As strange as it sounds, if you worked hard, eventually you were accepted among those who worked on the Florida crews. Although they lived by their own set of rules, they appreciated those who contributed to the overall goal of the day – picking the field clean.

Photos of the week: July 20

July 15, 2009

DSC_2594

Big fire in little Nassau.

Big fire in little Nassau.

Armstrong’s legacy will Livestrong

July 8, 2009
It's not always about the bike.

It's not always about the bike.

I’m going way off The Circle with this one, but I have to comment on subjects near and dear to me – the Tour de France and Lance Armstrong.

Most people could care less about 150 guys cycling 21 stages totaling more than 2,200 miles in and around France during the first three weeks in July. But to those of us who appreciate the sport of cycling, this time of year is the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup and World Cup wrapped up into one package.

You have to ride to understand.

I actually attended the final stage in Paris, way back in 1988, and have always longed to return. The spectacle of the event can only be appreciated in person.

Thank God for television coverage on the Versus Network. It’s the only time I ever watch the station that is known for bull riding, bare-knuckle fighting and reality shows.

I find myself glued each night to the replay of the day’s stage – especially with the return of Lance Armstrong.

Although the Tour is special, it was always a spectacle when Lance Armstrong was in the yellow jersey. He retired in 2005, after winning an unprecedented seven consecutive Tours starting in 1999. He stands alone above European icons Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx, the man who many say is the best to ever ride a bicycle.

Armstrong stepped out of retirement earlier this year to compete once again, but to also help raise awareness of his life’s mission – cancer research. He says racing in the Tour de France helps him raise awareness. Most are not aware, but he is riding for the Astana team, sponsored by state-owned companies in Kazakhstan, for nothing – as a volunteer.

Armstrong’s incredible story is well known. At the age of 25, he survived testicular cancer, a tumor that metastasized to his brain, stomach and lungs, in 1996. His cancer treatments included brain and testicular surgery and extensive chemotherapy, and his prognosis was poor, given less than a 50 percent chance to survive.

Not only did he survive, but he made a commitment to raise funds for cancer research through Livestrong – The Lance Armstrong Foundation. Millions have been raised (see http://www.livestrong.org).

I participated in the first of Armstrong’s Tour of Hope cycling events and was fortunate enough to ride with the man himself for a few miles. His pace, about 20 mph, was a leisurely ride for him. It was all I could do to keep up for about 10 miles of the 50-mile ride in and around Washington, D.C.

That was one of the days locked away in the memory banks forever.

As I write this on Tuesday, July 7, Team Astana has just won the team time trial, as Armstrong predicted, and Lance is a whisper of a second away from winning the yellow jersey.

The Tour is among the most grueling of all sporting events in the world. And Armstrong, at the ripe old age of 37, is considered over the hill in the sport of cycling. Time will tell where he finishes in the overall classification.

What he has already accomplished, coming back from cancer to beat the world’s best cyclists seven times, is a feat that is unparalleled in sports.

In any case, anything else he accomplishes on a bicycle pales in comparison to Livestrong. His lasting legacy will be the extra years of life and joy granted to cancer victims and their families because of his efforts.

Read this and match the sticker

July 6, 2009

You can tell a lot about a person by the bumper stickers on their vehicle. You can figure out where their kids are going to school, where they live or vacation, what team they like, what NASCAR driver they love or hate and what causes they support.

Some bumper stickers are mysteries that are between driver and sticker to figure out. There are some stickers that even tell us the sexual orientation of the driver.

Yeah, there is a lot of information out there on the roads – sometimes a little too much.

Included here are three bumper stickers on the rear of Sussex County Council members’ vehicles.

Can you match the sticker to the council member? I bet you can’t.

Guess the council member.

Guess the council member.

This is messed up.

This is messed up.

Bet you get this one wrong.

Bet you get this one wrong.

Photo of the week

July 6, 2009
Checking on some relations.

Checking on some relations.