Southern Shores Town Manager Peter Rascoe devoted much of his report to the Town Council Tuesday night (Feb. 5) to explaining the “procedure” by which a road or other infrastructure project recommended by the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning (CIIP) Committee becomes a project adopted and funded by the Town Council for the fiscal year.
The Beacon strongly doubts that anyone ever thought the CIIP Committee could usurp the Town Council’s authority and call the shots on road construction. Historically, however, the Town Council has rubberstamped the CIIP Committee’s recommended priority listing of capital projects, which, Mr. Rascoe noted, is made “around April or May.” This CIIP Committee started talking about FY 2019-20 projects last November!
The Beacon would characterize Mr. Rascoe’s belabored explanation about how the CIIP Committee functions as damage control: After word got out among residents that committee members had discussed at their Jan. 30 meeting widening South Dogwood Trail–and even had gone so far as to make a motion to recommend to the Town Council a design for a 24-foot width–the community response was swift and angry.
Were it not to CIIP Committee member Al Ewerling, who convinced the other three committee members present to table the motion, it probably would have passed, 3-1, according to Mr. Ewerling.
But first, a digression.
The CIIP Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2 p.m., in the Pitts Center, expressly to brief committee members on the “costs and lateral impacts of a potential walking trail along a portion of the east side of South Dogwood Trail,” not to discuss road widening, per se. See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/notice-committee-meeting/.
Notice how the Town doesn’t even think it’s the public’s right to know before the meeting which portion will be discussed.
The work on the so-called “northern” end of the proposed sidewalk, running south from the North-South-East Dogwoods intersection to Fairway Drive, Mr. Rascoe said Tuesday, is “about all completed.” That portion has a “fully engineered preliminary design,” which is available on the Town website. The problematic “southern” end, from Fairway Drive to the cemetery, which has irregular terrain and numerous trees, has not been engineered.
Now, back to the damage control.
THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
There is no doubt that the CIIP Committee discussed widening South Dogwood Trail at its Jan. 3o meeting and that committee Co-Chairperson Jim Conners made a motion to “transmit to the Council . . . an affirmation of a design for a 24-foot street width,” according to Mr. Rascoe’s minutes of the meeting. Mr. Ewerling confirmed this discussion and Mr. Conners’s motion. (See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/CIIP-Jan-30-2019-Meeting-Minutes.pdf.)
The minutes also clearly state that Mayor Bennett asked the Town engineers to brief the committee on a design and the estimated costs for a South Dogwood Trail “walking trail”; and on a “potential” design and estimated costs for “capital improvements” to South Dogwood Trail with concurrent walking-trail construction.
There is no factual dispute that Town Engineer Joe Anlauf, of Deel Engineering PLLC, informed the committee about “construction of a 5-ft. walking path along with a proposed 24-ft-wide asphalt rebuilt street,” as Mr. Rascoe wrote in the minutes.
South Dogwood Trail is between 17 and 18 feet in width.
Mr. Anlauf didn’t prepare preliminary design plans and cost estimates for widening South Dogwood Trail simply because he felt like it. CIIP Committee Co-Chairperson, Mayor Tom Bennett, asked for them, according to Mr. Ewerling.
Despite the committee-council role distinctions that Mr. Rascoe sought to make Tuesday, the fact that the two co-chairpersons of the CIIP Committee, Mayor Bennett and Councilman Conners, also represent two-thirds of the voting Town Council strongly suggests that its recommendations will be adopted. The Beacon believes that their presence is potentially coercive, inasmuch as the other members may feel pressure, because of their elected offices, to agree with them.
Although the CIIP committee has seven members, only four attended the January meeting. Besides Mayor Bennett, Mr. Conners, and Mr. Ewerling, who lives on South Dogwood Trail, Jim Kranda, who was appointed by former Councilman Leo Holland, was present. Mr. Kranda seconded Mr. Conners’s motion about “transmitting” the road-widening design plan to the Town Council.
The Beacon sees no reason to continue an appointee by Mr. Holland on the committee. Once Mr. Holland left the Council, Mr. Kranda should have been replaced. The Beacon also strongly urges the Town Council to remove one of the co-chairpersons. Their control of the committee appears highly improper. Certainly, it is undemocratic.
PUBLIC DISSENT AT FEB. 5 TOWN COUNCIL MEETING
The South and East Dogwoods Task Force recommended in its Jan. 17, 2017 final report that the Town “continue its policy of not widening roads unless emergency vehicles cannot gain access to their desired location.” (p. 4) That is a fact. It is also a fact that Mr. Conners served on that task force.
In public comments Tuesday night, Michael Fletcher, who chaired the Dogwoods Task Force, said: “I deeply oppose any . . . expansion” of South Dogwood Trail.
The task force, he said, concluded that widening the road was “impractical and unwise to do so due to the narrowness of the right-of-way and the impacts on adjacent properties.”
Mr. Fletcher also cited the severe “impact” on the trees and other vegetation on the road that “residents rightfully treasure,” referring poetically to the “peaceful overhang and tree canopy.” He also said that the task force reviewed “numerous studies” about the impact of road widening on safety, and they all “uniformly” concluded that expansion “decrease[s] safety by increasing speed and potential traffic volume.”
“Under no condition,” Mr. Fletcher stressed, should the Town Council “consider broadening South Dogwood Trail.”
Echoing Mr. Fletcher, homeowner Tommy Karole, who lives near the Dogwood Trails intersection and has presented studies about road-widening in previous comments to the Town Council, pointedly asked: “Who even brought up, and for what reason would you bring up, widening Dogwood Trail? Where does that come from?”
The answer is: Mayor Bennett. The idea comes from the Mayor. The Mayor, Mr. Ewerling confirmed, brought it up at the CIIP Committee’s Nov. 15, 2018 meeting.
IT’S ALL IN THE COMMITTEE MINUTES, JAN. 30 AND NOV. 15
The Beacon reported on the committee’s road-widening “discussion,” as Mr. Rascoe referred to it, in a 2/1/19 blog headlined: “Town Committee Tries to Fast-Track Widening of South Dogwood Trail by up to 7 Feet in Sections.”
We did not fabricate this story. We wrote it based upon Mr. Rascoe’s minutes of the meeting and upon information provided by Mr. Ewerling, whom The Beacon contacted.
The Mayor was noticeably silent Tuesday night at the Council meeting when the public objected to this discussion. He said nothing to Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Karole, or Joe Van Gieson, a third homeowner who spoke in opposition to widening Dogwood Trail, nor did he comment on Mr. Rascoe’s damage control. His co-chairperson, Councilman Conners, also didn’t comment.
Why do our elected officials not feel that they are obligated to respond? They’re not members of a corporate board. They’re public servants.
Regardless of the preliminary status of Mr. Anlauf’s road-widening plans and cost estimates and who actually “owns” them, they were presented at a public meeting of a governmental committee and should be included with the minutes as part of the meeting record. The public has a right to know what is in these plans, even if, as Mr. Rascoe sought to clarify at the Council meeting, the committee is not “considering anything at this point until it gets more information and more members of the committee” are informed. That’s not the issue.
It is also undisputed that at the Nov. 15, 2018 CIIP Committee meeting, according to the minutes, “Co-Chairman Bennett requested the Town Engineer and Town Manager go over the Priority List of needed capital street improvements already adopted for FY 18-19 as a preamble to planning for recommendations to be made for FY 19-20.”
(Nov. 15, 2018 committee minutes: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/CIIP-Cmttee-Meeting-Minutes-Nov-15-2018.pdf.)
A preamble? In November? So, just five months into the 2018-19 fiscal year, the Mayor is asking Town staff to review the priority list for the next fiscal year. Is this part of the committee’s “procedure”? Mr. Rascoe certainly didn’t mention it.
“Much discussion ensued” after the Mayor brought up the FY 2019-20 priority list, according to the Nov. 15, 2018 minutes, regarding “whether the trail improvement [on South Dogwood Trail] should occur simultaneous [sic] with a corresponding street improvement.”
At Tuesday’s Council meeting, Mr. Rascoe stressed that after the CIIP Committee makes its recommendations for priority projects in April or May, its ranking list is placed on the Town website, transmitted to the Town Council, and “noticed” in the newsletter. The implication was that the public has ample time to comment on it before the Town Council makes its final decision in July.
Mr. Rascoe also said that the priority list is “based on the condition of streets”—in April or July, yes, but not in November.
A ‘MEETING’ HELD AFTER THE COMMITTEE MEETING?
It is also a fact that the Nov. 15, 2018 minutes state that “Based on committee discussion, a new prioritization was developed post-meeting, and is attached to these meeting minutes as an information item . . ..” [The italics are the Beacon’s.]
The minutes do not explain unambiguously when and how the “new prioritization” occurred “post-meeting.” This strikes The Beacon as highly irregular. Who drafted the new prioritization? Under what circumstances?
The attachment shows that South Dogwood Trail has jumped from 13th place, in the lowest Group C, on the FY 2018-19 priority list, to sixth and seventh places, at the top of Group B, in FY 2019-20. Is this truly what a majority of the committee members decided?
Described on the FY 2018-19 priority list as “South Dogwood Trail—entire length 12,408 LF (+/-),” the listing for the road in the recommended “targets” for FY 2019-20 reads, according to the attachment:
“6. South Dogwood Trail—Street and Walking Trail Construction from Dogwoods Trails Intersection to Fairway Drive (“Segment North”)—3,540 LF (+/-)
“7. South Dogwood Trail—Street and Walking Trail Construction from Fairway Drive to Southern Shores Cemetery (“Segment South”—3,800 LF (+/-).”
The underlining was inserted by Town staff, who would not have done such editing without authority from the CIIP Committee.
According to The Beacon’s correspondent, who attended the November meeting, Mr. Conners referred to South Dogwood Trail as a “thoroughfare.” All of The Beacon’s sources report that Mayor Bennett promoted widening of the street, along with the walking paths, and that Mr. Conners supported him.
Although Mr. Rascoe said Tuesday that South Dogwood Trail “has been on the [priority] list for several years,” he neglected to mention that 1) its item on the list has either referred simply to “improvements,” which The Beacon always assumed meant repairs, not widening, or has omitted any reference to the nature of the work contemplated; and 2) its item has always been ranked very low in terms of the Town’s priorities.
In response to a question by Councilman Fred Newberry Tuesday, Mr. Rascoe said that the CIIP Committee “did not consider anything but information that the engineer gave the committee with regards to the street itself. . . .
“There was a discussion,” he repeated. “They did not take any action.”
This is a distinction without a difference.
Further, according to the Jan. 30 meeting minutes, the four attending committee members actually reviewed the revised draft priority list of capital improvements that came out of the Nov. 15 meeting and “may now have consensus on a Group A target priority list for FY 19-20 of” . . . drumroll . . . no. 1, at the top of the list, “South Dogwood Trail Walking Trail and Street Rebuild (Intersection to Sassafras Lane).”
Street rebuild? Funny, Mr. Rascoe didn’t say anything about this at the Town Council meeting, nor did either CIIP Committee chairperson report at a Council meeting since Nov. 15 that a draft capital-improvement-project reprioritization had occurred.
(And yes, it’s up to the Town Council to make the final decision.)
THE BEACON’S BOTTOM LINE: FOUL!
The Beacon cries foul! We demand a public accounting from the committee chairpersons as to why they are considering “information” from the engineer about widening South Dogwood Trail—an action that the people of this town told the Dogwood Trails Task Force they do not want—and why they are promoting such “discussions.”
The Beacon also would like to know why neither of them is reporting the business of the CIIP Committee at Town Council meetings.
In addition to advocating for the replacement of Mr. Kranda and the removal of one of the CIIP Committee co-chairpersons, The Beacon demands that someone other than the Town Manager—a neutral scribe with an interest in clarity—take the minutes. Surely, the Town is not paying Mr. Rascoe to be a secretary. If it is, it should get a refund.
I conclude with a personal observation. When I ran for Southern Shores Town Council in 2015, Mr. Conners asked me at the League of Women Voters’ debate in October, whether I would respect the results of the Dogwood Trails Task Force. I objected then, and I still object, to the biased manner in which the Mayor and Town Council selected the members of the task force. But that’s grist for another blog. The people on the task force had nothing to do with the blacklisting that occurred.
I told Mr. Conners more than three years ago, that, if the task force reached conclusions based on what the people of Southern Shores want—if it canvassed the town—I would respect its recommendations. I am satisfied that it did.
Why, I wonder, isn’t Mr. Conners doing the same?
JUNIPER TRAIL REPAIR WILL CLOSE STREET FOR A WEEK
On Jan. 3, a Spectrum cable installer bored under the new Juniper Trail roadway, near 30 Juniper Trail, and hit a Dare County water main. This error resulted in “a complete washout of a section of the new street,” according to Mr. Rascoe, who has been advised by the Town’s engineers that the 20-by-25-foot section of the road that was affected will “settle” and eventually collapse, without proper repair.
The Town Council unanimously approved repairing the damaged roadway so that it is in the condition that it was in before the flooding. This repair will necessitate a full closure of the road for seven days, according to the contractor hired to do the job. The date for the construction work is dependent on the weather and the contractor’s schedule, Mr. Rascoe said. The Town Manager will give the public as much notice as he can, as will The Beacon.
AND FINALLY, THE TOWN COUNCIL WILL MEET TUES., FEB. 26, AT 9 A.M. IN THE PITTS CENTER FOR A PLANNING SESSION . . .
Beach Nourishment: Among the agenda items that will be discussed is the Beach Vulnerability Assessment and Management Plan, which was completed Jan. 3 and is now on the Town website.
Mr. Rascoe reported that the engineering consultant on the beach vulnerability plan will attend the planning meeting, as well as representatives of Doug Carter [&] Associates, who are financial consultants. You’ll want to hear what all of these consultants have to advise our elected officials about “developing their final plans and methods for beach nourishment,” according to the Town Manager.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/8/19