Letters to the Editor -- March 4, 2011

CBRB thankful for help with drive

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank everyone who contributed to the needy. Through your overwhelming generosity, Coldwell Banker at 120th Street, Ocean City, was able to keep the less fortunate warm this winter.

Without you, this exercise in giving would have been impossible. Thank you for making our Coat Drive a huge success. There were over 4,000 coats collected and distributed because of you.

Sheila Hodges, Realtor
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage
Ocean City, Md.

Reader disects proposed ordinances

Bethany’s Town Council will soon take up two proposed ordinances dealing with our elections law. Both must be carefully examined by citizens of Bethany, residents and non-residents, especially, who are presently qualified to vote for members of the Town Council.

The first proposal contains “housekeeping” changes to voting and elections provisions in our town code. This proposal needs to be amended before it is voted upon to make absolutely sure that two key features of absentee voting in Bethany are preserved without alteration: One, qualified voters who request absentee ballots may vote absentee because they will be absent from Bethany or otherwise unable to appear in town on the day of the municipal election; and two, the affidavit, or oath, that a qualified Bethany voter must sign or take when requesting an absentee ballot, can be self-administered.

Both these assurances are necessary to guarantee that absentee voting in town elections continues to be encouraged and made as simple as possible, especially for nonresidents. I found the language in the draft somewhat confusing. It can and should be clarified.

The second proposal contains changes to Bethany’s Charter and includes a major act of political mischief. The proposal, as drafted, ought to be soundly defeated.

Right now, a qualified voter in Town Council elections is any person, 18 or older, who is a freeholder (named on a property deed) in town. A few years ago, the council reduced the number of freeholders or property owners who would be permitted to vote from each privately owned property to eight individuals. The pending proposal mandates that only two owners shall be permitted to vote for town council members, not the present eight, no matter how many people actually own the home.

The draft law says that this disenfranchisement of Bethany property owners is required by the election law of the State of Delaware, but this assertion is untrue. It is contradicted by the legal advice the council received from its own solicitor’s law firm. The firm’s advisory respecting owners’ right to vote states clearly that no need exists to change this feature of Bethany’s law. “The Bethany charter is in good shape because it is a resort town and because it does create an 8-person limit on who can vote based on ownership of a specific parcel.”

So why are council members proposing to take the right to vote away from citizens who are presently entitled to vote? The state does not require them to do it, as the proposed ordinance suggests. Disenfranchising property owners of their right to vote is really serious business.

A few years ago, when some council members were busy emasculating the Bethany Charter’s referendum provision, the present limit on the right to vote to eight owners of a single property was first established.

It may be that some present council members want to finish the job of substantially disenfranchising the rest of the nonresidents. Perhaps it is a bias against large families, or just nonresidents. Perhaps there is fear of hordes of distant property owners descending on Bethany and taking over town government.
It certainly is an easy way to limit the number of voters the council has to deal with. Who can say? How does 435 fewer voters help?
Bethany citizens, residents and nonresidents alike, ought to be contacting council members and asking some questions about these proposals. Call town hall at (302) 539-8011 or write an e-mail to admin@townofbethanybeach.com.

Perhaps the draft law can be amended to add a new slogan for Bethany Beach. How about: “that government is best if freely elected by the least.”

Dan Costello
Bethany Beach

Resident upset with state over dock

I am a resident of Ocean View with a home on the Assawoman Canal. I purchased my lot in 1976, picking a location where there was a dock and full view of the canal. The dock was in poor condition, so I repaired it, with the assurance from the State that, as long as I built over the original dock, I would be covered under a grandfather clause.

I later received a letter from the Delaware Department of Parks and Recreation, advising that if we maintained the area behind our property line, it was available for general use. With the help of my neighbors who also had docks, I built a substantial and safe dock over the original pilings – at considerable personal expense.

My family and I have fished and crabbed from this dock for 35 years. My neighbors and I have helped maintain the canal by removing downed trees. We have assisted boaters in distress who had nowhere else to go, except to one of our docks. We have warned wave-runners about submerged tree trunks and the no-wake rule.

I realize that the canal is State property, but the dock was put in with the State’s permission and has been in place for decades, as an asset to an otherwise neglected waterway. One time I called the State to warn of a large tree that was threatening to fall and was told that a fallen tree “would be an act of God and not their responsibility.” That tree has since fallen and still lies in the canal.

When the State finally started dredging the canal after many years of delay, I cooperated by allowing the workers to park on and cut through my property, and to use my dock to tie up their boats.

My neighbors and I were advised in 2009 that the docks would need to be taken down. We felt strongly that this action was unfair and have since been attempting to negotiate with the State to save the docks with the help of our local representatives and legal counsel. Secretary O’Mara assured us in writing that no action on the docks would occur until such discussions were held. At this point, we felt that dock removal was on hold.

I met with Doug Long of the Department of Parks and Recreation in December 2010 to discuss the future of the docks and to give him a little history of my dock. He maintained that he did not know if they were to come down or, if so, when. Before leaving his office, I requested that I be notified in person should be the decision be made to remove the docks, since I was recuperating from an accident and two back surgeries, making it difficult for me to do manual work. I also told him I would be in Florida for three months.

I am currently in Florida and received a phone call from my neighbor, telling me that a State contractor was in the process of dismantling my dock. This action by the State is nothing but sneaky and underhanded. The Department of Parks and Recreation knew that I and many other residents were away for the winter season.

Docks are being destroyed without proper notice and without Secretary O’Mara fulfilling his promise for further discussion.

I understand the permit issued by the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers to the State prohibits work to be done in the canal waterway between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of any year, due to fish spawning. Apparently, the State believes it can selectively follow the requirements of the permit and place the ecological balance of the canal in further jeopardy.

The State has been unable to properly maintain the canal for decades, yet it has taxpayer funds to demolish safe docks that have long served to enhance public recreational use and safety, yet leaving downed trees and trees threatening to fall.

Obviously, the removal of docks impacts the value of our properties, but above that concern is my disgust at the way the entire process has been carried out by the Department of Parks and Recreation. The agency has been uncooperative and difficult, not returning calls and ignoring requests for documents pertaining to the canal. Some documents had to be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, directly from the Corps of Engineers.

Since beginning this letter a few days ago, I received a letter on Feb. 22, mailed Feb. 15 from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, stating that the docks would be removed. My dock was demolished on Feb. 17.

This is not timely notice but instead a violation of the rights of citizens for due process before taking actions that harm people and property, especially in the light of promises made for further discussion.

I understand from Mr. O’Mara’s office that a hold is now on for dock removal north of Route 26 until further discussion. I am happy that the State finally is fulfilling promises, but how does this help my neighbors and myself? Our docks are gone.

The Department of Parks and Recreation (under the control of DNREC) appears to be a state agency out of control, ignoring what is best for the community and safety of its residents. They should be held accountable.

Frank E. Lesniczak
Ocean View

S.O.S. responds to previous Point letter

In her letter to the editor about the mute swan killings, Susan Baxter stated, “I am constantly amazed at the energy here for causes — but I am at a loss to explain this one.”

Delaware has only an estimated 40 mute swans. Not only is this not an “invasion,” it should not be enough to raise any concerns. Mute swans are a beautiful naturalized part of Delaware’s wetland environment. Whether they were native 300 years ago is not important — nothing is as it was 300 years ago. What is important is that they are a graceful and majestic part of modern-day Delaware.

The large majority of residents bordering White’s Creek treasured the pair of mute swans that graced our community. The swans helped keep the Canadian Geese from overcrowding and polluting White’s Creek. They delighted our children and grandchildren. The pair lived peacefully with the wildlife in our area. In the weeks since the killing of the swans, the Canada geese are back. And a majestic blue heron has left the area.

Dr. John Grandy, senior VP of the Humane Society of the U.S., has studied swans and waterfowl populations in the Chesapeake Bay for over 10 years. He supports our goal of stopping the unnecessary bloodshed of these beautiful birds. Together, we strongly urge DNREC to adopt a humane approach to the mute swans. This can be accomplished through non-lethal population control.

Ms. Baxter doesn’t believe that mute swans can be “safely maintained” in White’s Creek. We would remind her that our two swans were most certainly safely maintained! We have been responsible citizens, prepared to protect the swans and resolve any conflicts. Working in cooperation with DNREC, our group is now positioned to showcase Delaware’s commitment to humane treatment of mute swans.

Let us raise our voices. If we do not have the “energy” to preserve the grace and beauty of animals like mute swans in our lives — then our collective energy is wasted and the loss will be passed on to our children and grand children.

Pat Ragan, Susan Ritter, Bruce Wolford, Nancy Cabrera-Santos
Delaware Save Our Swans (S.O.S.) Coalition