County council discusses buffers, dog control enforcement

“The time has come for the county to accept responsibility and take action,” Harry Haon, of the newly formed Inland Bays Foundation, said this week in a presentation to Sussex County Council.

Haon said that he was speaking on behalf of the IBF, as well as Citizens Coalition, Sierra Club, Vicki York Realty, AARP’s Environmental Committee and the League of Women Voters in presenting a proposal to the county about their responsibility to the health of the inland bays.

“Several months ago the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that the County, not the State, has the authority to issue ordinances regarding environmental buffers to protect the inland bays,” said Haon. The Supreme Court decision came after Sussex County challenged DNREC’s authority to regulate portions of the Pollution Control Strategies, namely buffer requirements in the county.

Haon’s argument was it is now time for the County to step up to the plate.

“We believe that with this authority the County now has a corresponding responsibility — namely to enact a buffer ordinance which clearly helps to improve the water quality of the inland bays,” he said, adding that if started now, he and the organizations he was representing believe action could be completed by the fall. He asked the county for a written response and they thanked him for his comments.

In other county news, Hal Godwin, deputy county administrator for the county, updated the council on several pieces of legislation. He reported that one, “dog bill” SB 256, had been tabled and that the sponsor asked him if he would stop objecting to it if they excluded Sussex County from the language of the bill.

“Of course you would,” said councilman George Cole, to which Godwin said he had thought so, but it was the decision of the council.

“If we are not part of the bill, what does it matter?” asked council president Mike Vincent.

He then explained that Senate Bill 211, a substitution for the first bill, was similar. After explaining his concerns with SB 211, the council voted 4-0 with Joan Deaver abstaining, to have Godwin rescind their objections to both bills if the county was excluded from it.

“We all care about dogs, but you can’t regulate this — this is crazy,” said councilman George Cole.

Godwin explained that under the state code for “cruelty to animals,” language had been added about unjustifiable beatings of animals, tormenting, and tethering for more than 18 hours in a 24 hour day. Tethering would also not be allowed for dogs under four months of age, or for nursing mothers. Deaver asked at one point if they were talking about animals or dogs specifically, and Godwin said that was part of the issue with the bill, saying at different points, the language said “dogs,” specifically, then “animals” and then “nursing mothers.”

The amendment states, “Cruelty to animals includes mistreatment of any animal or neglect of any animal under the care and control of the neglector, whereby unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering is caused. By way of example this includes: Unjustifiable beating of an animal; overworking an animal; tormenting an animal; abandonment of an animal; tethering of a dog for 18 hours or more in any 24 hour period, and tethering any dog for any amount of time if the dog is under four months of age or is a nursing mother while the offspring are present; and failure to feed properly or give proper shelter or veterinary care to an animal.”

Councilman Sam Wilson asked who would be responsible for inspecting that.

“It is just so the SPCA has something to grab on to if there is a complaint,” offered Deaver when several council members questioned the implementation of such a law. “It is not as if we are inspecting everyone that has a dog.”

Cole then added that these “are awkward bills that don’t make sense,” and he would be willing to hear from the sponsors about how they could be regulated.

“There are three of four legislators that are very passionate about animals,” surmised Godwin. “And no one suggests that we want to be cruel to animals but unless you are going to pay an inspector to sit outside a dog cage for 18 hours and then when it’s been 18 hours and one minute…you can’t do it.”

Deaver explained her abstention by saying she didn’t have enough information to vote. “Animals are very important to the people in my district and to me personally,” she said.