SOLA3 speaks out on Silver Lake ownership

February 8, 2013

Save Our Lakes Alliance3 greatly appreciates the Cape Gazette’s extensive coverage of and support for protections for Silver Lake; and Ryan Mavity’s recent article “DNREC: State owns Silver Lake.” I would like to provide the background details that led to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control declaring its ownership of Silver Lake.

SOLA3 was created in 2004 with a mission to protect and improve the "Rehoboth Lakes" - Silver Lake, Lake Comegys and Lake Gerar.

Despite the fact that the Delaware General Assembly passed a resolution in 2004 declaring that the “Rehoboth Lakes” are “integral to the ambiance of Rehoboth Beach and natural treasurers,” no government body has been willing to claim ownership of or responsibility for Silver Lake and Lake Comegys.

This has resulted in our having to work with different entities to bring improvements to Silver Lake. For instance, our meeting in 2010 with DNREC Secretary Colin O’Mara led to a commitment that DNREC would undertake the sediment removal project at the west end of the lake. This project is scheduled to begin in the summer. Property owners have improved their shorelines, which will create habitat, eliminate erosio, and improve water quality. The City of Rehoboth installed filters on two large storm drains to decrease solids entering the lake. And the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission adopted many of our recommendations to improve Silver Lake.

To be able to bring meaningful improvements, long-term protections and management to Silver Lake, our board also decided to provide leadership toward getting a definitive answer to the question "who owns Silver Lake?”

In May of 2012 we met with Attorney General Beau Biden’s staff and, subsequently, DNREC staff, to present documents prepared by our counsel, Eugene Lawson, that provide the detailed history of the State of Delaware’s ownership of Silver Lake and Lake Comegys since colonial times.

Those meetings resulted in a declaration by the state solicitor to Mr. Lawson in September that the “State of Delaware has title to the [Silver] Lake and subaqueous land.”

We then followed up with high-level officials at DNREC to verify their understanding of the solicitor’s admission of ownership. Their response in December, 2012, was that "the State of Delaware is the owner of Silver Lake and that DNREC is the responsible management agency."

This is welcome news to us and to all in the Rehoboth community who value our unique, freshwater lakes. But the delay in DNREC enforcing its statutory authority over the lake until it completes more research leaves Silver Lake unprotected.

Mr. Lawson has provided DNREC with more legal research and authority that responds to many of the issues DNREC wishes to address, such as ownership of the lake’s water and lakebed, shoreline boundaries, riparian rights, and the application of the Subaqueous Land Act.

We hope that DNREC will expedite its authority to “protect and conserve” Silver Lake, as designated by the General Assembly, in order to curtail the continuing unilateral invasion of public property - the lake’s bed - for private construction.

Sallie Forman
founder and president

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