Lawsuit could delay trail extension

Junction and Breakwater connector work in jeopardy
A surveyor's stake marks the location of the trail extension for the Junction and Breakwater Trail next to the Breakwater Estates community off Gills Neck Road in Lewes. BY RON MACARTHUR
April 15, 2013

Work on an extension of the popular Junction and Breakwater Trail has hit a roadblock: a lawsuit filed in Chancery Court against the Delaware Department of Transportation. Work on the trail was expected to begin this spring.

The extension would connect Gills Neck Road with Kings Highway and Freeman Highway in Lewes running along the eastern border of the Breakwater Estates community. Breakwater Estates homeowners Steven Napiecek and Robin Zoltek claim an easement for part of the trail extension in the community does not legally exist. “The proposed 15-foot wide public access easement was never granted or recorded,” the lawsuit alleges.

“They claim it's not there, and the state can't use it,” said Fritz Schranck, DelDOT deputy attorney general. He also said because of the lawsuit, funding for that part of the project would be shifted to other trail projects in the state.

The couple says they have seen DelDOT surveyors, contractors and archeologists on the property, and they want all work halted until the matter is adjudicated.

Schranck said the state, with support from Sussex County, would defend the lawsuit. “We have to work up an answer of how to best react to the litigation,” he said.

Schranck said although funding for the project will be shifted, there is a chance work could continue on the Kings Highway-Freeman Highway portion of the trail. A portion of the trail extension would also pass through the Showfield property.

State planners have been working on the extension for several years in an effort to get bicycle and pedestrian traffic off Gills Neck Road. Although not a part of the Junction and Breakwater Trail, the road is heavily used by cyclists, runners and walkers as a link to connect Lewes and Rehoboth Beach.

Residents along Gills Neck Road have expressed concerns because the narrow road has no shoulders with a blind, S-curve, presenting serious safety hazards.

Schrank said the extension is part of a master plan to develop a trail loop connecting resort towns and eventually intersecting with the Georgetown-to-Lewes trail. Another extension is planned to connect Gordon's Pond with Herring Point within Cape Henlopen State Park.

Napiecek and Zoltek say none of the deeds for the Breakwater development make any reference to an easement granted to DelDOT for the construction of a bike trail. “The only evidence defendants have presented in support of their authority for the construction of the proposed bike trail is an ambiguous notation on a record plat of the development dated Aug. 10, 2006,” according to the lawsuit.

The couple purchased a lot on Overfalls Drive in Breakwater in June 2010.

The couple's lot backs up to proposed trail. “They purchased their lot without any notice of any proposed easement or proposed bike path. Plaintiffs were one of the first purchasers in the development and paid a premium for their lot on the basis of the privacy that was afforded to it by the lot plan,” according to the lawsuit.

The couple claims the proposed bike trail offers no privacy, sound, wind, litter or dirt barriers, and construction could affect the stormwater drainage swale near their home. “Each of these factors would affect the property value of plaintiffs' home,” according to the lawsuit.

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