Wary of government? Yes, but we need some level of trust

June 18, 2013

In the early 1800s, after the dissolution of the Federalist Party, the United States entered what is called the Era of Good Feelings.

We don’t know yet what they’ll call our current age, but it’s unlikely to be Era of Good Feelings 2.0. Age of Paranoia maybe, especially about government.

Not that Americans shouldn’t be wary of governmental power, even fearful. But distrust can be excessive.

There was an example of that distrust at a recent meeting about aquaculture sponsored by Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, at the CHEER Center in Long Neck. House Bill 160 would allow the leasing of portions of the Inland Bays bottoms to raise oysters.

Chris Bason, executive director of the Center for the Inland Bays, outlined the reasons for and advantages of shellfish aquaculture in the Rehoboth, Indian River and Little Assawoman bays:

• Delaware is the only coastal state without a shellfish aquaculture industry.

• In 2011, the U.S. east coast shellfish aquaculture industry was valued at $119 million, with a 10 percent annual growth rate. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Virginia has seen its oyster harvest grow from $575,000 in 2001 to $8.26 million in 2011.

• Besides the economic reasons, aquaculture would have a beneficial environmental impact. According to the CIB, if just 1 percent of the Inland Bays’ bottom were used for aquaculture, oysters could filter from nine to 22 percent of the bays’ water every day.

That’s about as close to a “win-win” situation as we get in this world.

But that wasn’t good enough for everybody at the meeting. I understood the concerns of some.

They’re professional and recreational clammers who are afraid their harvesting areas would be restricted.

But others seemed to fear that the introduction of Inland Bay aquaculture, to be overseen by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, would result in some sort of power grab.

One man, whose suspicions were echoed by others, asked, “Assuming DNREC sells all the leases and monitors them, is it going to give DNREC more access to regulation of the balance of the bay than they have now?”

“Exactly,” agreed another man.

“Sounds like it,” called out another.

“What are you getting at?” Bason asked, joking that it sounded like a “gotcha” question.

“We’re talking about control,” the man answered. “They’re going to monitor them [the leased areas] with some kind of control or officers and boats, running around checking this and checking that.”

He summed up his views, saying, “They’ll be able to control everyone on that bay, essentially.”

I admit my experience on the Inland Bays doesn’t run as deep as those at the meeting, though for a few years I did have a pontoon boat that I ran out of Love Creek. But the idea of a few more DNREC officers on the bays wouldn’t exactly fill me with dread. I doubt DNREC will be able to hire enough officers to enforce an Inland Bays police state.

And the leased areas would be capped at 5 percent of the Rehoboth and Indian River bays and 10 percent of the Little Assawoman.

But the permanent 5 percent cap didn’t mean much to some of those at the meeting. It could always be increased later, they said.

So a “permanent” cap can’t be considered permanent, which means these people’s concerns can’t possibly be satisfied.

Fortunately, in this case, the state House wasn’t going to be gridlocked because of a vocal minority.

HB Bill 160, sponsored by Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, and cosponsored by, among others, Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, and Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, passed the House unanimously and was sent to the Senate.

With any luck, in a few years, area restaurants will be serving sweet Rehoboth Bay oysters.

Legislators need info to vote?

Sam Glasscock III, vice chancellor of the state’s Court of Chancery (and a former classmate of mine at Cape Henlopen), recently issued a ruling that could have far-reaching effects on land-use decisions up and down the state.

In his opinion, which concerned a New Castle County project, Glasscock wrote, “Councilman Weiner’s vote was arbitrary and capricious, because he admittedly and explicitly voted without information material to his vote that he mistakenly believed was unavailable to him.”

The information Weiner lacked concerned a development’s impact on traffic. His vote was ruled invalid.

Wow, a legislator’s vote tossed out because he lacked information he didn’t believe was available. You can bet that ruling will be cited in the future.

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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