For the last several months, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has been silent on the status of its ownership of Rehoboth Beach's Silver Lake and its plan to dredge a finger of the lake that points west.
However, activity is ramping up again.
At a June 8 Save Our Lakes Alliance3 workshop, DNREC's Frank Piorko and Deputy Secretary David Small provided an update on lake ownership and dredging, issues that have been stagnating since February, when DNREC announced it owned the lake.
“At this point, we are taking the general position that we own the lake. We need to have additional information to be able to determine what that means,” Small said.
Piorko said the Department of Justice has been documenting legal ownership of the lake and whether the Subaqueous Lands Act applies to Silver Lake. DNREC officials also say they plan to talk with lakefront property owners to clarify property boundaries and lands deeded into the lake.
Silver Lake is in three jurisdictions: Rehoboth, Dewey Beach and Sussex County. After reviewing a 1978 public lands survey in preparation for the dredging project, DNREC claimed it owns the lake and its bottom.
DNREC’s claim, said Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, is huge because, “as long as nobody could determine ownership of the lake, no one could do anything about it.”
At the workshop held at Cape Henlopen Senior Center, Piorko told SOLA3 members and several lakefront property owners that DNREC will hold a public workshop in August to solicit information from the public and determine a path forward.
“We want to get things out on the table,” Piorko said.
Commissioner Patrick Gossett said there are close to 50 properties around the lake, and determining the boundaries of lakefront properties is complicated.
“It’s not really clear if those title searches or deeds are accurate,” he said. “There have been a lot of quick-claim deeds placed.” Gossett said this uncertainty is a major reason for wanting to get the ownership question settled.
“I know there has been frustration with this question,” Small said. “The uncertainty that has swirled around the ownership of Silver Lake and Lake Comegys has frustrated the town; I know it has frustrated some owners and us as well. We’ve made a decision, and now we need to figure out what that means.”
DNREC previously has said the Subaqueous Lands Act does not cover Silver Lake because the lake does not connect with another water body. However, Small said, DNREC is now taking a step back and reexamining that position. He said DNREC hopes to have that issue clarified before holding the August workshop. In addition, Small said DNREC may need to hold a formal public meeting, with a record and exhibits, to establish what he called a more durable legal standing.
Dredging on hold
Piorko, DNREC’s Division Director of Watershed Stewardship, said the dredging project to deepen the western finger of the lake and improve aesthetics and water quality, had the go-ahead from Cape Henlopen School District to use Rehoboth Elementary School as a spoils site, but when the project went out for bid, the cost was much higher than anticipated.
The project would have removed 5,000 to 7,000 cubic yards of sediment from the bottom of the lake and pumped into Geotubes, from which water would slowly filter out and the spoils can then be disposed of. Piorko said the plan was to complete dredging during the summer, and then let the spoils dry out before moving the material in summer 2014.
Ten contractors from across the country attended pre-bid meetings, Piorko said, but when the project went out to bid, only one bid was received. DNREC had estimated the cost would be $300,000 to $350,000, but the bid came in at $863,000.
Piorko said contractors are busy up-and-down the East Coast on projects related to Hurricane Sandy, so there was little interest in this project. He also said contractors were not interested in trucking away material in the middle of the summer. The job would require hundreds of dump trucks to move the material; DNREC currently estimates the cost of trucking alone at $100,000.
Piorko said, the project could be divided into two phases: dredging and trucking. He said while the dredging project is stalled, DNREC still has $200,000 in funding available through the state’s 21st Century Fund. A timeline for doing the project is still up in the air; DNREC is looking at alternatives because the school property can only be used during the summer.
“I’d hate to have to wait until this time next year to do the project,” Piorko said.