The Preserve Our Park Coalition is questioning whether construction and operation of a restaurant in Cape Henlopen State Park would violate federal restrictions placed on the use of federal funds.
Specifically, the coalition is asking federal officials to review the obligations the state assumed when it accepted federal funding and land transfers under Land and Water Conservation Funds Program and Federal Lands to Parks. Both programs are administered by the National Park Service.
The coalition sent a letter with its concerns to the National Park Service.
Coalition member Joe Pika said in response to the letter, Joel Lynch, chief of state and local assistance programs, said he has directed the agency's compliance staff to determine the extent to which there may have been discussions with Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control officials and to remind them of the various policies and requirements that could come into play depending on the exact nature of the proposed project.
Pika said any state park that receives federal Land and Water funds for acquisition or improvements to any part of that park is subject to federal restrictions.
“To move forward with the bar/restaurant, the state would need to receive a waiver from the federal requirements. [Preserve Our Park] has requested that no waivers from federal requirements be granted until there has been an opportunity for a full public discussion of the proposal. If a waiver has already been approved, POP plans to challenge that decision,” Pika said.
Pika said DNREC has received multiple grants over the years that require the state to comply with numerous limitations.
“The Preserve Our Park Coalition awaits the determination of the compliance review by the National Park Service. POP has also communicated these concerns to U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester,” he said.
The coalition also contends that DNREC is subject to Delaware state law under the Warner Grant stating the park must be administered for the public benefit as areas of public recreation, conservation and/or nature education. The law also states that the lands “may not be used to the detriment of such public benefit.”
Retired Sen. David McBride of Lewes, who served in the Legislature for 42 years, and voted in favor of the law defining the Warner Grant Trust lands in 1979, has joined the coalition's leadership in filing the letter of concern with the National Park Service.
“When I voted on the bill, it was clear there would never be a private entity there,” he said, adding he has made an effort to stay out of the public eye.
“But this I'm doing for our children and grandchildren so they can enjoy it long after I'm gone,” he added.