Fisher’s Cove is a marker in the sand

August 27, 2021

Fisher’s Cove is the current test for Lewes to decide whether to remain true to its tradition of making the right decision at the decisive moment to validate ‘community values’ over ‘commercial excess.’ 

I’ve been in Lewes well over a decade, a week-warrior from D.C. (for the last 14 months, with COVID, my family has lived here full time).  Right from the get-go, I understood the uniqueness of this place and, being a journalist, ended up writing a book about its unique qualities, “Living Lewes: An Insider’s Guide.”  So when I cite local history, I know a little bit of what I’m talking about.

Fisher’s Cove is as symbolically important as it gets.  

Recent arrivals may not believe this, but Cape Henlopen State Park and Canalfront Park were both in developers’ sights.The fact that both now exist as priceless treasures is testimony to grassroots citizen mobilization that successfully resisted heavy-duty money interests.  What is now Cape Shores was slated to be an industrial port, offloading oil and coal too heavy to ship up the Delaware Bay; had it been built, Lewes Beach would now be devastated (it was rejected, by one vote, in Lewes City Council).

Will the citizenry and its elected representatives regard the latest challenge - now in the person of global warming and rising seas and the desecration of wetlands - as the latest in a succession of efforts to transform Lewes into simply another footnote in what happens when the profit of a few trumps the collective well-being of the commons?  

I attended the Lewes Planning Commission open meeting July 13 to consider Fisher’s Cove. I wasn’t a partisan when I entered, more a curious observer. Then I heard the presentations of both sides, the legalism and sleight-of-hand of the developers who want to build 18 houses vs. the heartfelt sincerity of the Rodney Avenue residents whose property (to say nothing of their lives) will be imperiled by the desecration of the wetlands at their back.

The more I heard, the more concerned I grew.  I (and the commission chair) had expected the room to be packed, there was a police officer on hand, presumably to calm the anticipated crowd.  Instead, I believe I was the sole disinterested spectator.  When I arrived, I had no intention to speak but, both saddened and enraged by what I heard, I went to the microphone when public comments were solicited.  

My comments - at most I spoke for a minute - were spontaneous, unscripted, fired straight from the hip.  “It is incumbent on us to make our stand right here, right now, in response to climate change.  Knowing what we now know - the melting away of the poles, the first heat dome in the history of North America pushing temperatures in the west into the 120s, starvation in central America due to climate-caused crop failures which are driving immigrants across our border - how can anybody sane propose draining wetlands?”

The ‘Sixties Radical’ in me might say that what we have here is capitalism in its late-historical phase run amok, mindlessly destroying the very factors responsible for its success (cf  Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond’s epic study of how great civilizations inevitably devour their own seed corn).  But save this for another day.

Let’s give the developers and the folks they envision buying their houses every benefit of the doubt.  Let’s trust their intentions and accept their faith in the science of retaining walls.  Let’s even accept property as an inviolable American right.

But’s let’s also rise to the moral and existential challenge of our times.  If we act collectively, we have a shot at avoiding mass extinction (which may even include our own species). Refusing to revise our individualistic attitudes and laws and way of life ensures natural catastrophe at a scale we can’t even imagine. 

Fisher’s Cove is a marker in the sand. Lewes can’t afford it for untold reasons. City Fathers, be true to your heritage.  

Neil Shister
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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