Silver Lake in Rehoboth Beach will no have floating Christmas trees this year.
In an email Nov. 13, Krys Johnson, Rehoboth Beach spokeswoman, said City Manager Sharon Lynn decided in the spring the city would have no floating trees following talks with city staff. The fountains installed earlier this year will provide holiday lighting, said Johnson.
Johnson said in previous years, the lights were connected to an electrical outlet along the edge of the lake and then hardwired to homemade trees on a floating platform, made of Styrofoam blocks and a plywood deck. Johnson said the tree platform was rowed into place by public works department staff.
Lynn said the city replaced the original trees four years ago, but this past holiday season, the floating platforms and replacement trees reached the end of their useful life. At a cost of $30,000, the fountains were installed by the city’s professional services contractor Envirotech.
“This is too dangerous for staff and there is not an electric supply source that is safe,” said Lynn, in an email Nov. 14, on why she decided to stop floating the trees into the lake.
Unlike the jury-rigged method Christmas tree lights, Johnson said the fountains have been professionally installed and are state-of-the-art as far as safety. They are run to a separate electrical panel constructed specifically for the fountains, she said.
“A more professional and safer alternative was the lighted fountains which can be used all year round,” said Johnson.
Citizens raise concerns about fountains
Johnson said Lynn decided to install the fountains last year. The fountains provide a welcoming gateway to the city and provide the ancillary benefit of aerating a portion of the lake, she said.
Not everyone is enjoying year-round fountains. Some say the fountains provide no benefit to the lake.
Sallie Forman, Save Our Lakes Alliance 3 founder, said the fountains are doing little to improve water quality at Silver Lake.
“Their cost of $30,000 could have been spent on more effective projects that would actually improve the water quality,” said Forman in an email Nov. 6, sent on behalf of SOLA3. “A better alternative would have been to get the required DNREC permits to install an aerator system for part of the 45-acre lake, with shallow areas given priority because they are more vulnerable to fish kills.”
In a letter to the editor, Tom Childers, a member of SOLA3 with a house neighboring Silver Lake along Lake Drive, said the spray from the fountains is annoying and possibly unhealthful for bikers, walkers, boaters, and users of nearby docks. Rehoboth has lost a place of natural charm, he wrote.
“For 16 hours every day the lake near the bridge is no longer serene; it is no longer a point of natural peace and beauty,” said Childers. “For many, the showpiece of the city’s entrance from the south has been diminished.”
Read the entire letter at capegazette.com/node/192148.
Johnson said a permit to install the fountains was submitted and approved by Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Where will the nativity scene be this year?
This is the second year in a row the city has done away with a long-standing Christmas tradition in Rehoboth.
Last year, and without permission, St. Edmond Catholic Church Knights of Columbus members installed a nativity scene at the Bandstand – a tradition started decades ago by the local Kiwanis Club. Shortly afterward, the city ordered the church to remove the nativity. A weeks-long headache ensued for the city, with the creche ultimately being installed in the outdoor patio entrance of the Grotto Pizza on Rehoboth Avenue.
During a commissioner meeting shortly after the removal of the nativity scene, Mayor Paul Kuhns read aloud a letter sent to the city from Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia Regional Director Nancy K. Baron-Baer reminding city officials local governments cannot appear to endorse or disapprove of one particular religion or religion in general. The letter was sent before the nativity scene was installed.
From a legal perspective, Baron-Baer said, a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol, but a creche or nativity scene is. A small creche in a large display that also includes snowflakes, reindeer and other nonreligious symbols does not convey the same message as a prominent creche standing alongside or dominating a display, said Baron-Baer.
After the issue died down, Kuhns said better planning this year could lead to a more inclusive display.
In her Nov. 13 email, Johnson said, in the interest of resolving the issue before another controversy arises, Lynn met with St. Edmond’s Rev. William Cocco in October to discuss placement of the nativity scene. A few days after that meeting, Johnson said, the city sent a formal letter to Cocco saying the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce’s offer of allowing the display on their property at 306 Rehoboth Ave. was welcomed again this year. The property is city-owned, but leased to the chamber.
“In the spirit of the joyful season upon us, it is the city’s hope that St. Edmond Catholic Church will find this satisfactory,” said Johnson.
In an email Nov. 14, Kuhns said the chamber is trying to help by making the lawn in front of their building available for the nativity scene.
Cocco, among the most vocal against the city’s decision to remove the creche, could not be reached for comment.