Serious concerns raised over Beach Walk

November 14, 2016

Save Our Lakes Alliance(3) is a nonprofit organization, incorporated in 2004, with a mission to "restore, protect and maintain the Rehoboth Beach lakes and their environments." We have received two awards from Gov. Jack Markell for our environmental work and was the force behind then Attorney General Beau Biden declaring that the state of Delaware owns Silver Lake and Lake Comegys, two of the three Rehoboth Beach lakes. The current dredging project underway at Silver Lake is the result of SOLA's efforts with Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control that began in 2010.

The Rehoboth Beach Homeowners Association is a nonprofit organization that operates to promote the common good and general welfare of homeowners and residents of Rehoboth Beach for their mutual enjoyment and benefit, to preserve the quality of life, and to foster the spirit of community. We seek to play a meaningful role in civic matters through advocacy for our members on issues such as ordinances, the environment, and preservation.

SOLA3 and RBHA wish to express serious concerns about the potential impact on the environment and natural resources and the public's health, safety and welfare presented by the proposed Beach Walk development, currently the site of the Bay Mart Shopping Center. The planning commission has recognized the importance of protecting the environment in its state-approved 2010 Comprehensive Development Plan, which states "Rehoboth Beach will... require that development within its [Rehoboth Beach] boundaries be sensitive to environmental considerations."

Moreover, the planning commission has the responsibility and the express authority under the Rehoboth Beach Site Plan Review Ordinance to reject any site plan that is inconsistent with the purposes of the Ordinance, including the protection of natural resources and the environment and protection of the public's health, safety and welfare. In order to evaluate any site plan against these purposes, the planning commission must have sufficient data in order to determine how these purposes are adversely affected by a proposed development.

In our view, the scant commentary provided by the developer of Beach Walk to date is wholly insufficient to enable the planning commission to make an informed judgment in the areas discussed below.

Silver Lake: The plans submitted for Beach Walk provide minimum protections for stormwater management, sediment and erosion control, and surface and groundwater runoff. Moreover, the threat from and disposition of toxic airborne substances into the lake arising from the demolition of two huge building structures, removal of 7.78 acres of asphalt and concrete, removal of current infrastructure, and practices before and during construction are inadequately addressed.

Silver Lake has been declared by the Delaware Attorney General as integral to the ambiance of Rehoboth Beach and, as the closest freshwater lake in the nation in proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, a "natural treasure." It achieved historic status with the dedication of a Delaware historic marker, sponsored by Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf and Sen. Ernie Lopez, because of its historic importance to the area.

The health of Silver Lake also impacts the quality of Rehoboth's beaches. As the lake fills, its water flows, untreated, directly through an outfall at its east end and into the ocean in close proximity to the beaches.
Public Health and Safety Issues: The Beach Walk developer has provided no plan for protection of the public as a result of the demolition of the buildings and removal of the existing concrete and asphalt surfaces. It is a known fact that older buildings can contain carcinogens, such as lead, asbestos, silica and other chemicals that are hazardous and can cause serious health issues.

Another serious question is - What remains of and from the storage tanks used by the former Amoco station, located at Bay Mart (3716 Route 1)? The Environmental Protection Agency Facility Registry Services has identified the gas storage tanks as "subject to environmental regulations or of environmental interest." This area must be inspected for contaminants of lead and other compounds, not just from leaking underground storage tanks, but also from spills and overfills that occurred when the tanks were in use. EPA's federal underground storage tank regulations require that leaking underground storage tank sites must be cleaned up to restore and protect groundwater resources and create a safe environment for those who live or work around these sites.

The three communities that adjoin the construction site most affected by the hazards created by the Beach Walk development are on Terrace Road, Scarborough Avenue extended, and Silver Lane. Also in close proximity is Spring Lake, just across Route 1, as well as the senior day care center adjacent to the construction site, and the nearby elementary school.

Because the release of hazardous chemicals, whether released into the ground or airborne, have the potential to adversely affect the health of the large populations closest to Beach Walk, impact adjoining properties, and threaten the surrounding natural environment, an evaluation must be done to identify these hazards and assure adequate protections are provided to the public.

We believe the most effective way for the planning commission to address these issues is with an Environmental Impact Assessment before approving the development. This type assessment will provide important data and facts on which the Planning Commission can base its decisions. The assessment can be done in one of two ways:

Once the developer has agreed to provide adequate protections, the planning commission must insist that a third party Delaware Certified Construction Reviewer be at the site during demolition, before any earth is moved, and during construction to monitor the work of the developer to assure that Best Management Practices are applied, that required DNREC regulations are adhered to, as well as City of Rehoboth Beach requirements, and those imposed by the planning commission.

The Site Plan Review Ordinance gives the planning commission enormous responsibility to assure that any development falling under its authority meets the purposes of the ordinance.

We urge you to withhold any approval of the proposed Beach Walk development until you have fully assessed its impact on the environment and natural resources and on the public’s health, safety and welfare.

Because our citizen organizations do not have sufficient resources or expertise to bring to bear on all of the environmental and public safety issues raised by the proposed development, we believe it is incumbent on the Planning Commission to call upon whatever state and City of Rehoboth Beach resources may be needed to conduct the type of credible and detailed assessments necessary. This type assessment will allow you to base your decisions on a series of facts from the assessment, rather than unsubstantiated claims.

The developers of Beach Walk also are obligated to furnish to the planning commission and other offices all information relevant to these assessments.

Beach Walk, as currently planned, raises many serious concerns for the City of Rehoboth and its residents.
But no issue is more important than protecting the environment and the public safety and welfare, which is within your authority.

Sallie Forman is founder and president of SOLA3. Charlie Browne is president of the Rehoboth Beach Homeowners Association.

  • 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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