A bill clarifying the regulation and use of Cape Henlopen State Park under the Warner Grant moved through committee May 17.
Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Russ Huxtable, D-Lewes, was introduced months after protests by Lewes residents against the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s proposal to allow a full-service restaurant in the park.
The bill makes clarifications to the original Warner Grant law created to regulate more than 3,000 acres of land, of which Cape Henlopen State Park is now a part.
The bill designates DNREC as the trustee of Warner Grant Trust Lands and requires the department to administer the lands for conservation, nature education and public recreation. A public/private partnership is not detrimental to the public benefit and the bill provides the attorney general to represent Delawareans in enforcing use of the park.
DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin said he was concerned by language in the bill, particularly the bill’s definition of private/public partnerships.
Already, he said, the park has partnerships with bait and tackle shops, a kayak business, snack shacks and other recreational activities.
“The idea that we can only determine if it’s against the Warner Trust based on somebody objecting to it really ties our hands on what we’re going to do in the future,” Garvin said, adding some residents speaking out in November were against allowing a snack bar to operate at the park.
He also questioned whether the attorney general should switch from representing the trust to representing anyone in Sussex County who believes the park is being misused and wants to sue.
“I think there’s a lot of vagueness in this,” Garvin said, before requesting to speak with Huxtable over his concerns. “I’m concerned that this legislation may be a little bit of an overreach to a reaction to one specific situation.”
The bill was moved out of committee, but Huxtable said he would speak with Garvin and clarify any areas of concern with an amendment, if need be.
“There’s still time to make any tweaks. If there are any to be made, we can adjust them, offer an amendment or do a substitute bill,” Huxtable said after the committee hearing. “My process is to get it out of committee so it gets to the next step.”
Several Lewes residents spoke in favor of the bill.
“Please do not support any amendments that would allow our park to become a modern entertainment venue; that’s the direction it’s slanting now and it’s not working,” said Lewes resident Elaine Simmerman, a member of the Preserve Our Park coalition.