Last week, the Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 6, which would protect and preserve Cape Henlopen State Park from private or commercial development. The bill is already out of committee in the House (released from the House Adminstration Committee yesterday), so it could get a vote tomorrow on the House floor, unless it is reassigned to another committee. Considering that Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf is a prime sponsor, I don’t consider that likely.
Cape Henlopen State Park sits on more than 3,000 acres of coastal land that was first apportioned by William Penn in a 1682 land grant to local businessman Edmund Warner. The courts originally granted this land (the “Warner Grant”) upon the condition that it would always serve the public interest. For more than 300 years, these lands have been maintained as a beloved public park serving three foundational purposes: conservation, nature education, and public recreation.
Because language in the original Warner Grant did not explicitly address parameters for private uses on these public lands, several lawsuits arose and required the General Assembly to intervene in 1979. Lawmakers established the Warner Grant Trust and set the boundaries of the lands in the Trust, known as the Warner Grant Trust Lands.
Senate Bill 6 would require the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, as a trustee of the Warner Grant Trust Lands, to administer the land in the public interest. This legislation specifies “conservation and preservation” of the Warner Grant Trust as its preeminent goal, and directs DNREC to preserve “the scenic, historic, scientific, prehistoric, and wildlife values” of the Warner Grant Trust Lands.
SB 6 makes clear that DNREC must administer these lands so that a private benefit or financial gain to a for-profit enterprise or public-private partnership is not detrimental to the public benefit. SB 6 also asserts that the Court of Chancery has jurisdiction over disputes about the Lands and directs the Attorney General to represent the Trust on behalf of the People of Delaware in any legal proceedings.
|SENATE BILL 6 – CONSERVATION AT CAPE HENLOPEN||Currrent Status – Senate Passed 21-0. Out of Committee in the House 6/13/23|
|House Sponsors – Schwartzkopf, Parker Selby, Harris, Baumbach, Heffernan, Phillips // Hilovsky, Gray||Senate Sponsors – Huxtable, Hansen, Sokola, Townsend // Pettyjohn, Hocker, Lawson|
|House Yes Votes –||Senate Yes Votes – Brown Gay Hansen Hoffner Huxtable Lockman Mantzavinos McBride Paradee Pinkney Poore Sokola Sturgeon Townsend Walsh // Buckson Hocker Lawson Pettyjohn Richardon Wilson|
|House No Votes –||Senate No Votes –|
|House Absents or Not Voting –||Senate Absent or Not Voting –|
Senator Russ Huxtable: “It is with great pride that I share with you that the Senate unanimously voted this afternoon to pass Senate Bill 6. This issue is close to the heart of many residents of Coastal Delaware and people across our state who value our state parks and the open spaces along our coastlines. Thank you to all of the community advocates who joined us today as we fight to preserve the natural beauty of Cape Henlopen State Park and beyond.”
“Last year’s issues surrounding the proposed restaurant made it apparent that we need to establish clear guardrails for how one of Sussex County’s most cherished natural resources is used and preserved,” said Rep. Schwartzkopf. “Specifying that ‘conservation and preservation’ of the trust is DNREC’s top goal will provide very clear direction and should give all of us peace of mind that Cape Henlopen will remain a treasure for residents and visitors for generations to come. As state legislators, that is one of our most important duties, and I’m proud to lead this effort with my friend Sen. Huxtable.”