Sussex County Delaware

Bunting: Privatization
of I.R. Marina Flawed
 
Guest Opinion

By GEORGE H. BUNTING JR.
State Senator, 20th District, D-Bethany Beach

George H. Bunting Jr. (D-Bethany Beach) is a Delaware state senator in the 20th Senatorial District.

Delaware Senator George H. Bunting Jr.

I am writing in response to those who have been speaking and writing publicly in favor of turning over the Indian River Marina and surrounding lands to a private company on a long-term lease of up to 99 years. I believe that this proposal is flawed in numerous ways.

The first and biggest problem is that the proposal involves the privatization of land which the State of Delaware holds in trust, not only for citizens of our own time, but for future generations.

Some of the comments which have been made by supporters of the so-called "Delaware Seashore Venture" proposal seem to suggest that this is merely a question of whether a private company can do a better job of commercializing a piece of property than the state can. That misses the point completely.

The issue involved here is much larger than simply "public versus private." For the state government to sell to the highest bidder, a long-term lease giving a private company the right to use, hold and develop public park land for a period of 49 years, with the possibility of two 25-year extensions, would, in my opinion, be a violation of state government's fiduciary responsibility to the citizens we serve. It would make a mockery of the whole concept of what a public park is supposed to be.

It is one thing for the state to build a facility on state park land and then lease that facility as a concession on a short-term basis (3 to 5 years, for example) to a private contractor. This is done routinely, not only in Delaware but in other state and national parks.

What is being proposed in this case, however, is far more than that. Here, a private company would acquire a long-term lease to public land and develop a major marina/hotel/convention center complex on that property. The general public would be deprived of the right to use this park land, except as paying customers of the private company. For all intents and purposes, the property would have ceased, for at least the next half century and possibly for a full century, to be public land at all.

A lot can change along the Delaware coast in 50 or 100 years. Just look at how much has changed since 1953. In that time we have seen our beaches subjected to ever greater pressure from development. We're now at the point where just finding a parking place for a Saturday at the beach can be a major challenge for anyone arriving after 10 a.m. The pressure on state park beach lands is only going to grow more intense.

To fully appreciate another major problem with this proposal, one has to go back in time 41 years to the Great March Storm of 1962, when the same area where this company would like to establish a hotel/entertainment complex had waves breaking around and over it. Storms like that do not happen often, but they do happen, and those who overlook that fact do so at their own peril. In addition, if people think the Indian River Marina is in bad shape now, they should see how bad it was when the state bought it from private owners in the years after that storm.

I am also concerned by the substantial amount of misinformation that was included in a recent segment on WBOC-TV news. While it is true the marina has fallen into a state of disrepair, work is now underway on temporary repairs, to be completed before the beginning of the upcoming boating season. Most of the work is being done by park staff at low cost. The current repairs will last until the marina is completely rebuilt by the state within the next two years.

It has also been stated that the proposal by the private company would be more environmentally sensitive than the state's plans for the area. This is untrue. The private company is planning a lodge with 219 hotel/condominium units, restaurants and a convention center, in addition to the marina itself.

By contrast the state's plans will be limited to the rebuilding of the marina, construction of a dry storage facility for storing boats, and construction of 12 rental cottages, using far less land than the private proposal.

Finally, it has been suggested that the private project would provide the state with more money. This is also untrue. The private company has offered the state a total return of $11 million over 20 years. By contrast, the state's plan for the use of the property would return over $25 million to the state even after paying back the $8.8 million the state will borrow from the State Parks Endowment fund to finance the rebuilding of the marina and the construction of the 12 cottages.

One problem in the past has been that income from the marina operation has gone into a fund for the upkeep and maintenance of all state parks rather than being applied specifically to Indian River. I believe that it is only right to use income derived from the Indian River operation to properly maintain the facilities at that park first and then, if there are surplus funds, use the surplus for other park operations.

The Indian River Inlet lands and the Delaware Seashore State Park adjoining the inlet area are among the great public treasures of this state. Our area needs responsible and high quality development and the jobs it brings, but we don't need it in the middle of our state park.

George H. Bunting, Jr.
State Senator, 20th District
Legislative Hall
Dover, DE 19901
Work Phone, (302) 227-3891; Senate Phone, (302) 744-4144
Work Fax, (302) 226-3810; Senate Fax, (302) 739-6890


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