Sussex Countian
  • 2013: A year in review in Sussex County

  • As we head into a New Year, we look back on the top stories in Sussex County in 2013.
    • email print
  • As we head into a New Year, we look back on the top stories in Sussex County in 2013.
    Following legalization, Sussex County sees high volume of same-gender marriages
    Delaware became the 11th state to legalize same-gender marriage on May 8 when the Senate approved and Gov. Jack Markell signed into law House Bill 75, the Civil Marriage Equality and Religious Freedom Act, which allows any couple, regardless of gender, to legally wed in the First State. The bill made it off the Senate floor with a 12 to 9 vote. All Sussex County senators – Ernesto Lopez (R-Lewes), Gary Simpson (R-Milford), Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown), Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View) and Robert Venables (D-Laurel) – voted against the measure.
    Same-gender marriage became legal in Delaware on July 1. Couples were able to apply for marriage licenses that day, but due to a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, they were not able to get married until July 2.
    During that first week, the Sussex County Marriage Bureau converted 61 civil unions to marriages and issued 73 marriage licenses. Of the licenses issued, 44 were for same-gender couples, 21 male and 23 female. Marriage licenses are $50 for in-state residents and $100 for out-of-state residents. Conversions from civil unions to marriages are $50. Assuming that all of the services rendered to same-gender couples through the bureau during that first week were for in-state residents, Sussex County pulled in a minimum of $5,250 in just four-and-a-half business days. That amount is likely higher, as the bureau issued marriage licenses to same-gender couples from other states like Maryland and Pennsylvania.
    Comparatively, the bureau normally issues about 35 marriage licenses each week, which would total $1,750 if all couples were in-state residents.
    According to Sussex County Clerk of the Peace John Brady, since July 1, the bureau has issued marriage licenses to 671 same-gender couples – 112 in-state female couples, 256 out-of-state female couples, 139 in-state male couples and 164 out-of-state male couples. The bureau has also converted 160 civil unions to marriages. Brady said the bureau has brought in more revenue during the first six months of this fiscal year than it did throughout the entirety of fiscal year 2013.
    -Sarah Lake Rayne
    Safe Haven closes doors, euthanizes 19 dogs
    The financially embattled Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary, which operated under a no-kill philosophy, closed its doors Nov. 14 and euthanized 19 dogs that had been deemed unfit for adoption by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which took over day-to-day operations at the shelter in October. The ASPCA also loaded 22 dogs that were not euthanized into several vehicles and transported them to "shelters and rescue groups throughout Delaware, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and New Jersey where they can be housed, cared for and eventually made available for adoption," according to a statement released by the organization.
    Page 2 of 5 - THE IMPACT
    Safe Haven officials claimed they fell into financial troubles due to the unexpected medical and private kennel costs associated with upholding a no-kill philosophy while providing dog control for Kent County. The shelter lost its more than $868,000 dog control contract on July 30 due to its financial struggles and what seemed like a revolving door of directors on the shelter's board. Those sitting on the board at the time were not sure how much money Safe Haven owed to its lenders, but surmised the total to be around $200,000. Board members said they would seek donations to keep the shelter's doors open and would focus on adopting out Safe Haven's remaining dogs. Those board members would soon resign and be replaced by others.
    Near the end of October, the new board announced the shelter would close on Nov. 30. This was the third time since July that shelter officials had announced Safe Haven's closure. In the same breath, the board announced it had let go all of its employees and informed them there was no money to cover payroll for their past few weeks of work.
    The ASPCA took over day-to-day operations and performed behavioral assessments on the dogs to determine which adoption environment was best for them. Although Safe Haven officials said they'd be open until the end of the month, the remaining dogs were euthanized and transported out on Nov. 14, with neither the shelter nor the ASPCA alerting the public or local animal advocates working to place the dogs. Some caught wind of the closure and responded to Safe Haven to adopt dogs; however they were turned away by the ASPCA, who called the police to report the advocates were trespassing on private property. State officials determined that the actions of Safe Haven and the ASPCA were legal, despite outcry from the public.
    Lynn Lofthouse, spokeswoman for Safe Haven, released a "final media communication" that day saying the dogs were humanely euthanized and the shelter was grateful for the support it had received "during this difficult time."
    Residents and shelter workers held several candlelight vigils for "The Safe Haven 19."
    The gates that lead up to Safe Haven's facility on Shingle Point Road are locked. It's unclear at this time how the organization will move forward to address its debt. Court records do not indicate that Safe Haven has filed for bankruptcy. However, All Aboard Grooming & Kennels Inc. of Dagsboro, which kenneled Safe Haven dogs, is suing the organization for back rent and transportation costs. Court documents show the business is looking for a total of $42,175, which includes court costs and attorney's fees.
    -Sarah Lake Rayne
    Chicken plant proposed for former Vlasic pickle facility
    Page 3 of 5 - Allen Harim Foods, a Korean-based poultry processing company, announced April 1 that it was in negotiations to expand with the acquisition of the former Pinnacle Foods-owned Vlasic pickle plant in Dagsboro, just next to several Millsboro communities. The company plans to use the plant for processing, cut-up and cooking operations. The company estimated its investment into the site to be around $100 million, along with the creation of 700 jobs, most of which will be filled by Delawareans. Allen Harim officials said the new poultry facility is expected to begin operations by November 2014.
    While the proposal has received support from Gov. Jack Markell, local politicians and several business entities, it has also seen enormous pushback from neighboring residents who, in direct opposition to the poultry plant, formed the group Protecting Our Indian River. The group objects to development of a poultry processing facility on a property that is in need of environmental remediation.
    To address contaminants left onsite by Vlasic, Allen Harim has entered into a brownfields development agreement with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. An environmental investigation conducted in August and September revealed elevated levels of the chemicals perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene and lead in the groundwater, as well as nitrates in some onsite wells.
    Officials say because the contamination appears to be concentrated onsite, DNREC has proposed a remediation plan that focuses on long-term groundwater monitoring. If the results show that contaminants are migrating or showing an increasing trend, DNREC officials say they may require further remedial action. Residents concerned the chemicals will pollute the waterways and their private wells say DNREC's remediation plan is inadequate because it does not require any actual cleanup. They've demanded a more thorough investigation and more aggressive remediation efforts.
    DNREC Sec. Collin O'Mara has issued an order approving the proposed remediation plan. There will be a timeframe announced allowing for appeal of the plan. If there is no appeal, the plan will be enacted and remediation will begin. The state could reimburse Allen Harim for up to $200,000 for environmental remediation. The company has not yet finalized its purchase of the plant from Pinnacle.
    -Sarah Lake Rayne
    Sexual assault lawsuit filed against Sussex County councilman
    Katelynn Dunlap filed a lawsuit July 15 in Kent County Superior Court against Vance Phillips claiming the Sussex County councilman sexually and physically assaulted her over a two-month period in 2011. The 20-year-old Lincoln woman says she began working with Phillips on local political campaigns when she was 16, but the assaults did not begin until after she turned 18. The very detailed complaint alleges 50-year-old Phillips sexually assaulted Dunlap several times, forcing upon her fetishes that run the gamut from sex toys to bondage.
    Page 4 of 5 - THE IMPACT
    The civil complaint, filed by Dunlap's attorney, Nicholas H. Rodriguez of Dover, states the first alleged assault occurred on May 9, 2011, starting in the parking lot of a dentist's office on U.S. Route 113 in Georgetown and continuing at another location near Walmart. Following that incident, Dunlap says she continued to meet Phillips because she was afraid of what he would do to her if she did not obey him. The complaint states Phillips allegedly assaulted Dunlap three times at his Laurel farm, once in an outdoor area on Bennetts Pier Road in Milford and twice at the Super 8 Motel in Dover.
    Phillips' attorney, Joe Hurley of Wilmington, has likened the contents of the complaint to the popular novel "50 Shades of Grey," and said the detailed account is a blatant attempt to pollute the objectivity of a potential jury pool.
    According to the Delaware State Police, Phillips was investigated in 2012 after members of the General Assembly received an anonymous letter claiming he was involved in a relationship with an underage girl. No criminal charges were filed and the investigation is reportedly complete, unless new evidence is brought to light.
    In a July 15 response to Dunlap's civil allegations, Phillips invoked the Fifth Amendment, citing his right against self-incrimination, based on the uncertainty of whether criminal charges could be filed against him at a future date.
    A trial jury with an anticipated length of five days is scheduled for Feb. 23, 2015 in Kent County Superior Court.
    -Sarah Lake Rayne
    Tech girls soccer advances to final four for first time
    The Sussex Tech girls soccer team advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in school history last spring.
    The Ravens entered the 2013 season fresh off two straight playoff appearances. After falling in the first round in 2011, the Ravens advanced to the second round in 2012 before falling to perennial power Padua. This season, the expectations for the Ravens were generally the same. There weren't many outside the confines of the team that saw them as true final four contenders.
    The Ravens shocked much of the state by going 14-1 in 2013, led by one of the youngest squads in the state. Tech had just two seniors. The dynamic group of underclassmen reeled off 12 straight wins after suffering their only regular season loss – to Polytech – just two weeks into the season.
    Perhaps even more remarkable, the Ravens posted nine straight shutouts to end the season behind a tough defense and dynamic all-state goalkeeper Leslie Fazio.
    The Ravens followed up their strong regular season by defeating Dover in the opening round of the playoffs, and Caravel Academy in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, the Ravens' run ended in the semifinal round, falling to Charter School of Wilmington 3-1.
    Page 5 of 5 - WHAT'S NEXT
    While they weren't able to go all the way in 2013, the Ravens boast one of the most talented young teams in the state and are primed for a return to the playoffs in 2014.
    "The final four; that's never occurred here for a girls or guys team," said head coach Carlos Villa. "Hats off to them, now it's their time; they showed a lot of class and a lot of heart [last] season."
    Nearly every impact player from the 2013 campaign will return for the Ravens in 2014, including leading goal-scorer Michelle Laz, Natalie Sava, Natalie Fiacco, Clara May Abella, Dylan Bryan and Fazio. Also, several freshmen whose games blossomed in 2013 – Sheila Artiga, Annie Perdue and Wuendy Cruz Velasquez – will be a year older and more experienced.
    It all adds up to Sussex Tech being a true contender for the state title in 2014.
    "I think we could go far, of course one of our goals is to win a state championship," Laz said. "If we work as hard as we have I know we can make a run at it. We're all very confident and we know we could make history."
    - Mike Santa Barbara