A pair of lawmakers on the General Assembly's Bond Bill Committee raised objections Thursday to recommendations from Gov. Jack Markell that favor funding for bike trails over money to maintain aging dams and dikes statewide.
In a hearing on capital requests from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Reps. Helene Keeley and John Viola keyed in on a $3 million proposal to expand Delaware's bike trail network.
Markell touted the funding recommendation when he released his spending plans at the end of January, saying the proposal would be a continuation of a $7 million trails plan included in the current year's budget.
At Thursday's hearing, DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara gave a detailed description of the trail projects and their importance to his department's No Child Left Inside initiative.
Viola questioned why the administration's proposed DNREC budget includes $3 million for trails, but leaves unfunded a $2.5 million capital spending line labeled "Critical Infrastructure Investments - High Hazard Dam and Dike Repair."
"No Child Left Inside is a worthwhile cause by all means," said Viola, D-Newark. "Dams and dikes gets no money, but No Child Left Inside gets money, personally that bothers me a little."
O'Mara told the committee that, within the last year, DNREC made its first full evaluations of the state's 43 state-owned or state-regulated dams, using $4 million in Bond Bill funds appropriated for fiscal year 2012.
So far, the dam program has mostly focused on assessment and engineering work -- the first phases of repair and rebuilding projects.
Some of those dams showed their weaknesses during August's Hurricane Irene and may have suffered serious damage had Delaware not been spared a direct hit by the storm. O'Mara showed the committee pictures of Hearns Pond dam, near Seaford, which DNREC had to stabilize with sandbags when flood waters reached their highest level.
O'Mara also called the committee's attention to an aging network of dikes that keep Delaware Bay from swamping the city of New Castle -- a concern that's only recently garnered DNREC's attention.