Hocker coffee serves up discussion of oysters and rent hikes

For the first time since he was elected state representative in 2000, state Sen. Gerald Hocker Sr. enjoyed his first election off. But he was back to work Wednesday morning, with a Nov. 5 “Coffee’s On Me” with constituents.

Regarding the election, he said, “Some long-termers were voted out. I personally think it was a vote against our governor, because most of the people I know … don’t like the direction we’re heading now.”

When responding to concerns of those present, Hocker returned to the same idea: if you have a problem, “make yourself known.” Share your personal concerns, but avoid form letters, he urged.

“I suggest not sending the same exact letter. I don’t know who drafted the letter, but I must have gotten a hundred of the same letter” regarding aquaculture, Hocker said.

“The same exact letter does not have the same weight as [a personal letter] with your own story.”

Rent increase

A rent hike has residents of the Shady Grove II community in Selbyville scrambling. The community provides housing for low-income senior citizens, funded in part by USDA Rural Development.

“They sent us a couple letters stating that our [rent] is going up sky-high. I can’t afford sky-high. Me and my dog would have to hit the street,” said resident Ollie Baker.

Some residents could be charged $300 more per month.

Hocker noted that this is a federally subsidized program, so he can personally contact the federal delegation.

“Not only do I think we’re heading in the wrong direct in the state, the same thing is happening in the federal government. You can’t keep spending more than you got and not expect it to catch up,” Hocker said.

“No one there can afford those kind of increases,” he added. “Federal subsidy rentals are very important in today’s economy. We need to make sure those people are taken care of.”

Beebe buzz

Resident Liz Bolton said she specifically moved to the area partly because Beebe Healthcare had announced plans to build a small medical facility at Millville By the Sea, plans which fell by the wayside. Now she would fight traffic to reach the nearest hospitals, she told Hocker.

“I can’t have a heart attack between 8 and 5!” she said.

“We had a terrible time trying to get a doctor. My husband tried to call for a [dermatologist]. He is 701 on a waiting list,” Bolton told Hocker. “What are you trying to do to encourage doctors to come down here and provide a maybe small emergency room closer than Beebe hospital or Atlantic General, like they have on Kent Island?”

“That was killed with the Bradley case,” said Hocker, who served on a new facility committee before pediatrician Earl Bradley, who had privileges at Beebe, was convicted for wide-scale child abuse, costing Beebe and its insurers approximately $100 million in reparations to victims.

Although Beebe hasn’t built a new emergency ward, there are many doctors and medical test facilities nearby, though some are not taking new patients or have long waits for appointments.

“It takes an awful large community to support a hospital,” Hocker said, adding that he still has hope.

Meanwhile, he said, some doctors have trouble with national programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

“Doctors have to be able to make money, or you’re not going to be able to see them,” he said. “I think with the nationwide election yesterday, some of that will change … hopefully, it changes for the best.”

When pressed about new action on the issue for the future, Hocker said he would “start putting pressure on Beebe hospital,” but it needs the demand, contributions and community funding.

He encouraged people to contact the local hospitals by calling and asking to get involved.

Oyster talk

Ocean View resident Steve Callanen told Hocker he felt “hoodwinked” by the incoming oyster aquaculture industry. He submitted a list of aquaculture-related questions to Hocker, having received what he deemed an inadequate response from Delaware Center for Inland Bays (CIB) and its Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).

In part, he questions the advertised high ability of oysters to filter water.

“My feeling is that the idea that oysters are a silver bullet to clean up the Inland Bays is just a sales pitch,” Callanen said.

To improve water flow and create jobs, one gentleman suggested re-carving the Route 1 inlet to make Fenwick an island again.

Dredging would also improve things, Hocker said. When the Assawoman Canal was dredged, he said, he “heard countless people say” the Little Assawoman Bay improved. Others in the audience agreed.

Aquaculture was a popular idea from the beginning, Hocker said.

“I have stood here and said that’s the only piece of legislation that we passed in the last two years that’s gonna create jobs in Delaware,” Hocker said. That legislation strictly created the industry and the percentage of that bays could be used. It had nothing to do with the proposed leases and locations since released by DNREC, which have rattled many residents.

“Rep. [Ron] Gray and I were not happy about the notification” that nearby residents received, Hocker explained, so they hosted their own meeting.

“For members aware of this for the first time — shame on you, because I talked about it here” at his own coffee meetings, he told them.

“Whoever made comment that I originated it — talk to me … because I am doing all I can to change the areas. … I put most of the blame on the director of the Center for Inland Bays.”

When the Army Corps of Engineers opens public comments on the issue, Hocker said, he encourages everyone to send their opinion. He said he’ll do the same.

Hocker discouraged people from trying to revoke the entire aquaculture industry legislation, which the General Assembly created without a dissenting vote, despite the fact that only seven legislators have constituencies that include the inland bays.

“I try not to say this publically, but I’ve got people in my district asking why we’re trying to stop it,” Hocker admitted. “Believe me, the people that are living on Little Assawoman and The Cove doesn’t want the inland residents to start this fight. Don’t start this fight, because they will outnumber you. … There’s not enough in votes in the General Assembly. Just being honest with you.”

For those upset about aquaculture, Hocker said things would be clearer if his own bill had passed, or even gotten out of committee. Introduced in multiple sessions, his bipartisan bill required an economic impact study, notifications to each committee chair regarding whom the regulations impact and more.

“We could not get that bill out of committee for a full vote. Why should the state legislators that you elect not have any say in regulations?” he said. “Why should you not know who that regulation is going to affect and how much it’s going to cost? … You elect us, not state agencies.”

Not a County man

When asked if a new billboard is being erected near the waterway at Harpoon Hanna’s, Hocker recommended people contact the Sussex County administration with their concerns.

“I stay out of County issues. I’m not elected for County issues,” Hocker said. “I was beat up big time when they wanted to put a waterpark next to my property” near Cedar Neck Landing, he added. If he had wanted to sell the land, he could have sold to Toll Brothers a year earlier.

“I wasn’t gonna sell for a water park,” Hocker said, despite rumors that he was a part owner of the water park property.

“If I wanted to get involved in County issues, I woulda stopped the condos that were built around Magnolia’s.”