Saturday, July 30, 2005


Finder's keepers? Maybe not


Delmarva Now
By Bruce Pringle
July 27, 2005

History-laden shipwrecks aren't discovered in Delaware very often. So perhaps it was understandable that when such a find was made off the Lewes shore last fall, a bit of confusion followed.

By the time state officials acted to close the beach where pieces of centuries-old pottery and other relics had appeared, much of that treasure had been removed by curious beachgoers.
But if a similar situation arises, a new set of rules will apply.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner this month signed into law House Bill 229, specifying that the contents of any historic shipwreck found in Delaware waters belong to the state, putting the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs in charge of protecting those relics, and empowering state and local police to assist the division in carrying out its mission.

"There was unclear jurisdiction," said state Rep. Joe Booth, R-Georgetown, who sponsored H.B. 29. "Hopefully this will clear it up."

The new law authorizes the director of the division -- currently Tim Slavin -- to make shipwrecks off-limits to anyone not approved by the division to inspect them.

Several hundred yards out in the Delaware Bay last fall, a crew that was dredging sand to rebuild the shoreline around Lewes' Roosevelt Inlet dredged up something else. It hit what is now regarded as a ship from the early days of colonial America. As the crew pumped sand to the beach, it inadvertently pumped -- and broke -- pottery and other objects from the ship.

Now, Slavin could halt such dredging as soon as he learned that historically significant items were jeopardized.

H.B. 229 was approved unanimously in both the House and Senate. But Booth said he faced questions about whether concern for underwater artifacts could unduly disrupt dredging projects.

"The intention is not to stop dredging," but temporary halts may be necessary, he said. "If you hit the underwater continent of Atlantis, shouldn't you stop to check it out?"


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