Volume 17, Issue 25
Business leaders and environmentalists alike have been preparing to argue their sides regarding Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act.
Preparations were put to us on Thursday, May 18,2017, when state legislators introduced a bill that would alter how Delaware’s signature environmental zoning law is administered. If these changes come to pass, they would only be the second made in nearly 50 years.
Some environmentalists do not support the bill and have gone so far as to state that it is even worse than they imagined.
“It’s absolutely terrifying,” longtime activist Amy Roe said. “What they’re proposing would completely and totally break the Coastal Zone Act while putting low-income, minority communities at risk of real environmental disasters.”
The Coastal Zone Conversion Permit Act, House Bill 190, if passed, would create a permitting process that would allow new industrial uses at 14 coastal sites, only one would not be located in New Castle County.
Though not all are currently active, all have in the past had heavy industry use and all are polluted. Supporters argue that the bill would encourage businesses to clean up the sites and hundreds of factory jobs.
“The state doesn’t have the funds to remediate these sites and the only way to clean them up is for a business to come in,” said James DeChene, vice president of government affairs for the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.
“The only way they’re going to do that is if they can use the sites and then you get new industries and good-paying jobs,” he added. “It’s a win-win.”
A big problem for environmentalists is a provision that would allow nine properties with docks and piers built before 1971 to conduct bulk product transfer, which means it can move cargo such as oil or raw chemicals from ship to shore and vice versa.
The current Coastal Zone Act fought to protect the Delaware Bay and the state’s shoreline from the encroachment of heavy industrial development and specifically bans bulk product transfer.
The act’s first paragraph warns that ports and docking facilities used for that purpose would represent a significant danger of pollution and attract exactly the types of heavy industry the law sought to contain.
“For these reasons,” the law states, “prohibition against bulk product transfer facilities in the coastal zone is deemed imperative.”
Roe said she would be devastated if these shipments were now allowed.
“That would mean opening Delaware’s coast up to more ships and more trains carrying hazardous materials,” she said. “That means a much greater risk of oil spills and other incidents that could threaten our wildlife, our fishing industries and our beaches.”
Proponents counter that these fears are overblown.
“Everyone seems to focus on the fear of an oil spill,” said state Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, the bill’s lead sponsor in the House. “But I’m sure with the new technology – sensors, switches, electronics, video – that when something goes wrong, it’s going to be caught quickly to eliminate any major disaster.”
The legislation, he argues, has provisions that would require owners of the properties to put up money to cover cleanup costs from spills and other contamination.
“I don’t think it will impact the state’s tourism industry at all,” he said. “There are 14 sites [in the bill] none of which I can ever imagine being tourist sites.”
What are your thoughts about the bill?
Source: Goss, Scott, and Xerxes Wilson. “Bitter Fight Expected over Coastal Zone Reform Bill.” News Journal. Delawareonline, 20 May 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.