Commentary: Our health and our waterways: We are not protected

By Nan Zamorski

We are not protected from the novel COVID-19 virus. 

The first infections in December, 2019, were linked to an illegal live-animal market in Wuhan, China, where wild animals are sold for meat. Endangered animals are often included in these markets that are common throughout Asia. 

Scientists are scrambling to develop treatments for and preventions from this new-to-humans virus.

Meanwhile, we are told to stay at home to slow the spread.  Schools and many businesses are closed, and our once-booming economy is being destroyed and savings wiped out.

Here in Sussex County and Seaford specifically, we are not protected from an additional threat.  That threat is to our environmental health and quality of life.

 I think most of us are aware that we have a clean water problem and that our beautiful resource, the Nanticoke River, is being threatened.  It is one of the few rivers in Delaware where you can swim and actually eat the fish.  It is being degraded with all sorts of things washing into it, mostly due to lack of vegetation on its banks. 

The best water protection is keeping a forested waterside buffer. This includes the underlying trees (like dogwood and redbud), shrubs of varying heights (such as the sweet pepperbush or low-bush blueberry), and natural groundcover plants. 

Besides giving us oxygen to breathe and cooling/protection for our homes, trees absorb large amounts of water through their roots (prevents flooding), remove pollutants from soils, and provide habitats for eagles, ospreys, herons, songbirds, and butterflies. 

We are in the midst of rapid deforestation, and all scientific data says we shouldn’t do this.

In the world of codes and ordinances, it’s called buffers.  Seaford apparently has no codes on buffers – or building in floodplains for that matter – as recent waterfront construction is being permitted without any setbacks or protective vegetative buffers. 

Our county is allowing destruction, clearing, and construction on wetlands and waterfront at alarming rates.  Due to our lack of rules, out-of-state companies are buying our land, logging it and frankly, doing just about anything they want.  They laugh at us and meanwhile, the proceeds go back home, not staying here in our community.

It’s time for citizens to get involved.   You don’t have to be an expert in green infrastructure to know how to communicate with towns and counties. 

Right now, the county is looking into updating the county’s buffers and they need your input. 

A quick look at why so many developers are coming to our county from Maryland and New Jersey is to compare our buffer requirements:  New Jersey has a 300-foot buffer requirement around tidal wetlands and waters, while we have 50-foot buffer (manipulated and enforced irregularly). The proposal on the table right now is to increase to 100 feet. 

We have zero protection around non-tidal wetlands and smaller streams, where New Jersey requires 300 feet.  Right now, our county is “considering” a 30-foot buffer.

It’s disheartening to see all that is happening right here, right now, that goes against scientific data about our health and the health of our environment, which translates to the health of our economy. 

With the added COVID-19 stress-mess and stay-at-home guidance, now is the time to contact all members of Sussex County Council and Seaford city leaders about updating our buffer codes and ordinances.

Nan Zamorski lives in Seaford