Letter to the Editor: Sussex should consider healthy distance for changes to buffer ordinance

One of the most important environmental policies is coming before Sussex County Council in the near future.

The Sussex County buffer ordinance is crucial to a healthy environment.  Conservation buffers are areas of land situated along waterways in permanent vegetation of forest, grasses, and native vegetation designed to intercept and manage environmental concerns.  

An adequate buffer filters pollutants, mitigates flooding, helps control erosion, provides wildlife habitats, and protects aquatic systems.  Erosion results in the loss and degradation of wetlands, which contributes to this county’s poor water quality.

Currently, Sussex code requires a 50-foot buffer.  Fifty feet is not adequate.  New Castle and Kent counties both have buffer regulations of 100 feet. Maryland has 100- to 200-foot buffers.  New Jersey has 300-foot buffers.  Why is Sussex County different?

 The health of a citizenry depends on air, water, and land quality.  As much as 87% of our waterways are polluted, not only adversely affecting aquatic systems but lowering our economic values. 

The benefits of adequate buffers are well known and documented. The quality of stream-side forested areas has been cited as the single most important factor in controlling pollution run off.  Homes concentrated in developments near sensitive wetlands and waterways degrade our natural resources, add more impervious surface, and escalate the risk of flooding.  

It is much less costly to citizens, the county, and state to control flooding and erosion than trying to undo the damage after the fact.  The loss of wetlands to flooding and sea level rise affects us all.  

Private property rights are important but should not supersede the health of our citizens and our environment.  Current buffer regulations provide minimal protection.  A new environmental policy should not only be applied but enforced. Exceptions, which have historically been granted, should not be standard operating procedure.  

A healthy ecosystem protects us; we need to protect our environment.  Moving forward environmentally makes good sense for everyone and everything.  Watersheds provide real and significant economic benefits to the state including Sussex County and are worthy of our investment to keep them healthy.  

Christina Darby
Friends of the Nanticoke River
Steering Committee member

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