Coastal Zone Act modification bill introduced


DOVER — Lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would modify the Coastal Zone Act to allow redevelopment of manufacturing sites along the coast, a key part of Gov. John Carney’s economic plan.

The Coastal Zone Act, passed in 1971, banned bulk product transfer facilities near the coast. House Bill 190, which has bipartisan support, would create an exemption for 14 sites, 13 of which are above the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

The bill would let the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control issue permits for the sites for industrial activities.

“We’ve all heard the chatter from the business community and industry that the Coastal Zone Act as it currently was passed in ’71 was restraining job creation and industry,” main sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, said. “I wanted to take that on to make sure that it didn’t get too opened up. I wanted to be able to thread the needle between creating some jobs in the coastal zone and also protecting our pristine coastline.”

Some environmentalists are strongly opposed to modifying the act, but legislators of both parties are backing House Bill 190.

The measure would require permit applicants detail the environmental impact of the planned activities, proposals to counteract sea level rise and the economic benefit.

Oil refineries, incinerators, pulp paper mills, steel manufacturing plants and liquefied natural gas terminals would continue to be banned. The Delaware City Refinery would remain exempt from certain aspects due to being grandfathered in the original act.

Rep. Osienski dismissed concerns about an oil spill, noting the refinery has not seen any spills.

Supporters believe the proposal could create hundreds of jobs, and Rep. Osienski said some companies have looked at restoring facilities along the coast, although there are no “definite” plans.

In a statement, Gov. Carney applauded the legislation.

“We can and should responsibly redevelop Delaware’s industrial sites, clean them up and put them back to work for Delawareans,” the governor said. “This legislation would allow additional flexibility for the 14 existing heavy industry sites within the Coastal Zone, and only those sites. It would open these sites up for additional redevelopment and job creation — while maintaining a commitment to environmental protection.

“We should do what we can to add good-paying jobs for all Delawareans, while continuing to protect our natural resources. The responsible changes in this bill meet that test.”

Estate tax repeal

The House passed legislation repealing the estate tax, sending the bill to the Senate.

By a vote of 26-14, with one member absent, the chamber approved a measure that would sunset the tax on Dec. 31. The vote split the Democratic caucus, while every Republican voted in support.

The policy imposes a tax of between 12 and 16 percent, depending on the value of the estate, with amounts totaling less than $5.49 million exempt from the tax.

The money brought in by the estate tax has varied over time, from $16.2 million in fiscal year 2011 from $1.3 million in fiscal year 2014, according to the Department of Finance.

Though removing the tax would cost the state an estimated $3.75 million in the first full fiscal year after it takes effect and $5 million thereafter, Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek Valley, said the estate tax has actually hurt revenue totals by driving away wealthy individuals.

“I truly, honestly believe that if this bill is passed our personal income tax would be affected in a positive way in three to five years,” said Rep. Ramone, the main sponsor of the bill.

But half the Democratic caucus disagreed, with Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, as the most vocal opponent.

Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, noted the state has about a gap of about $385 million between projected revenues and expenses and questioned the timing of the bill.

“If you find yourself in a hole, the first step is stop digging,” he said.

The state first established the estate tax in 2009, with the provision the tax would expire in 2013. However, lawmakers later removed that sunset.

Thursday’s bill, which now moves on to the Senate, was passed partly as a result of discussions between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic leadership agreeing to back the bill if Republicans signed on to a measure raising the corporate franchise tax.

A 2015 report created by a state group put together to study revenue recommended eliminating the estate tax, something noted by Republicans Thursday.

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