Carper touts efforts to fight climate change effects

DOVER — Climate change, Sen. Tom Carper believes, is one of the biggest threats facing the First State.

The 70-year-old Democrat who serves as the senior-most member of the state’s congressional delegation toured Delaware Friday to see the effects of climate change, including sea level rise.

He came away impressed with work the state is doing to combat the shifting environment — and while Congress is divided on the controversial issue, Sen. Carper said he is convinced Delaware is taking positive steps.

“If you don’t believe sea level rise is real, come with me to Delaware,” said Sen. Carper, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. “Ride with me down Route 1 south past Dover and we’ll turn east and go onto Prime Hook Road. And we drive on Prime Hook Road until we get to the Delaware Bay.

“Get out of your car, you’re standing there looking at the Delaware Bay and off in the distance, New Jersey. Under the water, there at the water’s edge, there used to be a parking lot.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., center, talks with Kari St. Laurent, right, Maggie Pletta and Mike Polo, all of DNREC, while visiting the St. Jones Reserve near Dover on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“And if you look off to the right about 1 o’clock, you see what looks like a concrete bunker sticking up out of the water. I’ve seen a photograph from 1947, the year I was born, that concrete bunker was 500 feet west of the dune line. And now it’s mostly underwater.”

Accompanied by environmental officials, Sen. Carper made several stops throughout the state Friday, including Old Corbitt Road, a street in Middletown that floods twice a day.

Water from the surrounding marsh laps up against the road and sometimes over onto it, potentially leaving a stretch of roadway more than 100 feet covered in several inches of water.

Building a bridge would cost more than $3 million, and because the road sees little traffic, the Department of Transportation is considering closing off a portion of it, creating two cul-de-sacs with marshlands in the middle.

However, the plan has met with local resistance.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., left, talks with environmental scientist Mike Mensinger while visiting the St. Jones Reserve near Dover on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

That’s just one example of sea level rise, a phenomenon that scientists say poses a big threat to Delaware.

Earth’s warming atmosphere melts ice, causing oceans to increase and swallow land. For Delaware, that is of tremendous importance — the First State is also the lowest-lying state.

According to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment, around 10 percent of the state could be “inundated by a sea level rise” of 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet.

By 2100, the state could look significantly different as a result of climate change. That, scientists and environmental officials claim, is why careful planning is needed.

In 2013, then Gov. Jack Markell signed an executive order creating a committee to study climate change. He also instructed state agencies to consider rising water levels when building new structures.

At Slaughter Beach, a real-time warning system using cameras has been set up to alert residents and those passing through when roads are flooded.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., talks with Kari St. Laurent of DNREC while visiting the St. Jones Reserve near Dover on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

In south Dover, scientists at the St. Jones Center for Estuarine Studies study the wetlands, measuring salinity levels and the height of the marsh.

Such practices, Sen. Carper said, could make Delaware a “model” for the country as a whole.

“There are ways that we can prepare for storms. We know we’re going to have more storms, in many cases more violent storms, and there are ways that we can remediate and prepare for those and be more resilient. … We can just let it happen or we can get ready for it,” he said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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