House approves Coastal Zone modification

DOVER — Legislation that supporters say would drive economic activity while cleaning up polluted sites along the Delaware River passed the House Tuesday over the objections of environmental proponents among the lawmakers.

House Bill 190, which would alter the landmark 1971 Coastal Zone Act, passed 34-7 and now goes to the Senate.

The measure is a part of Gov. John Carney’s economic agenda, and the governor said in a statement when the bill was introduced last month it would allow businesses to remove pollutants from brownfields while creating jobs.

Backers say the proposal will boost the state’s economy, although opponents insist the measure concedes too much to business and could harm the environment.

“The perception is that Delaware’s closed for business on the East Coast,” said Patty Cannon, Delaware Economic Development Office Intergovernmental Relations and Special Project director, in the committee hearing two weeks ago. “That’s what the CZA means.”

The Coastal Zone Act limits development and industrial activity along the coast: Currently, all industries not operating when the measure was passed 46 years ago are banned from the zone, which runs from the Delaware-Pennsylvania line north of Claymont to the Delaware-Maryland line south of Fenwick Island.

The bill would create exemptions for the 14 sites in the coastal zone and allow the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to issue permits for other industries and bulk transfer facilities at the locations.

The original act stated that banning bulk transfer facilities is “imperative.” Bulk product transfer consists of moving large quantities of a substance such as oil from a ship to a dock.

Certain industries, such as those using oil refineries, natural gas terminal and incinerators, would remain banned.

“Hopefully it will clean up the sites that we have, but No. 1, it’s going to be a job creator for Delaware,” Rep. Ron Gray, R-Selbyville, said Tuesday.

Asked after the vote how many jobs the bill could create, main sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, quipped there would be more than under the current act.

But skeptics have made their voices heard throughout the process, and while the bill passed by a wide margin, several lawmakers expressed displeasure.

A few Democrats raised concerns about the environmental impact, questioning what would happen in the event of a product spill.

“We can’t measure the long-term impact of such a devastating oil spill,” Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newport, said, referring to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

An amendment passed with the bill would restrict product movement, only allowing bulk transfers if the product is to be used or made within the coastal zone.

Thirteen of the 14 sites are located in New Castle County. The lone one south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal is the Delaware Storage & Pipeline Co. facility in Little Creek.

According to DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin, three of the sites have been vacated, while two other locations are currently inactive.

The bill would require applicants seeking DNREC permits to note the environmental impact of the “planned heavy industry use or bulk product transfer activity.”
Applications would also have to contain a plan to combat sea level rise, a timetable for the conversion of the facility, a strategy for counteracting any harmful environmental effects and evidence the owner or applicant will follow the Delaware Hazardous Substance Cleanup Act and other environmental statutes.

Reps. John Kowalko, D-Newark, and Sean Lynn, D-Dover, shared doubts the bill will not harm the environmental impact, with both calling up Delaware Law School professor Kenneth Kristl.

“It’s entirely possible that an inadequate plan that would not deal with sea level rise would be submitted and satisfy the terms of the statute,” Mr. Kristl, the director of the university’s Environmental Rights Institute, said.

DEDO bill

Legislation that would replace the Delaware Economic Development Office with a public-private partnership also passed the House, with 34 members voting in favor.

Under House Bill 226, DEDO would be done away with and responsibility for attracting companies to the state and creating jobs would be shared by the partnership and the Department of State.

The group created by the bill would be a nonprofit, “not a public entity,” main sponsor Rep. Bryon Short, D-Highland Woods, said.

The new partnership would be overseen by a 15-member board of directors, consisting of individuals appointed by the House, Senate and governor. Six of the members would be selected based off a list supplied by the Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Business Roundtable.

The Strategic Fund, the source of monetary incentives given to companies to sway them to settle in Delaware, would be shifted to the Department of State under the proposed Division of Small Business, Development and Tourism.

“The entity is to provide strategy, recommendations, pick up some of the responsibilities that DEDO had,” Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, said of the partnership.

The bill would require members to disclose any potential conflicts of interest they have, but opponents said it lacks a method for enforcing the provision.

“We would be holding individuals who stand in this body to a lesser standard than even a board of adjustment to Dewey Beach, for example,” Rep. Lynn said, comparing it to an “honor system.”

Much of the bill would not be subject to Freedom of Information Act laws, a fact that spurred serious debate and helped sway several lawmakers to vote against it.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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