COMMENTARY: Coastal Zone Act bill is a betrayal to Peterson’s intent

Rep. Ed Osienski and Sen. Bryan Townsend have introduced a bill (HB 190) that guts the Coastal Zone Act by re-industrializing some of Delaware’s most contaminated land and allowing new bulk product transfer operations where they never previously existed.

Established in 1971 under Republican Gov. Russell Peterson, the Coastal Zone Act has controlled the location, extent and type of industrial development in Delaware’s coastal areas to protect the natural environment for recreation and tourism. Manufacturing is allowed in the Coastal Zone (with a permit), but new heavy industrial development and bulk product transfer facilities were prohibited.

If passed, the bill would allow new heavy industry and bulk product transfer in targeted areas. Heavy industry, and its associated air and water pollution, is the most harmful and dangerous form of development. The areas that would be opened to new heavy industry including those near homes, schools and critical habitat zones.

The Coastal Zone Act prohibits bulk product transfer because of the pressure it places on the Coastal Zone. The language of the prohibition is eliminated by this bill and replaced with a new procedure that allows bulk product transfer operations where docks existed in 1971.

• “During an era when protecting clean water is a priority for Sen. Townsend, he places the integrity of the Delaware River and its tributaries at risk. He is essentially fouling the Delaware Estuary with this bill, thinking somehow that financial guarantees and offsets could mitigate the loss of critical habitat for birds and the ecosystem they rely on to survive.” — Mark Martell, Conservation Chair of Delaware Audubon Society

“Russ Peterson warned us that once he died, lawmakers would start hacking away at the Coastal Zone Act. If he were alive today, would Sen. Townsend and Rep. Osienski be able to look him in the eye and argue their positions? It is only since Russ has passed that these legislators have decided to betray him.” — Matt DelPizzo, President of Delaware Audubon Society

• “HB 190 does not ‘modernize’ the Coastal Zone Act. Instead, it significantly weakens core protections in the Act in the unsubstantiated hope that backwards-looking options like heavy industry will somehow provide an economic boost to Delaware.

“If the goal is allow development of these selected sites, it is unclear why the proposed changes to the Coastal Zone Act are needed. The current version of the act allows for the construction and operation of manufacturing uses on these sites. Things like auto assembly plants, Amazon warehousing operations and other large operations that could generate thousands of good, high-paying jobs can be built on these sites right now without the need for any changes to the act. That those types of operations are not being built now suggests that the act is not what is holding these sites back.

“HB 190’s proposed changes to the Act are primarily focused on allowing heavy industry to be built on these sites. There are at least two reasons to think that this narrow focus will not be the economic panacea that it is presumed to be. First, building new heavy industry is inconsistent with the findings of the recent review of the Delaware Economic Development Office, which specifically found that Delaware’s economic future does not lie with the heavy industry of the past.

“In short, it does not fit into the state’s own conception of how to move the economy forward. Second, the sites to which these proposed changes would apply were nonconforming uses under the act, which means that their heavy industry uses were not prohibited but rather allowed to continue without regulation under the act (save only for the need for a permit if they expanded).
In other words, they had favored status under the act. The fact that many of these sites could not make it as heavy industry despite their favored status means that something other than the act was the impediment to their continued operation. Changing the act will not remove those underlying problems.” — Kenneth Kristl of the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic, Widener University Delaware Law School

•“This bill creates new sacrifice zones that were protected from the pollution of heavy industrial development. If passed, people will die. Families in the fence line communities who have borne the disproportionate burden of environmental risk in the state will suffer illness tied to the development of new heavy industry. I can’t help but notice that these new sacrifice zones are far away from where Townsend and Osienski live. This bill promises the creation of new cancer clusters and illness hot spots.” — Dr. Amy Roe, environmental advocate

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