COMMENTARY: Demand public engagement and shared vision for Coastal Zone

Stop the fast-tracking of the ill-advised HB 190 that weakens Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act. The bill needs to be withdrawn. What is needed instead is an authentic public engagement process about the future of our Coastal Zone — a real dialogue about real issues, not the monologue that HB 190 represents. There is no downside to taking a step back from the current rush to pass a seriously flawed bill and begin a real inclusive process that examines a shared vision for the future of Delaware’s Coastal Zone in 2017 and beyond.

Delaware needs fresh ideas to meet the new challenges we all face in the evolving 21st century economy. We need to create good-paying jobs, must protect our ecotourism industry, need to clean up our water, and want to maintain the high quality of life the protected coastal zone provides. For the past 47 years the CZA has endeavored to do just that.

HB 190 is not an improvement to the CZA. Many of the problems with this bill are attributable to the lack of involvement from a diverse group of stakeholders who have an interest in and use the coastal zone. Diverse stakeholders involved in an inclusive and transparent problem-solving process is a fundamental prerequisite to any credible process that may be needed to revisit the CZA.

It makes it possible to find agreement, creates new allies, and produces momentum for needed change. Most importantly, it can create a shared vision for the future of our coastal zone that is understood and accepted by all Delawareans. Rather than pushing Delawareans to the sidelines as done in the crafting of HB 190, we must invite them to join the public dialogue and provide them the tools to solve our shared problems.

Delaware’s elected leadership must conduct a joint fact finding effort to get to the truth and achieve balance in addressing the new challenges in our coastal zone. It would be helpful if Gov. John Carney would become a champion of this joint fact finding and visioning effort; engaging all Delawareans to create a vision for the future of our coastal zone in the same way [late former] Gov. Russell Peterson provided bold visionary leadership in his day.

So, how might we accomplish this authentic public engagement?

We start by broadening the base of those involved beyond the “usual suspects” and politically connected; giving opportunities for regular citizens to participate in listening sessions, workshops, and working groups open to the public. We use these public gatherings to identify everyone’s issues and concerns related to Delaware’s Coastal Zone.

Once these issues and problems are identified, we have our government, universities, private sector, and citizen experts work together to more clearly define each problem. This ensures we develop a common and factual understanding of each problem and its root cause. We must put this in writing and share it publicly to develop a common understanding of what is at stake, what needs to be fixed, and what should be left alone in our Coastal Zone.

Only with agreement on the facts and problems can we take the next step to collectively identify the many alternatives to solve these problems. These alternatives should be identified and shared with the public throughout Delaware, having regular people help select the best options and set the priorities for actions to meet a collective vision for the future.

Only through a deliberate, transparent, and inclusive process can we thoughtfully develop our shared vision for the future of Delaware’s Coastal Zone that continues to protect the beaches, wetlands, and open spaces we cherish while meeting the new challenges of today and for the future.

As citizens, let’s stop HB 190, and embark on an authentic public effort to meet our many challenges together. We should welcome any opportunity to achieve this public effort through a thoughtful legislative action that codifies this authentic public engagement effort to define and achieve a new shared vision for Delaware’s Coastal Zone.

This is the way we honor the legacy of Gov. Russell Peterson, our cherished Coastal Zone, and all the Delawareans who worked to achieve the many successes that have improved our quality of life in Delaware.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. David B. Carter is the former manager of DNREC’s Delaware Coastal Programs and former Fish and Wildlife regional manager for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. Dr. Carter has over 30 years of professional coastal conservation experience specific to the Delaware Coastal Zone. He is a lifelong resident of Delaware’s Coastal Zone and currently resides on his farm along Blackbird Creek in Townsend.

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