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Study finds Inland Bays generates $4.5 billion in economic revenue, development needs to be "done right"

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The Economic Value of the Delaware Inland Bays report
The Delaware Inland Bays

A recent study of the Inland Bays found they generate over $4.5 billion per year in economic activity. And nearly all of it is felt locally.

89% of that $4.5 billion impact occurs in Sussex County, which also benefits from 94% of over 35,000 jobs that the Inland Bays support.

The Bays significantly contribute directly to fishing, boating, construction and development, and other industries indirectly like fuel and grocery.

The report’s coauthor and former Center for the Inland Bays director Chris Bason says they were surprised to find how big the development economy is, with almost $550 million coming from real estate and residential and non-residential construction, and are concerned with the drawbacks.

“Most noticeable to so many people is the loss of forest and wetlands associated with development and that type of land use change," Bason said. "That has very important water quality implications. Forest and wetlands are our natural filters. They remove pollution, slow flood waters and absorb flood waters, so when we lose them, those are serious impacts to water quality.”

The Inland Bays have been called the “lifeblood” of Delaware’s coastal region and economy, and Bason says the goal is not to slow development, but make sure it’s done right, and preserve more open space.

“I think most people have a really good sense of that. And that is why you've just been seeing so many people in Sussex calling for this exact same thing, that we need more pollution control, we need more open space, we have got to do development differently and protect more of the green spaces that we have. I think this study just gives a lot more credence to those calls for more investment in environmental quality.”

The report is a collaboration between the Center for the Inland Bays and Delaware Sea Grant. Going forward, both will work with state and local officials on funding and protecting water quality and open space.

Bason adds it’s easy to get Sussex residents on-board with environmental initiatives – the coast is “captivating” and is a top reason why people move closer to it, but its beauty depends on its health.

The full report is available in full at deseagrant.org/resources.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.