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Advocates question coastal zone development as state crafts regulations

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Members of the public talk with DNREC staff at a Coastal Zone Conversion Permit Act Regulatory Advisory Committee public engagement session in Claymont Monday

State officials developing regulations for new Coastal Zone Act conversion permits are engaging with the public this week.


The 2017 Coastal Zone Conversion Permit Act opens certain sites along Delaware’s coast for new heavy industrial development. Stakeholders selected by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) have spent months developing recommendations for regulations governing these permits.

This week they are visiting communities near coastal zone industrial sites to get feedback on their preliminary recommendations.

Andrea Kreiner is the director of the Division of Climate, Coastal and Energy at DNREC.

She says the recommendations are being presented in Claymont, Delaware City and Wilmington “to give folks who haven’t been able to come to the meetings or who haven’t been as aware of what’s going on the opportunity to come out and give comments on the specific recommendations before they finalize them.”

The committee’s recommendations cover six topics, including the economic effect of an operation, its environmental impacts and offsets and its plan to address sea level rise. The recommendations also cover financial assurance for environmental and health risks, and bulk product transfer facilities.

The prospect of new heavy industrial development on the 14 exempt sites within the Coastal Zone remains controversial, with some groups concerned about potential impacts to neighboring communities.

Larry Lambert is a lifelong resident of Claymont and a member of the grassroots group Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice (DCR4EJ). He’s also a member of the Coastal Zone Conversion Permit Act Regulatory Advisory Committee, which is crafting the regulatory recommendations, as a representative of the Claymont Renaissance Development Corporation.

Despite the passage of the Coastal Zone Conversion Permit Act two years ago, Lambert still questions whether the sites should be redeveloped. He cites the recent fire at the Delaware City Refinery on Feb. 3 and the toxic gas release at Croda on Nov. 25. Both operations are within the Coastal Zone.

“At this point, we’re seeing a distinct pattern where our legacy industrial companies aren’t being as safe as the fenceline communities need them to be,” said Lambert. “And/or, the government controls in place aren’t keeping our neighbors as safe as we need them to be.”

All but one of the 14 coastal sites open to heavy industrial development are in New Castle County.

New Castle County Councilman and former DNREC official Dave Carter attended Monday’s public engagement session in Claymont. He also invoked the recent industrial accidents within the Coastal Zone.

“To me there’s been a real oversight in not really thinking hard about the buffers, and ensuring that we do not put large stores of these extremely hazardous substances in areas where we have dense populations,” said Carter. He adds that his concern is also for first responders who handle emergencies at heavy industrial sites.

Carter says he’s looking into possible county-level revisions to allowable uses in Heavy Industrial-zoned land. He wants to address the issue of hazardous substances near densely populated residential areas.

“What they focused on a lot with this [regulatory advisory] process was making sure they had liability protection, making sure they had money to pay for the clean-up,” said Carter. “I would like to be avoiding the situation where we are increasing the amount of these types of dangerous chemicals near our communities.”

Carter also pointed to disparities in which demographics are most often exposed to heavy industry.

“They’re saying these were past uses, we did it fifty years ago. Well it was very different fifty years [ago]. We didn’t have as many people, or if we did we didn’t realize the risk that we were putting them at. And I think we should have done a better job of that,” he said.

Under the Coastal Zone Conversion Permit Act, DNREC must develop and enact the regulations to issue permits by October.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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