The Coastal Zone Act
: Economic and Environmental Change, It Ain’t Easy

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It has been 45 years since the Coastal Zone Act was signed into law. A lot has changed since that time.  We have had eight presidents, seven governors, the internet became part of our daily life, technological advancements and improvements have occurred in all fields of science (especially environmental science), we have experienced numerous economic downturns and are still recovering from the negative effects and structural economic changes of the Great Recession.  Through all the change in leadership, the scientific advancements and economic adjustments there have been few modifications and updates to the Coastal Zone Act.  However, if we consider all the economic and environmental change that has occurred since 1971, I would say it is a reasonable time to modernize one of Delaware’s most respected and controversial land use laws to better meet the economic and environmental needs of Delaware. Friends of the environment, civic leaders, union representatives, government officials, people seeking  jobs and representatives from small  and large business  all have a significant stake in this legislation and should all be included in the process to modernize the Coastal Zone Act.

When the Coastal Zone Act was debated and implemented in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s there was very little concern or understanding about the environmental impact of heavy industrial uses along the Delaware coast line.  Just as the Coastal Zone Act was being signed into law, the environmental movement was really picking up support to help address decades of neglect and ill-conceived industrial development.  In fact, the federal Environmental Protection Agency got its start during the Nixon Administration in December 1970.
The concept of protecting Delaware’s shore line and managing development near it, is a benefit to the people of Delaware.  But the management of development and redevelop along the shore line must be done in such a way that the economic and environmental realities of today, not the late 20th century, are fully factored into the process to modernize the Coastal Zone Act.  It should be noted we are not talking about the Coastal Zone Act going away, we are talking about an update or modernization that will take into account advancements in the environmental sciences, the shift away from heavy industrial uses to green manufacturing  and the need to establish new jobs in our state.

When the Coastal Zone Act first came into place there was not a clear set of regulatory guidelines.  Things were handled by the Secretary of DNREC on a case by case basis and there was a lot of controversy. It was not until the late 1990’s, under the leadership of Governor Carper, did a more logical and somewhat predictable set of guidelines and regulations come into place.  This was accomplished by all the stakeholders coming to the table and seeking solutions that provided environmental protection in such a way that development and job creating activity could occur.  A similar process is needed today that would allow old industrial sites to be redeveloped or reused for job creating activities that are not environmentally harmful like the heavy industrial uses of the 20th century.

The current Coastal Zone Act and related permit processes has a wide range of regulations, environmental standards, offsets,  restricted uses and re-uses, hearing requirements, timelines and notification deadlines.  What is missing is a good dose of common sense that would take into account the advancements in environmental sciences and manufacturing along with the economic realities of our state.  There is an appropriate balance that can be achieved as we protect the environment and promote jobs.  The Coastal Zone Act needs to be modernized and I think the spirit of cooperation that that took place in the late 1990’s should be revisited.


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