Coastal Zone development awaits final state regulations

By Patrick Jackson
Contributing Writer

The plan to put 14 brownfields in Delaware’s Coastal Zone back into action was touted as a game changer when lawmakers OK’d legislation allowing redevelopment in the zone two years ago. 

But how far it goes toward reaching that goal remains to be seen as officials at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control finalize the regulations that will make the law work.

Public comment on the proposed regulations closed last month, and DNREC officials say the rules will
be in place by October.

James DeChene, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for government affairs, say the rules are going to be closely scrutinized and companies will likely proceed carefully.

“We want to see what DNREC’s going to do,” he said. “We asked for some clarity on a few issues during the public comment period because it looked like some issues might be going beyond House Bill 190. But I really think companies need to see the final regulations to decide whether they think developing will be worth it.”

In the 1970s, Delaware was the first state to impose development limitations on its coastline. The Coastal Zone Act became a national model of environmental protection legislation. While existing businesses were grandfathered in, problems arose when they closed down because the CZA’s restrictions made redevelopment a practical impossibility.

Gov. John Carney worked with lawmakers to change the CZA. The result is that 14 sites were tabbed for possible redevelopment. Since then, however, U.S. trade policy and slowdowns in the global economy have raised questions about how quickly the sites will be brought online.

Carney and lawmakers touted the new law as a balancing act. Some activities, such as new refineries, would be barred under law. The majority of the coastal zone still enjoys the act’s protections. The law also mandates that site buyers continue environmental cleanup and provide plans to deal with issues, such
as the projected rise in sea levels.

Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, was the lead sponsor of the redevelopment law. He says he hopes the law does what he intended it to do – namely add some flexibility, making the sites a target for development.

“DNREC tells me they’re on track to have the regulations in place,” he said.

“We’ll have to see what happens, whether we move ahead or are slowed down by lawsuits. But I hope that businesses or developers see the value of this and that we can get hundreds of good-paying jobs on these sites.”
-Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark

The Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the public-private body that took over the state’s primary economic development responsibilities, will be tasked with marketing the sites. Becky Harrington, the partnership’s director of business development, is confident the sites will be developed.

“There is active interest in both First State Crossing (the former Claymont Steel plant) and the former General Chemical plant. And we’ve had recent site tours along the Route 9 corridor near Wrangle Road and Cherry Lane in New Castle,” Harrington said. 

“Prospect activity continues at an encouraging pace with a healthy mix of domestic and international interest. Companies appear to be balancing their investments globally in an effort to leverage opportunity and minimize risk. The good news is Delaware is well positioned to benefit because of our strategic location along the East Coast, competitive business costs, and reliable talent pool.”

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