Delaware offers guidance on new coastal zone-conversion process

 The refinery in Delaware City is one of 14 locations approved for industrial use under the original Coastal Zone Act. (File/WHYY)

The refinery in Delaware City is one of 14 locations approved for industrial use under the original Coastal Zone Act. (File/WHYY)

After a major change in a Delaware zoning law, the state has issued 13 recommendations as the first step in determining the protocol for granting coastal zone conversion permits to allow industrial sites to be repurposed.

In August, Gov. John Carney signed legislation to revamp the Coastal Zone Act, which has protected the environment along the Delaware River and prohibited new heavy industry from development there. The new coastal zone act will allow the redevelopment of 14 heavy-use areas grandfathered in when the original coastal zone was established in 1971.

A report released last week by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control includes 13 recommendations for DNREC to consider as it establishes a committee to develop regulations for issuing conversion permits for those 14 sites.

The report recommends the committee be made up of stakeholders including someone representing an environmental justice group and someone representing business and labor interests.

When it comes to making decisions, the report recommends that the committee work with a “consensus approach,” which it defines as “a final package of recommendations that all or almost all … members can ‘live with.’ ”

The nonprofit Consensus Building Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts, compiled the report. Comments on the report will be accepted through Jan. 19.

The 1971 Coastal Zone Act — created to protect the Delaware Bay and the state’s shoreline from heavy industrial development — prohibited the transfer of bulk goods by ship and restricted repurposing abandoned property. An abandoned site could be repurposed only for its previous use.

There are currently three abandoned industrial sites in Delaware through the Coastal Zone Act, and two that are not in operation but are set to be restored — all in New Castle County.

Supporters of the new legislation say previous rules were too tough on businesses and prevented new businesses from locating to Delaware. They say the bill will create new jobs and boost the economy.

Environmentalists rallied against the bill throughout the legislative process, arguing it puts the coastal zone at risk for contamination because an increase of bulk transfers creates the risk of hazardous spills. They also contend there wasn’t enough public input on the bill.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.