Legislation that aims to revamp the Coastal Zone Act and make way for the repurposing of abandoned industrial sites in an attempt to make Delaware more business-friendly has passed in the General Assembly. 

 The legislation, sponsored by State Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, and State Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, passed with an 18-2 vote in the Senate Thursday.  

"I don’t think environmental regulations stifle business, and I don’t think business activity inevitably or inappropriately always harms the environment," Townsend said. "I think there's a balance to strike, and the hope beyond this legislation and the regulations to come is to strike a balance here in Delaware."

The legislation, supported by Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, would create a permitting process for the redevelopment of 14 industrial sites, including those that are abandoned or contaminated.

The bill also would allow new bulk product transfer operations at sites that had piers before 1971, when former Delaware Governor Russ Peterson signed the CZA into law in 1971. 

The legislation still places restrictions on some heavy industry uses that didn’t exist in 1971, such as oil refineries, steel mills and liquefied natural gas terminals.

“The reforms in these two pieces of legislation will help improve economic opportunity for all Delawareans and create good-paying jobs across our state," Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, said after the bill's passage.
 
"We will responsibly pave the way for new industries and rethink our economic development strategy to provide more support for entrepreneurs, small businesses and Delaware's most talented innovators. Bottom line, we are making jobs a priority.”
 

The CZA, which was created to protect the Delaware Bay and the state’s shoreline from heavy industrial development, currently prohibits transferring bulk goods by ship, and also puts restrictions on repurposing abandoned property. Currently an abandoned site can only be repurposed 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. DuPont’s Edgemoor, which was purchased by the state, has the potential for becoming a container facility, according to Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock.

Supporters of the bill say current CZA rules are too restricting on businesses and prevent new businesses from locating to Delaware. They say the bill will create new jobs and boost the economy.

However, environmentalists have rallied against the bill, arguing it puts the coastal zone at risk for contamination, and say an increase of bulk product transfer creates the risk of hazardous spills. They also say there hasn’t been enough public input on the bill.

While in the House, representatives approved several amendments to the bill to address various concerns. One of these amendments states that any product transported ship to shore must be used at the facility that’s applied for the permit, or other facilities within the coastal zone. Anything exported off the Delaware coast, also must come from within the coastal zone.

Representatives also passed an amendment that requires DNREC to report any environmental effects, while the Delaware Economic Development Office would be required to report the economic impact.

Most senators stood up in favor of the bill, stating the House amendments make the bill stronger.

“Now is an opportunity for us to tell everyone Delaware is open for business,” said state Sen. John Walsh, D-Stanton.  “These jobs are shovel-ready and environmentally sensitive.”

State Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, voted the bill down, stating most of his constituents are against the bill.

State Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, voted for the bill, but said as an environmental attorney, she wants to ensure industry is still held accountable.

“This is by far the hardest vote I’ve had to make this session. It strikes right at the heart of who I am,” she said.

“We cannot afford even one spill, and can’t treat this issue cavalierly with such a sole focus on economics…. (There are) companies going along operating just fine right now that will do no more than what is absolutely necessary, and (take action on contamination) only when it’s discovered.”

Hansen also said she believes there was not enough input from the public and environmentalists during the three years it was being crafted.

“I do not believe this bill was crafted through an open and inclusive process,” she said. “The CZA is a landmark environmental law with many people and groups deeply involved and knowledgeable about its substance and those people and groups deserve a chance to be at the table, not only discussions with sponsors, but give and take with each other.”