Bill Would Establish Conversion Permitting Process for Limited Sites in Coastal Zone

DOVER – Citing an opportunity to turn abandoned, polluted brownfields into economic generators for the state, lawmakers filed a measure Thursday that would establish a conversion permitting process that would allow for remediation and redevelopment of a limited number of abandoned heavy industry sites along Delaware’s coastline for industrial use.

The 1971 Coastal Zone Act (CZA) regulates heavy industrial and manufacturing activities in Delaware’s Coastal Zone, a protected coastline running the length of the state. During that time, several industries that were grandfathered under the original CZA law have closed down, allowing several heavy-industry use sites to become abandoned properties that remain polluted today.

Sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski and Sen. Bryan Townsend, House Bill 190 would establish a conversion permitting process for interested parties to potentially redevelop a limited number of abandoned heavy-industry sites for industrial use. Many of these are existing brownfields that have been shut down and are sitting, polluted and unusable because of contamination. The bill would only allow for 14 specific sites – mostly concentrated in northern New Castle County – to be available for a conversion permit.

“I am someone who enjoys our coastal areas regularly, and want to make sure our natural resources are protected. At the same time, we have to balance that protection against the economic viability and future of our state,” said Rep. Osienski, D-Newark. “The majority of the abandoned sites that our bill would address are still polluted. Our bill would set a high bar for planning, remediation, and regulatory control.

“If we are able to convert some of these abandoned brownfields into active industries, these sites could employ hundreds, even thousands, of Delawareans, offering good-paying jobs that could become careers for many. The process of remediating and building up an industry would mean more environmental cleaning and construction jobs. An active industry would contribute personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, and property taxes to our local school districts once again.”

Under HB 190, an interested industry would need to clean the brownfield, following the Delaware Hazardous Substance Cleanup Act and removing pollution from the site. A new operator also would have to show that it has the financial backing and available funds to complete any future remedial action.

A company applying for a conversion permit would also have to submit a sea-level rise plan. Additionally, there would be restrictions on what types of industries could operate along the coast. Refineries processing crude oil, basic cellulose pulp paper mills, and incinerators would continue to be forbidden, as they have been since the Coastal Zone Act was enacted in 1971.

“This legislation attempts to ensure the proper balance between environmental protection and economic growth,” said Sen. Townsend, D-Newark, the prime Senate sponsor of HB 190. “There’s no question the 1971 Coastal Zone Act was a landmark piece of environmental legislation, but the unintended consequence has become abandoned, polluted sites that were always anticipated to be in operation – regulated, clean, remediated, but in operation. This legislation makes the prospect for economic growth a reality again, while preserving the vast majority of our treasured coastline for future generations.”

There have been numerous improvements regarding how industries operate since the Coastal Zone Act was passed. Heavy industrial companies have more tools at their disposal to reduce their impact on the environment. Manufacturing companies use more efficient and environmentally conscious processes to ensure that they operate more cleanly and reduce the size of their environmental footprints.

Additionally, state and federal environmental regulations governing heavy industrial sites – such as air and water permitting – have been strengthened, better protecting the environment from pollution.

Under the bill, bulk product transfers would be allowed at nine sites, with certain limitations and only so long as they support industry at those sites or elsewhere in the coastal zone. Current law prohibits the transfer of liquefied natural gas.

Rep. Osienski and Sen. Townsend noted that they have met with stakeholders from all sides of the issue and would continue that dialogue as the bill moves through the legislative process.

“We realize our proposal will evoke strong opinions, and we know that this is a complex initiative that will require significant discussions in legislative hearings,” Rep. Osienski said. “But if we do not take these steps, then these abandoned, polluted sites will simply sit for another generation, failing both the spirit of the CZA as well as our current and future workforce.”

HB 190 has been assigned to the House Natural Resources Committee.

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