Sea level rise group seeks public comment

Final plan to address rising water expected this summer
Gerald and Marjorie Egger of Millville fill out the public comment forms during a Sea Level Rise session Feb. 13 in Lewes. BY MELISSA STEELE
February 14, 2013

Delaware officials are planning for rising sea levels – and they now want citizens input.

"Today we're hear to talk about greasing the wheel, or maybe I should say waxing the surfboard," said Susan Love, planner for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's Delaware Coastal programs. "We want to make sure everything is in place when we make some very important decisions about sea level rise."

The Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee has met for about three years working on a Sea level Rise Adaptation Plan. Periodic sessions have been held to garner public reaction to the plan – the latest was Feb. 13 at Cape Henlopen High School.

State statistics show sea level rise in Delaware has increased 13 inches over the past 100 years. Worst-case scenario estimates put that number much higher – potentially 5 feet – over the course of the next 100 years.

"The problem in the Mid-Atlantic region is twice what it is elsewhere in the world," said Love, citing a combination of rising sea level and sinking ground mass in Delaware as the cause.

Amidst the information displays manned by DNREC employees, residents were asked to share their ideas on how governments can better coordinate information, increase public awareness and what kinds of public policy are needed.

About 100 people attended the first of two sessions, held in the high school cafeteria and auditorium. Gerald and Marjorie Egger of Millville are new residents who came from the Midwest. Now the couple live 2 1/2 miles from Bethany Beach and half a mile from the bay. Sea level rise isn't an issue in the Midwest, so the couple attended the hearing to learn more about it, Gerald said.

A series of retention ponds in their development appears to be working to keep properties dry, Marjorie said.

"We haven't had any problems yet, but I hope it stays that way," she said.

Options offered

A list of 61 options presented were intended to help Delaware prepare for sea level rise, said Bob Scarborough of DNREC's coastal program.

"They're options that people and communities can do," he said.

Some would come with big price tags, others with controversy.

One that did not appear to sit well with property owners would require disclosure of sea level rise to future buyers.

"That is going to affect a homeowner's ability to sell their home," said Joan DeCandia of Rehoboth Beach. "It's predicted to happen 80 years from now, and a seller would have to put that in the sale."

Big budget changes that would require government action include infrastructure improvements for roads, railways and other structures in areas flagged for sea level rise. An option to buy farmland in areas that could eventually sink underwater would also cost money, Scarborough said. Changes in land-use policy to include areas affected by future sea level rise were offered for counties and municipalities to use in their comprehensive plans.

Short run options aimed at improving septic systems in areas at risk for sea level rise, which could help remove nutrients from area waterways as well. State officials point to failing septic systems as the root cause of increased levels of nitrogen and phosophorus in the Inland Bays – increases often witnessed after major storms, they say.

Love said public comment on the options presented will be used as the committee prepares its final document. Love said she hopes the committee finishes the Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan this summer. It will then be presented to DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara and the state legislature.



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