Sussex abstains on sea level rise recommendations

Lawson: Council needs more time to study proposals
Saltwater intrusion is evident around Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Dead trees are becoming commonplace in the area. BY RON MACARTHUR
June 3, 2013

When Delaware's Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee voted recently on nearly 60 recommendations hammered out after 2-1/2 years of meetings, Sussex County's representative on the committee abstained.

Without sufficient time to discuss the recommendations with county council, County Administrator Todd Lawson said he did not want to put the county's committee member, Jeff Shockley, in a position of taking an official county stand on recommendations to be presented to Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O'Mara.

“We need more time to review the document to take an educated position,” Lawson said. “We need more time to talk to council members.”

Lawson said it would be preferable for council to review the document and discuss it during a public meeting. Lawson said he came to the conclusion after consultation with Susan Love, a planner with DNREC's Delaware Coastal Programs who heads up the committee.

“I think a vote of no would be viewed more negatively,” Lawson said.

Council divided on sea level rise

There is a difference of opinion on council relating to sea level rise. Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, questioned the validity of sea level rise during a presentation by Love at the May 7 meeting.

“They don’t have facts,” Wilson said. “It’s almost b.s., to be honest with you.”

Love responded that the science is sound; the county should expect 6 to 8 inches of sea level rise by 2030. More data is needed to make more specific predictions, she added.

Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, called it a “feel good” issue that should be addressed in the county's next comprehensive land-use plan.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, said the issue is important and should be taken seriously. “But when I bring it up, I'm laughed at,” she said. “To some council members, if it has any chance of hurting someone's pocketbook it's wrong. It's not always about money; there's more to than that. There is no vision.”

Lawson said he's sure there will be some concerns brought up about some of the recommendations. “I would hope it will be brought up again in a detailed discussion on the options,” he said, adding that Love could be invited back to answer questions.

Sussex County posted the only abstention; Kent and New Castle counties voted in favor of the recommendations. Negative votes were cast by Homebuilders Association of Delaware and Positive Growth Alliance. Love said it was agreed that a two-thirds vote was needed to move the recommendations forward; the final vote was 22-2-1.

Planning process is only the beginning

Statewide, Love said Sussex County would have the most individual properties affected by sea level rise.

“The work is only just beginning. We've started the ball rolling down the hill,” Love said.

Love said several recommendations were removed from the draft document including a sea level rise threat disclosure on real estate transactions. “It's premature to put this disclosure in the document,” Love said. “The committee did support providing homeowners with more education about sea level rise.”

She said sellers are already required to disclose if a property is in a flood plain or has drainage issues.

In addition, she said, the committee debated – and finally approved – a provision encouraging Gov. Jack Markell to sign an executive order directing state agencies to plan for sea level rise. “Some thought this would lead to more regulations. Others thought that working together is what we should be working on,” Love said.

More data must also be collected to assist agencies and governments with planning, Love said.

Many of the recommendations focus on adopting sea level rise as a factor during planning for infrastructure, farming, transportation, building, land purchase, septic systems and wells.

Education is another key component of the recommendations. She said people need a better understanding of the difference between a 100-year flood plain and sea level rise. “In a flood plain, you could expect a major flood every 20 years, but with sea level rise it's permanent inundation; you will be under water,” she said.

Love said getting the word out about the dangers of sea level rise is another important step to be implemented. “Everyone in Delaware will be affected even if their land is not inundated they will be affected by sea level rise,” she said.

Rising waters will affect the tourism industry; properties near bodies of water; some areas where people recreate; possibly cause higher taxes; affect natural areas; and affect critical infrastructure providing clean water and wastewater treatment, she said.

“We have flooding issues already; we will just have incrementally more flooding. People will really see sea level rise during storm surges,” Love said.