Sea level rise and Sussex County Council

June 20, 2013

If you mention sea level rise in Sussex County Council chambers don't expect to get much of a reaction – at least not a positive one.

During a recent presentation by Susan Love of Delaware Coastal Programs, Councilman Sam Wilson went as far as to call sea level rise “b.s.” I know how he feels about the issue – and his disdain for science in general – but I was shocked at his comment. Because he wears christianity on his sleeve, you wouldn't expect him to react like that. The councilman was not showing a lot of love to the presenter that's for sure. I guess living in Georgetown, he feels sea level rise is not something he needs to worry about.

In fairness, it was Councilwoman Joan Deaver who requested that Love update council on the most recent information regarding sea level rise. She seems to have an open mind on the subject.

To a point, I can understand the skepticism about the science behind sea level rise. We live in an ever-increasingly alarmist time where everything seems to get blown out of proportion.

Yet, it's hard to discount the research surrounding sea level rise predictions along our coast. Then when you find out that Delaware is literally sinking, the problem is only compounded. Even a few inches can make a difference.

Current data points to some upcoming changes that appear to be accelerated. Just look at what has happened in the Cape Region over the past few years. Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge has been inundated by over wash from four four breaches, and beach replenishment projects are now commonplace.

Frequent storms are taking their toll and sea level rise will only make matters worse.

We have already spent tens of millions of dollars to repair what Mother Nature has done to our coastline; the price tag is only going to increase as more and more people crowd in to get near the ocean.

Nearly 40 percent of Americans – 123 million – already live in a county directly on the coastline; that number is expected to increase to nearly 50 percent by 2020. The coast is also the most densely populated area in the country representing less than 10 percent of U.S. land area, excluding Alaska.

The dire predictions could be overblown, but what if the predictions are accurate? Doesn't it make sense to at least listen to recommendations and be prepared?

Looking 25 to 50 years into the future is hard, but when it comes to protecting lives and property, planning today is critical. At some point, Sussex County Council is going to have to come to grips with the reality of the situation. Perhaps hiring a certified planner would be a first step.

  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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