Protect wetlands before it’s too late

April 22, 2022

The following letter was sent to Sussex County Council with a copy provided to the Cape Gazette for publication. 

It has been almost six months since the first public hearing on the wetland/buffer ordinance at planning and zoning Nov. 4. The county staff made some critical amendments to the draft and introduced the revision to P&Z Dec. 16, when the P&Z commission recommended approval of the ordinance. Sussex County Council had its hearing Jan. 11, and continued it Feb. 22. After the third public hearing, the county recommended more significant amendments Mar. 22.

So, now this ordinance is on the council agenda again Tuesday, April 26. It is time to approve the ordinance and adopt it soon. The developers had known since the end of August 2021 this ordinance was coming up and had enough time to prepare for their future applications.

The county and the public have been patiently working out various issues and are counting the days of delays. If the council cannot approve it April 26, I suggest council set the effective target date first and continue working on it so that the public and developers know that their wait will end on a specific date.

Through a land-use law class offered by the University of Delaware in February, I learned that most ordinances (98%) take effect immediately upon approval. Two of Sussex County’s planners were also in attendance.

Lastly, I’d like to reiterate the crucial issues still lingering over this ordinance:

• The buffer widths suggested in the draft ordinance are already barely minimal, and there must not be any ways to reduce the buffer width or trade with off-site wetlands or buffers

• The size of a minor subdivision has nothing to do with this ordinance, and it must be back to four, not increased to five

• The judgments of “superior design” must be spelled out and followed through instead of assigning the judgment to the P&Z commission. This change is done by changing one word on line 531, from “and” to “in.” Council must remove this change.

We must remember that Sussex is an extremely low-lying county, vulnerable to flooding and Atlantic storms. Even the city of Houston, which was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, is known to be about 50 feet above sea level. How much of Sussex County sits that high? Nearly none.

We must protect our natural mitigators from storms and flooding – the wetlands and buffers with natural forests – before it is too late.

Eul Lee


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