The Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays and the League of Women Voters of Sussex County are joining forces to conduct a survey concerning the proposed wetland buffers and drainage ordinance being considered by Sussex County Council.
The continuation of a public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled during council’s Tuesday, Feb. 22 meeting.
Results from the survey will be presented to county members, and a synopsis will be given during the hearing.
After nearly three years of study, discussion and debate, and guided by the 2018 comprehensive plan, county council is debating an ordinance amendment that would modernize the 32-year-old ordinance governing buffer zones for wetlands, and tidal and perennial nontidal waters. The proposed ordinance requires more extensive natural buffers between new residential developments, and wetlands and waters.
“This legislation is considered by many as possibly the most impactful environmental legislation in the history of Sussex County,” said SARG spokesman Rich Borrasso. “But the ordinance, as proposed, has loopholes that could actually weaken existing protections. The Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth is advocating for a stronger ordinance that will better protect our important natural resources, and is conducting a public survey to ensure that the public voice is included and heard.”
The county recognized the need to preserve environmental areas, and encourage development practices and regulations that support natural resource protection, Borrasso said. A consultant was hired to facilitate a working group comprising outside professionals and county staff.
Borrasso said the group, of which he was a member, focused on defining the purpose, function and benefits of proper buffers, and through a consensus-building process arrived at both qualitative and quantitative measures for buffer widths, guidelines for permitted and non-permitted uses, and the need for incorporation of a buffer averaging approach to provide flexibility in site design.
The provisions would not apply to existing subdivisions or farmland, only to new, large residential subdivisions.
After compromise among group members, the consensus recommendations were delivered to council in September 2019. Since that time, work has continued primarily at the county staff level, without input from the group, Borrasso said.
“Unfortunately, as with many initiatives, especially ones of this magnitude, the behind-the-scenes influence of powerful special interests, working without the benefit of the consensus process, have proposed multiple amendments to the consensus proposal which, in SARG's opinion, diminish and in certain instances, negate the benefits of the original proposed ordinance,” Borrasso said.
He said SARG strongly supports the original consensus proposal and opposes the proposed amendments, especially new Section G, which outlines incentives that allow reduced buffer widths.
“It is clear that certain provisions in these proposed amendments place in jeopardy the effectiveness of the proposed ordinance to the point of potentially taking a number of steps backward from today's weaker standards,” he said.
Residents can participate in the survey by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe and request a link to the survey. “There is no charge; you will not be asked for money, and your email will not be provided to any other organization for any purpose. You can unsubscribe at any time,” Borrasso said.