Editorial: Council takes critical step to protect wetlands

December 11, 2018

Sussex County Council has taken a critical step forward by excluding certain wetlands from the acreage used when calculating the total number of units permitted in a subdivision.

State-regulated tidal wetlands cannot be built upon. But until now, a developer could count the wetlands acres when calculating the total number of houses that could be built elsewhere on the property. On a property containing a total of 10 acres of state wetlands, that meant 20 more houses could be built beyond what the buildable acreage permitted.

Those 20 houses will no longer be built by right when a subdivision is proposed on agricultural-residential zoned land.

By some calculations, state wetlands account for only 3 percent of the county’s 770,000 acres, a total of about 27,000 acres. If lands that have already been developed are eliminated, it brings the acreage down to fewer than 8,000 acres. Some might call this measure a drop in the bucket.

Yet even a drop in the bucket is important. Every unit that is not built within a subdivision leaves more unpaved land to soak up runoff and help protect our remaining wetlands, the sponges that help absorb rising waters that now accompany even minor coastal storms. Every step we take to protect them is a step toward reducing flooding in our neighborhoods and protecting our waterways from runoff.

While this change in the calculation might mean fewer houses will be built than under the old calculation, it is a clear step forward toward protecting neighborhoods where we already live – not only new subdivisions, but also homes that have been here for decades.

We congratulate council on this change and hope council will build on this success to adopt a proposed buffer ordinance with wider, forested buffers along waterways and tidal wetlands.

Regulations in Kent and New Castle counties already require 100-foot buffers, while New Jersey mandates 300-foot buffers, and Maryland’s designated critical areas require 200-foot buffers.

Sussex currently requires only 50 feet.

Our streams and wetlands protect us. Sussex County Council must take this next step forward to protect these vital resources.


  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, Publisher Emeritus, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, Sports Editor Emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, Associate Editor; Nick Roth, Sports Editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.

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