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April 11, 2014     Cape Gazette
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April 11, 2014
 

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12 FRIDAY, APRIL 11- MONDAY, APRIL 14, 2014 NEWS Cape Gazette DNRE hits roadblock in move to regulate wetlands Sussex County Council votes against state jurisdiction By Ron MacArthur ronm@capegazette.com Sussex County Council says leave well enough alone when it comes to a state move to regulate nontidal wetlands. It appears others agree. On April 9, the Wetland Ad- visory Committee voted against recommending a state takeover of freshwater wetlands, going against a plan endorsed by Gov. Jack Markell and state environ- mental officials. Department of Natural Re- sources and Environmental Control Secretary Colin O'Mara and Markell urged committee members to approve state, rather than federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers management of non- tidal wetlands. DNREC officials said state management would streamline the permitting pro- cess, provide better delineation of wetlands and cut down on delays. It would also offer protec- tion to some wetlands that are not now regulated. A majority of the committee supported the plan, but the idea failed to get a two-thirds major- ity. The committee did approve expansion of existing incentive programs to protect wetlands, such as forest preservation ease- ments and tax credits. County council was quick to go on record in opposition to DNREC's plan to take authority over nontidal wetlands. Twenty-five percent of the state is covered in wetlands. Of the 320,000 acres, about 243,000 acres are non-tidal wetlands. About 6,000 acres of those wetlands are isolated and not protected, said County Adminis- trator Todd Lawson. "To some, there is an environ- mental value to these wetlands, and they should be protected," Lawson said. "Secretary O'Mara is strongly recommending giving DNREC authority to regulate these wetlands." Lawson said the most telling statistic to him was that only 28 acres of nontidal wetlands were lost during a 1992-2007 study pe- riod. Council members said they have not received complaints about how the Army Corps con- ducts business. "Most developers provide buffers, and they work around the wetlands," said Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, add- ing that property values around wetlands are a premium. "They get more money for lots near open space and near wetlands." "Our cluster ordinance has protected more wetlands that any other government regula- tion ever has," said Councilman Vance Phillips, R-Laurel. "We are protecting sensitive areas by allowing cluster density." Councilman Sam Wilson, R- Georgetown, the most outspoken council member on the issue, said, "They are trying to take away private ownership. DNREC will step over the boundaries, and we will be controlled." Lawson said the committee was looking for comments from council on an incentive-based program to protect wetlands. "In- centives are built into our code; we already have them," Cole said. He said that county officials should be the ones to determine what protections are necessary in their respective jurisdictions. "We need to protect wetlands, and I would not nile out regula- tions, although I would prefer incentives," said Councilwoman loan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach. Lewes resident Henry Glowi- ak, vice president of the Inland Bays Foundation, disagreed with council; he said DNREC should be given authority over nontidal wetlands. "I think they should be regulated and not developed," he said. He has proof of what can happen when these types of wet- lands are not protected. Several acres within his community off Beaver Dam Road are wetlands where runoff collects; some of the lots within those acres are for sale. "If you stepped out there right now, you would sink in mud up to your knees," he said. Glowiak said one landowner tried to build on one of the lots. After clear-cutting the lot of trees and bringing in tons of fill dirt, there were still drainage issues. In fact, remnants of a foundation for a house remain on the lot. "The foundation filled with water like a swimming pool," Glowiak said. "Right now, the lot has been abandoned." RON MACARTHUR PHOTO STATE ENVIRONMENTAL OFFC!ALS want to have more control over un- protected wetlands like this area near Lewes. Wetlands can be a sensitive subject Discussing wetlands can be a sensitive subject. An April 1 discussion about the Wetland Advisory Committee grew heat- ed, when Councilman Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, questioned Center for the Inland Bays Ex- ecutive Director Chris Bason. Bason said the watershed lost 1,000 acres of natural wetlands from 1992 to 2007. "Our area has a real problem of losing wetlands. We are supportive of incentive- based programs and regulatory programs to help protect wet- lands because we have a long way to go to restore the water quality of the Inland Bays that continue to be some of the most polluted waters in the region." 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