by James DeChene
For more than 40 years, the Coastal Zone Act has set Delaware apart for companies looking to conduct business on Delaware’s coast. Whether it was meant to eventually force manufacturing and industry to “wither on the vine” or to balance the types of allowable companies with keeping our natural resources pristine, it has created a logjam in the process. Regardless of the intent of the legislation, it is clear that Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act must be modernized in order for Delaware to grow.
There are a number of large economic development projects underway in and around Delaware, including the redevelopment of Sunoco’s Marcus Hook site, of which 40-plus acres are located in Delaware. To date, Sunoco has not indicated any plans for development on that ground, most notably due to conforming to the Coastal Zone Act. The redevelopment of the former Claymont Steel plant is another potentially huge economic development project to bring jobs to Delaware, and hurdles continue to mount for next stage planning.
The world economy has changed significantly since 1971, and the manufacturing world has changed with it. It is readily apparent that manufacturing is not as it once was, and for modern manufacturing plants, whether making cars, medical equipment or other products, the focus is on clean and efficient production. Companies looking for manufacturing and production sites expect the process to be clear, timely, and reasonable, and unfortunately right now that is not a process Delaware can provide.
There is a balance to be reached between protecting the thousands of acres of land within the Coastal Zone that have not seen, and should not see, commercial development and allowing those sites sitting abandoned, underutilized or other properties that have a history of commercial use prior to the Coastal Zone Act enactment in 1971 to be actively, and easily, used. Plans do not, and would not, include refineries or smelting plants as acceptable in the Zone, but instead focus on bringing high tech, efficient manufacturing and other related businesses to Delaware.
Delaware is currently at a crossroads in its history. The fourlegged stool that has been the primary backbone of our economy in recent years—cars, chemicals, chickens and credit cards—has changed dramatically. As our jobs shift away from the chemical industry, Delaware must make itself as attractive as possible in order to bring new business to the state, and modernizing the Coastal Zone Act is a lynchpin to that success. To that end, the State Chamber will begin, and lead, the discussions and debate surrounding how to modernize the Coastal Zone Act. The continued future of economic development in Delaware will be predicated upon the outcome of what will be undoubtedly be a heated debate.
Our message is, and will remain clear: Delaware cannot afford to have its economic policy dictated by extreme or unreasonable elements of the environmental activist community if there is to be the future successful economic growth this state needs to survive.
James DeChene is the Chamber's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.