by James DeChene
The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, along with others in the business community, have urged modernizing the Coastal Zone Act (CZA) in order to spur the next generation of economic growth in Delaware. The focus of modernization has been solely on existing industrial sites sitting abandoned or underutilized where redevelopment of the property is hindered by Delaware specific restrictions created by the Coastal Zone Act. Recognizing that any effort towards modernization will involve community education that process has begun at the State Chamber and will continue in the coming months.
It may come as a surprise that Delaware has lost over 1000 jobs from companies located in the Coastal Zone in the last few years. Between the closure of the Evraz steel plant site and reductions at the Edgemoor TiO2 facility Delaware has lost quality jobs proving difficult to replace. Much of that difficulty stems from Coastal Zone Act regulations that serve as a barrier for companies interested in purchasing and redeveloping property in this state. One has to look no further than across the state line into Marcus Hook to see how Sunoco’s $2.5 billion expansion is providing quality jobs, yet the 44 acres sited in Delaware have seen no redevelopment, in large part due to the CZA.
With the focus on job growth, what sometimes gets lost in the discussion is what happens if businesses with operations in the Coastal Zone continue to either leave the state or continue to choose not to locate here? Who is responsible for maintaining containment of mobile contaminations? What will be the cost to DNREC, DEDO, and Delaware taxpayers for continued involvement in these properties over the long-term?
There exists a case study for these questions in the former Syntech site in Newark. Between 1981 and 1987, Helix Associates operated a specialty chemicals manufacturing and processing facility which reportedly recovered iodine from waste sulfuric acid solutions. In 1986, an explosion in a 750-gallon reactor vessel destroyed a portion of the manufacturing building and eventually led to closure of the Helix facility. In July 1989, Synthesis Technologies, Inc. (Syntech) began operations by manufacturing specialty batch diazo compounds, including dyes for cloth, color photography, 4 and biological tissue staining until its closing in February 1991. In 1990, a reactor leaked vapors containing heptanes and nitric acid into the outside atmosphere. As a result of releases of hazardous substances, groundwater has been contaminated. The site is awaiting redevelopment, but as of now no plans have been filed to do so.
The State of Delaware now owns that site, and others like it, in and around the Coastal Zone, forcing continued investment in environmental monitoring and potential remediation. The plan is that modernizing the CZA for redevelopment will result in jobs for Delawareans with the additional benefit of reducing the financial impact of monitoring these sites, but we aren’t there yet.
As the State Chamber has said before, we believe the role of the CZA was not to have industrial sites in the zone wither and die or to handcuff existing facilities by creating barriers that result in limiting expansion or improvement. It is only through modernizing the Coastal Zone Act in industrial areas to make Delaware more competitive and attractive for redevelopment that jobs and investment will flow. The alternative, to make no changes to the Act, will insure that there will be an increase in abandoned or underutilized sites resulting in fewer jobs for Delawareans and will cripple the state’s long-term economic growth.