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The Delaware Senate approved an overhaul of the landmark Coastal Zone Act environmental law on Thursday, opening the door to the redevelopment of heavy industrial sites near the coast.
Environmental groups had fiercely opposed the changes, arguing they could lead to dangerous pollution in economically vital and environmentally sensitive areas. But they were unable to overcome the pitch from business leaders and Gov. John Carney, who say the new rules could create jobs.
The bill passed the Senate 18-2. It passed the House last week, 34-7.
Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, and Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, voted against the bill, and Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, did not vote.
Though she ended up supporting the bill, Sen. Stephanie Hansen read a statement outlining her reservations about casting a “yes” vote.
“Failing companies and those just limping along are usually incapable of cleaning up the mess they make,” Hansen said. “And companies that are operating just fine right now will do only what they are expected to do and only when it is discovered.”
Rep. Bob Marshall inquired about the future of the Port of Wilmington, one of the 14 grandfathered sites. He said he feared job security for the blue-collar employees at the site.
“A change in ownership could impact severely those employees,” Marshall said.
Shawn Garvin, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said the bill would not have any impact on the port, noting that he had several conversations with Secretary of State Jeffery Bullock to ease concerns. He added that, under the new legislation, the Port of Wilmington would have “easier access to financing” than it does now.
Garvin confirmed his department has a solid structure in place for granting conversion permits, another concern raised by opponents.
“We will go through a very open, inclusive process as we develop regulations,” Garvin said. “I try to be as transparent as humanly possible.”
The Coastal Zone Act bans new heavy industry within 2 miles of Delaware’s coast. It has been in place since 1971.