Southern Delaware
Sea level rise: County Council opinions aren't on same wave-length

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County Council members are not on the same wave length regarding the debatable issue of sea level rise.

At the May 7 council meeting, Susan Love, a planner with the Department of Environmental Control and Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program, delivered an update on progress made by the state’s Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, which is developing an adaptation plan for the state that will provide a path forward for planning for impacts of sea level rise.

Ms. Love’s presentation drew no love from councilmen Samuel Wilson, R-Georgetown, and Vance Phillips, R-Laurel.

Mr. Wilson cast doubt sea level rise even exists.

“They don’t have no facts. It’s almost BS, to be honest with you,” said Mr. Wilson.

“We have a documented level of sea level rise right now in the state that is 3.35 millimeters per year or about 13 inches over 100 years,” said Ms. Love.

“Sam, you don’t have to worry about it in Georgetown,” said County Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Lewes, whose District 3 encompasses much of the county’s northern coastal area. “My district might be concerned with it.”

“Maybe sea level rise isn’t going to do anything; maybe it will do something,” Ms. Deaver said. “Nobody is talking about running people off the beach. That is our source of income. What I am hearing is that we need to know what may happen and prepare for it – just common sense.”

Mr. Phillips voiced concern about what he considers lack of sufficient input from landowners, including farmers.

“Landowners in general are a huge stakeholder in this county. Those tracts of land can be severely impacted. They are the folks you need to bring on board early. To discount them and their significance I think would be a mistake,” said Mr. Phillips. “If you want good information coming out, you need good information going in from the start. As you know, the devil is in the details.”

Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, reminded the audience where the majority of the county’s tax base lies. In turn, he wasn’t about to push the panic button.

“Sixty percent of the tax base comes from one mile off that beach. So that’s very important,” said Mr. Cole. “Don’t take offense but I think of this is just ‘feel good.’ It is the popular thing: sea level rise … let’s get an organization and start talking about it.

“We are already doing so much currently,” Mr. Cole added. “It is years down the road. And the next time we do a land use plan we’ll consider it. I wouldn’t read too much into at this time. We have private property rights. People aren’t going to stop building close to the water. They will build up. They are told to by different agencies and they know better. So I think the public is fairly educated.”

Comprised of 24 members, including all state agencies, all three counties, League of Local Governments, business and environmental organizations and the University of Delaware, the purpose of the Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee was two-fold, Ms. Love said.

“One was to put together an assessment of Delaware’s vulnerability to this issue of sea level rise, and the second one was once that was completed, once we had identified the problem, then to put together some potential solutions for that problem,” Ms. Love said. “We have made significant progress and we are almost to the end of our initiative at this point.”

“The reason that it is so important is that sea level rise has a wide variety of impacts in the state of Delaware. We looked at 79 different resources throughout the state to see what the impact of sea level rise might be,” said Ms. Love. “Short term you can see sea level rise in a couple ways. One is that you may be starting to see an increase extent of flooding and damage during storms. We’re also seeing some reduced drainage capacity in tidal and low lying areas. When the tidal heights are higher water has a harder time draining. Longer term over decades we’re going to continue to see these issues but we’re going to begin to see some conversion of dry land into open water or conversion of wetlands into open water. And all of these things, as you add them up over the years and the decades; they all have economic, social and environmental impact.”

“Man has been on this earth … according to the Bible … about 6,000 to 7,000 years,” challenged Mr. Wilson. “Salt (water) may intrude. You’re talking like it’s going to happen in the next 10 years. It’s been 7,000 years we’re thinking it might come. If it hasn’t done it in the last 7,000 why is it going to do it now all of a sudden?”

“We have projects or scenarios that we are using to plan until 2100. A lot can happen between now and 2100,” Ms. Love said. “Right now I can’t really give you a good idea of what it might look like in 2030. But we would like to be able to say, ‘there is a very good possibility that in 2030 you should be planning for six inches more of sea level, or eight inches.”

Ms. Love noted SLRAC plan does not dictate any regulations to any local government, but does set up a number of things that “state agencies, local agencies, non-profits can do together to make sure that those who want to plan for this can do so with the best tools available.”

Four primary things that can be done: avoid the impact (level 3 areas); move out, retreat from the coast; accommodate; and beach replenishment.

“There is a range of things you can do on the ground as these impacts happen, or before they happen,” she said.

SLRAC member Rich Collins, executive director of the Positive Growth Alliance, offered another perspective.

“We just need to keep things in perspective,” said Mr. Collins. “Sea level rise is nothing new. The Henlopen Lighthouse fell into the sea in 1926, Indian River Inlet Bridge 1946. It is a natural thing. We’ve always dealt with it before and we’re going to have to deal with it in the future, because sea level rise is absolutely occurring. It is a scientific fact. It’s been going ever since the last Ice Age.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at 629-5505 or