- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

DOVER, Del. (AP) - A proposal to open Delaware’s environmentally protected coastal zone to new heavy industry passed its first legislative hurdle Wednesday, clearing a House committee despite complaints from environmental groups and other opponents about the lack of public input.

The bill, supported by Gov. John Carney establishes a permitting process for new use of 14 existing industry sites, including abandoned and polluted brownfields.

It also allows the currently prohibited transfer of bulk products such as oil, grain and minerals at sites that had docking facilities or piers before enactment of the Coastal Zone Act in 1971.

The bill would not allow certain heavy industry uses that did not exist in 1971, including oil refineries, paper and steel mills, incinerators and liquefied natural gas terminals. The Delaware City oil refinery would remain grandfathered, however.

Supporters of the bill, including the state chamber of commerce and organized labor, say the Coastal Zone Act’s restrictions on industry have been an impediment to economic development, and that modifying it could spur manufacturing and job creation.

“This Coastal Zone Act is a nonstarter for corporations,” said Kevin McGowan, who runs a corporate real estate consulting business.

But environmentalists say the existing law has played a key role in protecting ecologically sensitive areas along the Delaware River and Bay, as well as coastal beach resorts that are the lynchpin of Delaware’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry. They also complain that they have not been allowed input on the bill.

“We are simply asking for a public dialogue,” said Brenna Goggin, advocacy director for the Delaware Nature Society.

Opponents are especially concerned about the bill’s provision allowing bulk product transfers of cargo such as crude oil between ship and shore.

“Just one spill could have disastrous consequences along the entire length of the river,” said Peggy Schultz of the League of Women Voters.

State environmental secretary Shawn Garvin said the administration believes that legislation offers a path toward putting the sites back into productive use, whether heavy industry or manufacturing, while ensuring that the coastal environment is protected.

The full House could vote on the measure as early as next week.

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