The term resilience is used often these days to describe the environment. Resilience is the ability of healthy ecosystems to “absorb threats, to recover and adapt during persistent stress.” But resilience doesn’t work in an environment of disparate laws and regulations and conflicting stakeholders with land-use decisions spread over city, county, state and federal agencies. Piecemeal ecology simply will not work to save the environment.

In Sussex County, four fish kills in six months. Ninety percent of our waterways, watersheds and wetlands dead or dying, and the elimination of mature trees and forests, should terrify, or at least get the attention of, all of us who call this area our home. These are not signs of coastal resilience.

The land-use process is at best confused, outdated and surpassed by exploding growth. Transportation evaluations are delayed because the primary roadways are often in the category of “failed.” Once a project has received approval, a developer can return at a later date and make significant changes.

Seventy-five percent of Delaware wetlands are freshwater, and yet there is virtually no protection for them. The County has promised implementing minimum buffers, but these are promises that have not been kept. The result is death by 1,000 papercuts (mostly in the form of conditional-use zoning). From July of 2019 through June of 2021, there were 96 applications for conditional-use zoning.

A comprehensive environmental plan is needed for our wetlands, and our coastal health in general. Currently, the environment is basically a box to be checked in the land-use application process. But that is way too late. A comprehensive needs assessment of our ecosystem, built around continuous monitoring and updating, should be in hand before a new proposed development is considered.

And, finally, resilience is needed by all of our public officials — government and elected — to withstand economic and political pressures, and to find and develop new creative approaches to making sound land-use decisions.

Linda Schulte