It’s June 1, and Sussex County is gradually emerging from the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order. County Council and Planning & Zoning have been conducting limited business via teleconference but will soon be back to hearing important issues in the Council Chamber. The new Wetlands Buffer Ordinance should be a priority issue. It is really a “time is of the essence” issue.

The local building industry has been operating in full force during the COVID-19 crisis. This is a positive local economic indicator during a troubled time. People want to live in Sussex County! They love it here, especially near a beach area or any of the abundant waterways.

Sussex forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Some folks aren’t bothered by it, but it’s because they don’t know how the trees protect us in many ways. Trees/forests protect us by cleaning our air, holding soil in place and protecting our waterways from pollutants. These are our clean machines and they are free! The forests and wetlands have protected Sussex from hurricanes and severe storms since forever!

A new wetlands and buffer ordinance will be presented to the County soon after the County is back to holding in-person public sessions. As County constituents, we need to communicate our support for the new Wetlands Buffer Ordinance, which is long overdue.

The County had the wisdom to form a special Wetlands & Buffer Working Group (WBWG) well over a year ago. The WBWG worked diligently to produce a summary of the proposed ordinance. You can view it on the County website. It reflects a balanced concern for environmental protection with respect for landowner rights.

The old practice of building to the water’s edge has created land erosion and flooding problems. The removal of vegetation and extant forest contributed to the loss of habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. The current ordinance allows a 50-foot buffer for tidal waterways. The other non-tidal waterways are not subject to any protective buffer. By contrast, New Castle and Kent counties have 100-foot and 50-foot buffers for tidal and non-tidal waterways.

Environmental preservation and sustainability are not new ideas but are the right ideas for Sussex. Development should continue and land rights respected. Land values will increase with some preserved forest and natural vegetation. These preservation concepts will enhance the beauty and natural character of land while landowners benefit by increased the fair market value. The county this balance. The main changes would be:

(1) Tidal wetlands and waters, 100 feet;

(2) Non-tidal wetlands, 30 feet;

(3) Intermittent streams, 30 feet;

(4) Perennial non-tidal rivers and streams, 50 feet;

(5) Concept of two-zone buffer management, Zones A & B;

(6) Clear mechanism to ensure the updated buffers ordinance code is both applied and enforced.

Please write to Mr. Burton and his fellow Council members, and show your support for this new Wetlands Buffer Ordinance. We will all benefit from this high-priority effort.

Shelly Cohen