Dear Governor Markell,
Just about now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is deciding whether to grease the skids for your administration’s decision to impose industrial shellfishing operations in recreational waters in Sussex County, in places surrounded by hundreds of residential homes.
These are places where grandchildren learn to water ski and to fish, where families from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, from Maryland and Washington, D.C., and, of course, from all over Delaware travel annually to enjoy the fun and sun of coastal Delaware. Places where hundreds of businesses, including popcorn and ice cream stands, kayak rentals, music venues, restaurants, bars, shops and hotels earn their living. Places from which Delaware rightly earns a reputation as a beautiful, clean, family coastal resort.
You didn’t make the decision to install industrial shellfishing in these idyllic resort neighborhoods of Sussex County. The decision was made in a deeply flawed process that made no announcement to the people who would be most significantly affected and invited no public comment from them.
Some 150 letters opposing the plan have now reached the Army Corps of Engineers, written by citizens who were blindsided when your administration mapped their adjacent recreational waters as industrial sites. In a small state like Delaware, that’s quite an uprising.
Your [Department] of Natural Resources & Environmental Control staff has toured the waters where industrial shellfishing doesn’t make sense, and they now understand why. Elected officials who favor aquaculture, like me, are calling on Delaware to modify its plan.
If the Corps of Engineers approves your administration’s request to quickstep approvals for commercial shellfishing where young waterskiers and boaters now enjoy Delaware’s waters, your goal of nurturing a new shellfishing industry in Delaware will be dogged for years with challenges. Aquaculturists — not environmentalists, but commercial fishing interests, mostly from other states — will face persistent uncertainty over whether their commercial farms might be uprooted at any moment by those challenges.
There is a route to encouraging environmentally and economically sound aquaculture in Delaware. But that route does not include installing industrial operations in residential, recreational areas.
Right now — before the Army Corps of Engineers issues its decision on Delaware’s flawed application — is the time to pull the plug, retract the proposal and fix it. Don’t give the federal agency a reason to throw it back in Delaware’s face. Recall the plan, and give DNREC a chance to fix it by redrawing its maps after proper public engagement.