In a recent lecture in the Ocean Currents series, titled “The Rising Tide: Are We Prepared?” University of Delaware faculty members made the case that the global curve of sea level rise is increasing sharply. As a result of land subsidence, ocean current changes and melting ice flow from Greenland and Antarctica, the rate of sea level rise in Delaware is twice the global rate. The First State is a “hot spot” for flood risk.
I’m working with residents in the cities of New Castle and Delaware City to understand how wetlands continue to be filled in and developed in the face of escalating flood risks. The Garrison Assets apartments are a multibuilding complex in New Castle, completed in 2019. Below are email exchanges with two Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control officials regarding this complex.
Gina Tonn with DNREC’s Watershed Assessment and Management Section provided the following information: “I looked up the Garrison apartments location on our Delaware Flood Planning Tool which displays (the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s) floodplain mapping. The location appears to be in the Special Flood Hazard Area.” She referred us to Matthew Jones, manager of the Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands Section, which is responsible for wetlands permitting.
Mr. Jones responded as follows: “The area where the Garrison Apartments were constructed is considered uplands on our 1988 State-Regulated Tidal Wetland Map No. 396 and thus would have not required a permit from our Section.”
So based on the FEMA maps updated in 2019, the location is in the Special Flood Hazard Area. However, DNREC’s permitting authority is using maps from 1988 — more than 30 years ago — when the area was “considered uplands.” What a topsy-turvy world! Our environmental watchdog is 30 years behind the developers. In addition, Philadelphia recently experienced flooding related to outdated maps.
DNREC’s Secretary Shawn Garvin is also secretary of the board for the Fort DuPont Redevelopment & Preservation Corp. (FDRPC), created by the General Assembly in 2014. There are seven state officials on the board, including another DNREC staffer.
FDRPC is on the verge of selling a 138-acre portion of the Fort DuPont State Park — known as “Grass Dale” — to the Blue Water development group to build an RV campground accommodating 422 vehicles.
Grass Dale represents environmentally fragile wetlands, purchased in 1994 using Delaware Land & Water Conservation Trust Funds totaling $860,000. The original purchase agreement states that this land is subject to Delaware Code’s Title 7/Chapter 75 and the Delaware Land & Water Conservation Trust Fund. The DNREC website still lists Grass Dale as “Lands Protected by Open Space Program.”
The Grass Dale area is extremely vulnerable to flooding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintains two tide gauges in Delaware. The gauge at Reedy Point is near Grass Dale. NOAA predicts it will see 25-100 high-tide flood days in 2050. This prediction doesn’t include flood days resulting from extreme rain events, which are also increasing in frequency.
Only Blue Water clients will have access to this area. More than 3,600 people have signed a petition to protect the property and preserve it for conservation, wildlife and public enjoyment as originally intended.
Instead of privatizing protected land, DNREC should be safeguarding Delaware’s vulnerable coastline.
Jack Guerin is an anti-corruption advocate with FightDECorruption.com