Uncertainty due to sea-level rise has led the Center for the Inland Bays to support continued and increased monitoring of the ash disposal site.
The work required to monitor environmental concerns at the Burton Island ash disposal site in the Indian River Bay can serve as a lesson in caution, Center for the Inland Bays Executive Director Chris Bason said.
“The resources needed for that are crazy, which to me says we should just be careful about what we do to the environment, otherwise it’s so much time fixing the problem. It’s the same thing with building near the water,” Bason said.
At a recent Citizens Advisory Committee meeting Bason discussed a number of man-made problems that could be worsened by sea-level rise, from contamination at Burton Island to eroding wetlands.
Uncertainty due to sea-level rise has led the Center for the Inland Bays to support continued and increased monitoring of the ash disposal site. While a 2013 study shows contaminants from the site, such as arsenic, are currently not toxic to surrounding organisms, as water rises around the bays things could change.
“There’s just a lot of uncertainty about what happens to those contaminants under sea level rise conditions,” Bason said. “They could plume out and become soluble, and start moving from the island and into the bay.”
The center recently submitted this suggestion to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, which is developing a long-term stewardship plan for the island, Bason said. The center also encouraged the use of traditional stabilization methods through native plants, not phragmites.
“You don’t want to promote the growth of an invasive species, especially in the upper Indian River,” Bason said. “Do what it takes to bring in natural species.”
Bason also discussed the migration of wetlands with the Citizens Advisory Committee. As the sea level rises, salt marshes move, avoiding high energy waves that cause erosion. Development close to the marshes has left some wetlands with no place to move to, Bason said.
“They’ll get pinched out, they’ll disappear. If you want to preserve those wetlands, you need to have some place for them to migrate into,” Bason said. “The ultimate solution is just don’t build where these wetlands are going to be in the future.”
Wetlands are important habitat for growing fish.
“People want to live on the water,” Bason said. “Nobody wants to kill the wetlands.”
Using models to project where water will be in the future, and therefore where wetlands will be, should be important to developers, Bason said. Creating larger buffers between development and the wetlands would help solve the issue.
Currently, Sussex County has a 50-foot buffer requirement, Bason said.
“I would say enforcement on it is variable,” he said.
In 2008, the center recommended buffers ranging from 80 to 100 feet in tidal areas with steep slopes, and 300-500 feet in areas with gradual slopes. Looking back those recommendations could be adjusted, Bason said.
“It was science based, but it was also within the realm of social and political feasibility. A lot has changed since 2008, with what we know about sea-level rise. If I had to go back and look at it again, I might come up with a different conclusion in my own mind,” he said.
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