DNREC proposes easy lagoon permits

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) unveiled a plan for expedited construction approval in manmade lagoons and canals at a June 1 workshop in Bethany Beach.

A scattering of interested residents, mainly marine builders and town officials, stopped by the Bethany Fire Hall that night, to learn more about what will be, in essence, 1040EZ permitting for work in “tidal artificial lagoon systems.”

Around here, that mainly refers to town canals. Department officials had mistakenly included the Assawoman Canal in that category on a marked out aerial map of the area, but DNREC’s Laura Herr admitted that was a faux pas — the Assawoman Canal is on public (state parks) land.

Private lots fronting on natural waterways will likely need to go through DNREC’s full-blown permitting process, but for property owners on manmade canals, who are looking to put in a dock or boat lift, Statewide Activity Approval (SAA) may be the way to go.

Lots that fall within the SAA maps will be cleared for new construction or repair/replacement for the following.
• Fixed or floating docks and piers.
• Boatlifts and davits (crane-style boatlift, attached to the bulkhead).
• Modular floating platforms, for personal watercraft or larger vessels.
• Pilings, ladders, boat ramps, aids to navigation.
• Bulkheads, gabions (think crabpots filled with stone).
• Stone rip-rap revetments or vegetative stabilization.

Gazebos, boathouses or other roofed structures, and dredging are not authorized under the SAA. Also requiring a full-blown permit, according to Herr — fish cleaning stations.

These stations can be as simple as a plank at the seaward side of the dock, but Herr said they sometimes became quite elaborate, with sinks and running water.

Fancy or plain, she said the department was trying to actively discourage anglers from dumping their fish blood and guts into manmade lagoons, where tidal flushing can be sluggish at best. Herr said the crabs did a good job at tidying up afterwards, but they couldn’t catch everything, and those excess waste products only contributed to existing problems with pollution.

“It’s definitely not illegal to clean your fish at the dock, but we don’t want to encourage it,” she said — so no easy permit.

Other property owners, with frontage on both manmade and natural waterways, might or might not be eligible for SAA fast-tracking.

DNREC’s Andrew Whitman showed certain “point” parcels on Jefferson Creek that the department felt didn’t qualify. One of the residents from that area questioned Whitman’s interpretation (since municipal zoning extended to the middle of the creek), and asked, why not just treat the whole area as SAA, if simplifying the application process was one of the goals.

However, as Whitman pointed out, those natural waterways were technically “public underwater lands,” so any construction needed to go through the extra scrutiny of the full permitting process.

There would be no public hearing required for projects falling under the SAA. Fees would remain the same, however — $150 for repair/replacement permits and $225 for all other projects.

Herr said the SAA was slightly more restrictive than the ordinary set of regulations.

However, per the draft, local code enforcement officers would need to take a first look, if their town codes were even more restrictive than the SAA.

DNREC intends to sign off on SAA applications after the town sees them — unlike projects going through the full permitting process, which DNREC reviews first and then sends back to the towns.

“I think there should be more control at the local level, and we should focus more on the set of standards that are dealt with in our subaqueous lands law,” Herr said. She expected the SAA would free up more staff time at DNREC, and that would enable the department to run a more comprehensive and effective inspection and compliance program.