The first of the three responsibilities of the County Council as listed on Sussex County’s website is “Establishing policies for the health, safety, and welfare of County residents.” And yet, the County has no Board of Health to advise the County Council and no Health Department responsible for protecting the health of its residents by enforcing these policies. (Almost all of 3,000 counties in our nation have a health department. Sussex County is an exception.)
Due to this benign neglect, there has been no relevant input into the County’s decision-making process and very lax enforcement of state and federal laws and regulations protecting the public’s health.
As a consequence, today 90 percent of our surface water is impaired and is unfit for swimming or drinking. Milton and the Millsboro areas have one of the highest rates of cancer and heart disease in the state.
Due to inability of the County Council to enact strong ordinances, Sussex County is overexposed to development without adequate infrastructure, to environmental degradation and to contamination of drinking water.
In our polarized society, every issue quickly becomes Us vs. Them. This is an issue that affects us all, and we are all in it together. We all need clean water. Our water is the main engine of our economy.
Inaction that maintains the status quo will lead to word getting out that our water is unsafe. Tourists will stop coming to our community resulting in loss of jobs, and property values will plummet. Everyone will lose. It is a moment when all of us, developers, farmers, land owners, and citizens, need to rethink our positions and use common sense to find common ground for the common good.
One of the simplest remedies to prevent further water contamination is to leave a suitable buffer along the tidal waterways. This helps to allow rain water to slowly enter our wetlands while filtering out the contaminants. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that a 100-foot buffer will filter better than a 50-foot buffer. Kent and New Castle Counties already have 100-foot buffers, and many surrounding states have much larger buffers.
I am very happy that Councilman [I.G.] Burton has introduced this ordinance for our County Council to consider. In my view, it is reasonable, logical and consistent with the needs of the County. I fully support it.
It is time for County Council to enact this ordinance to preserve our economy, our environment and peoples’ health, while preventing further contamination of our waterways.
Dr. Mohammad N. Akhter,
Former Executive Director
American Public Health Association