More money would go to projects that make Delaware cleaner, greener and safer under a mostly no-growth budget outlined Monday by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Agency Secretary Collin P. O'Mara asked the Office of Management and Budget for about $35.2 million in general funds for the fiscal year that begins July 1, with health care costs accounting for most of the nearly $2 million increase from the current year.
But O'Mara also requested more than $24 million -- a nearly sixfold increase -- for capital projects ranging from water and wastewater system improvements to flood protection, beach restoration, dam safety and park improvements.
The proposals include a major expansion of groundwater monitoring in New Castle County and northern Kent County, amid warnings that water supplies beneath the state's fastest-growing region are "stressed and possibly in excess of safe yield."
"There are large areas where crucial data is absent, and the condition of the aquifer is primarily unknown," a DNREC summary noted. Areas of concern include parts of the Potomac Aquifer, an underground water supply used heavily in northernmost Delaware.
The Delaware Geological Survey, Artesian Resources and Tidewater Resources will work with DNREC on the project.
O'Mara told budget managers that the state "faces some serious environmental challenges." He also noted that DNREC has made progress on several fronts despite a $10 million general fund cut and the loss of the equivalent of 83 full-time workers since 2008.
The agency has stepped up efforts to support non-polluting "clean energy" sources, and is working to accelerate cleanups and redevelopment of polluted and idle brownfield sites.
Industry could be asked to share more of the load in some areas.
O'Mara said he is developing a user-pays plan to reduce taxpayer burdens for managing some environmental permit programs, now supported by fees that have been the same since 1991.
"With no increases, we're subsidizing a greater and greater portion of the program cost, which could be paid in other ways," O'Mara said.
DNREC capital budget proposals outlined Monday emphasized high-impact projects, including flood control and storm protection.
"We're trying to find more creative ways to finance water infrastructure," O'Mara said, adding that many of the projects would create needed jobs.
Improvements also are under consideration for state park trails, Baynard Stadium in Wilmington and the state's Ommelanden Firing Range.
The Delaware Nature Society, The Nature Conservancy and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary asked budget planners during public testimony to consider other priorities.
Among the issues: increased spending for open-space purchases, support for citizen-led water quality and watershed programs, and investments in coastal and ocean-area planning needed as offshore wind projects advance.
By JEFF MONTGOMERY • The News Journal • November 23, 2010
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