Delaware Coastal Zone Act Program

The Coastal Zone Act regulates new and existing manufacturing, heavy industry, and bulk product transfer activities in Delaware’s coastal zone through a permitting system.

The issuance of a coastal zone permit does not satisfy other DNREC permitting requirements. Proposed projects must also comply with all applicable regulations and apply for other relevant permits under DNREC’s regulatory programs.

Where is Delaware’s coastal zone?

The coastal zone generally runs the length of the state along the Delaware River, the C&D Canal, the Delaware Bay, the Inland Bays, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Use the interactive coastal zone map to see what properties are located within the state coastal zone.

Note: The state coastal zone is different from the federally designated coastal zone related to federal consistency with state policies under the Coastal Zone Management Act throughout Delaware lands and waters.

What is the purpose of the Coastal Zone Act?

The Coastal Zone Act, passed by the Delaware General Assembly in 1971, prohibited future heavy industrial development and created a permitting program for manufacturing activities within Delaware’s coastal zone.

The Coastal Zone Conversion Permit Act of 2017 created a conversion permit that allows additional or alternative heavy industry uses on 14 grandfathered sites which were in operation when the Coastal Zone Act was passed in 1971.

Various heavy industry activities remain prohibited within the coastal zone, such as oil refineries, paper mills, incinerators, steel manufacturing plants, and liquefied natural gas terminals.

What types of decisions are made in regulating the coastal zone?

DNREC must determine whether a proposed activity would be prohibited, if it would not require a coastal zone permit because it is not manufacturing or heavy industry, or if it would require a permit (and which type).

Manufacturing activities require a standard permit.

Heavy industry and bulk product transfer activities at the 14 grandfathered sites require a conversion permit.

If it is unclear whether a proposed activity would be prohibited or unregulated, or which type of permit is necessary, the applicant can submit a request for status decision to provide more details to DNREC to make that determination.

If a facility already has a coastal zone permit and wants to make operational changes at the site, the permittee can submit a request for a major modification.

DNREC offers the following basic timelines for permitting processes under the Coastal Zone Act: Status DecisionsStandard and Conversion Permits and Major Modifications.

What criteria are evaluated to make a Coastal Zone Act decision?

DNREC evaluates:

  • Environmental impacts
  • Economic effects
  • Aesthetic effects
  • Number and type of supporting facilities (and impacts of such facilities)
  • Neighboring land uses (including effects on adjacent residential areas)
  • Consistency with county and municipal comprehensive planning

For permitting decisions, DNREC also evaluates the sufficiency of an offset proposal to compensate for potential negative environmental impacts as a result of the activity.

How can the public get involved with Coastal Zone Act decisions?

All Coastal Zone Act decisions have a public comment period, and all new permit decisions also have a mandatory public hearing. Application materials are available on this webpage for any activity that is currently under review.


Appeals of a permit or other decision of the DNREC Secretary are handled by the Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board, which is an independent entity from DNREC. The appeal period is within 14 days of the public notice of the decision.