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Evolving Legacy: Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act

Wilmington in Transition, a project of Pacem in Terris, showed the documentary film, “An Evolving Legacy: Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act” on Thursday, February 16, at 7 pm in The Meeting Room at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1502 W. 13th Street, Wilmington, DE 19806. The film was introduced by Michael Oates, the filmmaker, and June Peterson, the widow of former Governor Russell Peterson, will offer a few remarks before we begin the discussion session after the film.

This one-hour documentary, recounts the dramatic struggle of the late Governor Russell W. Peterson to craft visionary environmental legislation to preserve Delaware’s shoreline, its history since then, and the challenges all Delawareans face as we struggle to balance the desire for development with the love for unspoiled natural habitats. The film features interviews with the late Governor Russ Peterson and others who played a role in the creation of the Coastal Zone Act and have helped to preserve it ever since.

Forty years ago, with a single legislative action, the entire Delaware coast was made off-limits to heavy industrial development, preserving the state’s natural shoreline to this day. Delaware’s landmark Coastal Zone Act not only transformed local environmental awareness into sweeping statewide action, it challenged other states and the nation to do the same.

At the time, the New York Times commented, “…forty-nine other states, including New York, can learn something from this exceptionally perceptive action by Governor Peterson and his responsive legislature.”

Yet the battle for this legislation, including the role of then Governor Peterson, cannot be reduced to a single line in a newspaper. And the Act’s 40-year legacy still poses questions that are as complex as the ecosystem it continues to protect.

Michael Oates, founder and president of Anew/302 Stories, Inc., is an independent documentarian who has produced programs for major corporations and broadcast networks for the past 25 years. He won his first Emmy in 1983 with his first company, New York Television, Inc., for his work on ABC’s “Up Close and Personal Profiles” for the 1983 Olympics.

Through the 80’s and early 90’s, Oates designed and produced videos that won numerous national awards while also developing New York Television (NYTV) into a multi-million dollar company with 20 employees. In 1995 Oates sold his share of the company he founded to pursue personal video projects, with a focus on the documentation of environmental issues.

His other environmental and historical documentaries that deal with Delaware are: “Dollars on the Beach” (1999), which explores the emerging migratory shorebird and horseshoe crab harvesting controversy on the Delaware Bay; “The ’62 Storm” (2007), that looks at the impact of the 20th Century’s most powerful nor’easter on Delaware’s coastal communities; and “Wood Splinters to Metal Sparks” (2010), a documentary on the history of Milford, Delaware’s shipbuilding industry and its impact on the community.

He is currently working on two new documentaries — “White Gold,” which follows the rise and fall of the oyster industry on the Delaware Bay, and another on the history of the St. Jones River and Watershed near Dover, DE. Mr. Oates is also a part-time instructor at the University of Delaware where he teaches Environmental Videography in the College of Earth, Oceans and the Environment.

The screening of “An Evolving Legacy” is free and open to the public. At its conclusion, a free will offering will be taken to support the work of Wilmington in Transition (WIT). WIT, is a Transition Town initiative, described by Rob Hopkins in his book, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience. The first Transition Town was pioneered in Totnes, England in 2007 and has now spread globally. Wilmington in Transition (WIT) addresses what we can do as a community to face climate change, energy concerns, and the economy, by developing local resources, dialing down our dependence on fossil fuels, building resilience, neighborliness, and fun into our city and lives. It summons our creativity and empowers us to make positive changes, blazing a trail that governmental officials will eventually follow. To learn more visit