There's controversy brewing at the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) over its latest five-year plan. In one way, this is good news. As Executive Director Laurie Ramie noted at the recent Project Review Committee meeting, in the past, five-year plans very similar to the current draft have breezed through the approval process without review or comment. The 40-page tome, much of which is dense background information paraphrasing sections of the River Management Plan (RMP), is tough to wade through, and I suspect that in the past none of the council members has bothered to try to hack their way through the things, treating them instead as pieces of bureaucratic paperwork to be filed and forgotten.
This time, though, ears have perked up. Part of this is due to the fact that NPS Superintendent Sean McGuinness is apparently paying more attention to what he is doing than (at least some of) his predecessors, and so has actually read the plan and thought about what the council is trying to accomplish. Accordingly, one set of rather extensive comments--largely calling for a more specific focus on actions to be taken in the upcoming period, rather than ongoing duties of the council-was submitted by the NPS.
In addition, though, a table listing the results of a poll of priorities taken at a one-day workshop on the plan, and placed as a preface to it, leads off with "protecting private property rights" as the council's number one concern. This has led to a range of agitated feedback.
One problem is that many of the towns were simply not represented for the vote in question, being unable to attend that one day. Consequently, even representatives like Shohola's Pat Jeffer, considered to be friendly to property rights concerns in general, would like to see a redo on that poll. So would the rest of the Water Use and Resource Management Committee, led by Tusten representative Tony Ritter, who first proposed the idea, and that is the recommendation that WURM will make to the full council on Thursday, September 6.
A more profound problem is that there is plenty of dissent within the council as to whether private property rights really should be seen as the primary interest of the council - or even co-equal with the goal of protecting the river resource.
Town of Highland alternate Debra Conway submitted comments on the plan arguing that to have that priority leading off the council's plan for the upcoming five years is to turn things on their head. She wrote, "The enabling legislation, the River Management Plan and even the UDC's first five-year plan stated that the number one priority was/is the protection of the unique scenic, cultural and natural rqualities of the Upper Delaware River. And all allowable land uses follow from THAT number one priority."
Given that I have never, in the two or three years that I have been following the UDC, seen it refer to its five-year plan as a guide, it might seem that the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot. Moreover, from what I have read of the current draft, I would not say that Ramie centered the current draft around property rights, poll notwithstanding. But reps like Hal Roeder of Delaware have in recent months not only made it clear that they consider private property rights to be co-equal with resource protection as a matter of council concern, but have even voted for a motion (happily defeated) based on that concept. That's the resolution that would have declared the Towns of Tusten, Highland and Lumberland out of substantial conformance due to their zoning forbidding high-impact industrial use town-wide.
That motion was defeated. But shifts in the council's composition over the last year are making it increasingly likely that similar motions might be passed in the future -- especially if, every time they come up, Roeder et al can site the poll in the five-year plan as proving that the UDC should be giving primacy to private property rights. This would render the body useless for (what should be) its primary task of protecting the river, and could very easily create a situation in which the Secretary of the Interior, who is bound to uphold the intentions of the underlying legislation, decides to dispense with the council's services.
All this will most likely be duked out at the next UDC meeting on September 6 on Bridge Street in Narrowsburg, NY. The results could have consequences for the council - and the river corridor - for years to come. Keep your eyes on it.