This blog chronicles and analyzes developments in the Upper Delaware Valley, with an emphasis on public affairs, politics and what people are doing to make this a better place. You can find news here as well as commentary - but don't expect neutrality. The award-winning editorial writer for The River Reporter from 2004 to 2012, I am an advocate for sustainability, self-sufficient economic growth vs. globalization and protecting the environment on which our health, prosperity and quality of life depend.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday night gossip at the Callicoon Wine Merchant

Shouldering my way into the Callicoon Wine Merchant at sixish on Friday, I ran into a friend who is a member of the Loyal Opposition. I say "shouldering my way in" because there was a considerable crowd of people standing around talking, some holding glasses of wine. I wondered if it could be a political fundraiser -- it's the season, after all -- but my friend told me no, it's just Friday night after five at Callicoon Wine Merchant. Apparently there's a bit of a mini-bar-scene there that I had not been aware of.

After making it to the cash register to pay for the cosmetically flawed but ambrosial Honey Crisp apples that I had picked up from a wooden crate sitting on the bench outside, I returned to my friend for a bit of a gossip. He said he had a couple of tidbits for me, both of which proved related to the natural gas drilling commission which had been approved two town meetings ago, and whose members' names (supposedly) Ed Sykes had announced at the most recent meeting.

Tidbit one (add salt for the hearsay) was that someone had told my friend that Fred Stabbert, one of the named commission members, has said that he is not pro-gas drilling, and therefore is going to resign. We were both scratching our heads over that one. It's true that Ed described Stabbert as one of the three members of the six-member commission who tended to lean pro, but Sykes also reiterated that the whole point was to find people who are not rabid either way. Combining what is generally perceived as the somewhat pro stance of Stabbert's newspaper with his personal (if this hearsay is correct) affirmation that he is not pro drilling, that might actually bring him pretty close to the balance Sykes is looking for. So why quit? All I can think of is that he's not happy to be designated as holding one position or the other in the case of something so controversial. In that case, I would imagine he can be persuaded to stay on the commission once he has made his objection to Sykes' characterization clear.

Tidbit two, without going into specific names to protect the innocent, is that another named member admitted that Sykes had spoken to him, but had not agreed to be on the commission and indeed didn't want to be--it apparently came as a surprise to him that he had been publicly named. But once he was told he had been named, so the tale goes, he allowed as how maybe he'd agree to be on the commission after all.

 As noted, add salt. But the general impression is that the gas commission is a bit up in the air. I wonder if any of the members, for instance, has been charged with convening an initial meeting? Or if they're all sitting around waiting for somebody else to get started -- those who are aware they are on it and are unequivocally willing to accept the appointment.

 Meanwhile, Callicoon Wine Merchant owner Robin says he will have more apples out there on Sunday, September 30. You can't beat $1 a pound, they're clearly local, and they beat those shiny round things in the supermarket all hollow.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

UDC chestnuts pulled out of the fire

Given an increasingly isolationist, do-nothing and even anti-environmental bent in the past year or so, it has sometimes seemed that the UDC is in the process of marginalizing itself. Its raison d'etre, after all, is to administer the plan that protects the values for which the Upper Delaware River was designated as part of the Wild and Scenic River system. Had the new five-year plan boasted a list of priorities with "protecting private property rights" at the top, as it came close to doing, that might just have been the nail in the coffin.

This danger was averted at the September meeting, with a series of maneuvers led by Town of Highland Superintendent Andy Boyar, principally assisted by the NY DEC's Bill Rudge and National Park Superintendent Sean McGuinness, with other including Sue Sullivan, Larry Richardson and even, at the end, Jack Niflot chipping in bits from the sidelines.

It became apparent early in the discussion that the WURM committee's proposal of re-voting the workshop poll that had produced the list in question was not going to fly. Indeed, it looked like it might be game over altogether when Al Henry, who had spoken strongly for the re-vote idea at the WURM meeting, nevertheless made a motion at the full council meeting to vote on the five-year plan as-is, which is to say, including the list with "private property rights" as the number one concern. A vote to approve the plan at that time might very well have gone through. But it was at this point that Boyar intervened with a motion to amend.

It's a perfect example of a case in which experience--and knowledge of Robert's Rules--counts; as Boyar knew, and I and others learned, a motion to amend is the one kind of motion you can interject, and have discussed and voted on, when there is another motion on the floor. Boyar obtained a reprieve by picking up a ball that had been thrown by Rudge: a rewrite of the number one priority that put private property rights back where they belong, that is, as an adjunct to the protection of the river. The resulting rephrase was almost verbatim a combination of the number on and number four goals listed on page 13 of the River Management Plan (RMP): "Protect the unique scenic, cultural and natural resource values of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River and its immediate environs [number one] while protecting private property rights [number four].”

Boyar may have perhaps over-praised Rudge's offering a bit in saying that, like the Gettysburg Address, it's the kind of thing nobody would want to change a word of -- but his intervention in moving to amend the original motion to approve the plan had the desired effect. The bulk of the discussion turned to how Rudge's suggestion should be changed, not on whether, and the momentum of the meeting shifted decisively. McGuinness helped provide the final push by saying that it might be okay to keep the language as is, with private property rights number one, if everybody would concede what that actually meant according to the RMP. He then went on to enumerate all the steps, e.g. regular conformance reviews, strict adherence to ordinances, strict enforcement, etc. etc., all of which in fact amounted to nothing more than what the RMP has been telling us all along. But it was a bit too rich for the blood of Deerpark representative Dave Dean, who said he could go along with some of it, but not all. In comparison, the Rudge compromise probably started to look pretty good.

By this time the sheer lateness of the night was taking its toll, and Jack Niflot of Fremont, typically a swing vote, did his bit by pointing out that they had started out with a perfectly simple, perfectly good motion by Boyar and maybe they just ought to stick with it. In the end, a very slight modification of Rudge's language was approved (replacing the word "respecting" with "protecting" private property rights). Perhaps most surprising of all, the vote seemed to be virtually unanimous -- it looked like Peckham voted "no", and there may have been some abstentions.

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding as to how the council members actually use this five-year plan going forward. But at least we will be spared arguments in which someone puts forward a motion on the grounds that it protects private property rights--even if it has nothing to do with, or even harms environmental resources--and justifies it by referring to the list of priorities in the five-year plan.