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.

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.

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