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May 28, 2016
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Isolationism at the UDC

At the last meeting of the Upper Delaware Council (UDC), several town representatives evinced fear at the idea of the council joining the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW) (see “UDC not a joiner—for now” in the August 16 issue). The isolationism favored by these parties is ironic, given that rivers in general are a symbol of interconnectedness—and that the designated river corridor administered by the UDC is, in fact, ruled by a complex system of institutional interrelationships of varying geographic scope. Indeed, it could be argued that this type of collaboration is what the UDC is all about.

One argument voiced against joining the CDRW was that the UDC should concentrate just on the river corridor itself, not on the basin as a whole. But, as argued in our editorial “Living downstream,” the quality of a river is largely dependent on the quality of its tributaries—which is to say it is conditional upon the policies affecting all the land it drains, a territory that extends far beyond the river corridor itself. The Delaware, its fisheries, and the tourism and second-home market dependent on it, could, in principle, be destroyed by the wrong set of land-use and water protection policies in this wider region. If the UDC saw such policies being put in place, should it really be content to huddle inside its statutory boundaries insisting on its own helplessness?

Another argument put forward was an apparent reluctance to be associated with “environmentalists” and their agendas. Well, here’s the “agenda” of the Wild and Scenic River Act that designates the river corridor:

“…that certain rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

Like it or not, that’s principally an environmental agenda. If the UDC is not willing to adhere to an environmental agenda, then it is not doing its job as required by law.

Of course, there is such a thing as a particular environmental agenda that is mistaken, exaggerated or misplaced. Damascus Township representative (and supervisor) Jeff Dexter expressed a concern over what he sees as such an agenda on the part of some CDRW members: a determination to protect forest cover that may be overzealous, at least with regard to Wayne County, in light of statistics showing that forest cover in that county has in fact increased over the past 50 years or so. Dexter fears, accordingly, that attempts to curtail development or forestry activities in Wayne could unnecessarily restrict the economy.

That could be a legitimate concern. But we agree with Town of Highland alternate Debra Conway and Cochecton representative Larry Richardson that the best way to deal with such situations is to put yourself in a position where you can educate the people whom you believe to be mistaken. That way, you have a chance to forestall or materially alter any lobbying letters that are sent out. Stay out of the coalition, and those letters will most assuredly go out, mistakes intact.

It should also be pointed out that the whole way the RMP is constructed relies on interconnecting stakeholders, from the municipalities whose ordinances are a primary means of maintaining and enforcing RMP guidelines, to state environmental regulators that are another, to the state laws empowering municipalities to control land use within their borders. The federal National Park Service is a partner and non-voting member; the multi-state Delaware River Basin Commission is also a non-voting member. It’s all about connections from the get-go.

Meanwhile, opponents are ignoring the obvious big plus of joining a coalition such as CDRW: lobbying power. If the UDC wants action at the state or federal level and a significant portion of its partners agree, it will have a whole lot more leverage to accomplish its goals than a letter with itself as sole signatory. And if, as some UDC members fear, the coalition adopts a cause of which the UDC disapproves, the CDRW has an opt-out feature that would allow the council not to sign on. In such a case, if the UDC wanted to make its opposition really clear, it could send lawmakers and agencies letters outlining its own, differing, position, plus press releases and letters to the editor educating the public.

In other words, in cases where the UDC and other CDRW members agreed, the UDC would gain power and knowledge. Where it disagreed, it could open up a public conversation about that disagreement that could enlighten all concerned.

We really don’t get what there is to be afraid of.