Setting environmental standards builds a future for all
The Upper Delaware’s ridgelines, predominantly undisturbed wooded spans shadowing the meandering river below, are highly valued by Pennsylvania and New York residents and tourists, recreational and entrepreneurial ang-lers, canoeists, numerous wildlife conservation organizations, the United States Congress, and most who have beheld their appearance.
Upper Delaware ridgelines within the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River are also prized for their real estate value.
Since the vast majority of the 75,000 acres along the scenic river is privately owned, ridge-top development in some form or other is likely inevitable.
A 15-lot subdivision, Eagle’s Nest Estates, could become the first major development project on ridge-top property within the river corridor. It will come before Town of Tusten residents and the Tusten Planning Board during a public hearing which will begin at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, January 20.
For the past two years, Robert Wiegers, the landowner who proposes to build Eagle’s Nest Estates, has willingly accommodated the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) critical responses by continually directing his engineer to revise the development plans. The DEC’s criticism was based on its appraisal that disturbance of nesting bald eagles—one permanent couple lives on the 146-acre property—and eventual nest abandonment would likely result from the proposed construction.
Wiegers added bald eagle protection zones in his deed restrictions, prohibiting construction, motorized vehicles and timber operations within a 700-foot radius of each nest.
He has touted his project as a model for future residential ridge-top development projects, and he has pushed the design of the 15 planned homes to minimize visual impact.
To give some indication of what the subdivision will look like once it is built, the National Park Service will present computer-simulated images from a variety of perspectives surrounding the Delaware River at 7:00 p.m. before the public hearing.
In a letter to the board last month, the DEC expressed its comfort should the Tusten Planning Board decide to declare itself lead agency for an environmental review. If it does, the board can grant preliminary approval of the application, following its review of the Environmental Assessment Form.
According to DEC spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach, within 20 days of declaring itself lead agency of the project, the board can submit paperwork to DEC to request a negative declaration, which would end the State Environmental Quality Review Act assessment process. If granted, the declaration would warrant a planning board decision to grant final approval and relieve the landowner and his engineer of the burden of drafting an Environmental Impact Statement.
Considering the historical significance of building a 15-lot subdivision along an Upper Delaware River ridgeline, an Environmental Impact Statement should be mandatory.
If Wiegers truly wants to lead the future of ridge-top development, the planning board should hold him accountable for doing exactly that—by requiring a hard look at all environmental impacts, including increased storm water discharge and soil erosion caused by the removal of trees.
In the end, Wiegers might prove that developing the ridge can be done in a manner that does not disturb the ecology or detract from the pristine appearance of Upper Delaware ridges, which continually draw so many tourists to the river valley each year.
There is every reason to require that all projects explore the environmental impacts of development with an Environmental Impact Statement. That review process should become the standard for all development in the Upper Delaware River corridor.