River panel okays basin commission funding support
After a debate and narrow passage at the Upper Delaware Council’s (UDC) operations committee in July, a letter to area congressmen in support of renewed federal funding of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) was approved without opposition by the full council on August 1.
Tusten’s Susan Sullivan had asked for a letter of support at the full council meeting in July, saying the DRBC was the only agency that has consistently supported efforts to maintain the health of the Upper Delaware.
While the UDC letter was in support of legislation in Congress that would reverse a failure of Congress to help fund DRBC for 16 of the past 17 years, it was seen by some as a UDC position on the ongoing controversy over natural gas drilling and complaints about the nearly two-year delay by the DRBC commissioners to bring to a vote regulations on water use by drillers.
According to the minutes of the July 23 operations committee meeting, Delaware representative Harold Roeder and Hancock’s Fred Peckham said they had problems with the letter.
Cochecton’s Larry Richardson asked Roeder if he would penalize a partner on the council (DRBC is a non-voting partner) for its position on gas drilling.
Roeder said that drilling was not the issue, but that DRBC “dropped the ball” in failing to install regulations “to protect the river from anything that could happen,” for four years.
He did not say how reducing the staff’s funding would correct that problem.
Peckham felt that DRBC is also challenging the sovereignty of the states by getting involved with land-use regulations, which is not their mission. He wanted some action, rather than leaving people “just hanging,” he said.
Richardson said that DRBC staff had done its work, but the commissioners—the governors of the four basin states and the federal government—have not acted on the two drafts of the regulations presented to them.
Roeder then suggested that a letter to the commissioners about their delay would be appropriate.
Richardson outlined other areas of DRBC oversight, saying that gas drilling regulation was not their main mission.
At the operations committee meeting, the letter was finally approved by a 3-2 vote, with Shohola’s George J. Fluhr, Lumberland’s Nadia Rajsz and Richardson in the affirmative. Jeffrey Dexter of Damascus and Debra Conway of Highland did not attend that meeting.
Roeder did not attend the August 1 full council meeting, and also absent were representatives from Lackawaxen; Fremont, whose primary delegate Jack Niflot recently passed away; and Westfall, which has not named a current delegate.
The only related discussion about DRBC regulations came from DRBC spokesman Kenneth Najjar, who recalled that 69,000 comments were received on the two draft rules released in 2010. The commissioners have not acted since then, and Najjar said “discussion among the parties continues.”
Najjar went on the report that “a lot has happened in the past several years,” regarding the science involved in preparing regulations and “the regulations are not done yet.”
“The goal is this year,” he said. “The question is, how much regulation.”
The UDC letter supporting the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, which has already passed in the U.S. Senate, was approved by the council without opposition.
Peckham abstained from the vote.
In other business, the UDC named Al Henry to serve as Secretary-Treasurer to replace Niflot.
They also approved an application to join U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson’s (R-NY) newly formed watershed advisory council and a follow-up letter to the contractor of two proposed cell towers in Damascus, again requesting a balloon test to determine their visibility from the river corridor.
Noting that past public opposition to cell towers has changed with increased usage of cell phones, National Park Service Superintendent Sean McGuinness said, “we don’t want to keep the towers out. We all want service, but do it in a way that they are not so visible.”
[See this week’s editorial.]