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May 31, 2016
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UDC offers help in former DV school development

National Park Service (NPS) Superintendent Sean McGuinness of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River announced his plans to retire in January at the November 7 meeting of the Upper Delaware Council (UDC). An NPS veteran of 36 years, McGuinness said that, “in my four years here, I’ve tried hard to make a difference.”
TRR photo by David Hulse

Finding that the development of a residential school at the site of the former Delaware Valley School could create significant environmental impacts, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) on November 7 approved a letter to Fremont Supervisor George Conklin, seeking to assist in the planning.

Noting that Fremont zoning has been in substantial conformance with the River Management Plan since 1990, the letter points out issues could arise from tentative plans for a dormitory to house some 200 full-time residential students. “We are interested in helping to mitigate to avoid any conflicts with existing zoning laws or the principles of the Land and Water Use Guidelines (L&WUG).”

The letter goes on to state, “The UDC believes the project is a worthwhile endeavor and would like to see a symbiotic relationship formed between the new owners, the town board, planning board and the UDC,” to the benefit of both the school and the river valley.

National Park Service (NPS) Superintendent Sean McGuinness brought the issue to the UDC project review committee earlier this month, which in turn approved the drafting of a letter.

McGuinness reported that NPS has since drafted a letter regarding the issue. That prompted a rebuff from Cochecton’s Larry Richardson, who said NPS should instead be working with UDC, since Fremont is in substantial compliance.

McGuinness, who had listed L&WUG concerns including runoff, lighting and noise, said that with a dormitory for “400 residential students to be built…we can’t turn a blind eye…There’s going to be a building, new traffic and employees. There are going to be impacts.”

Fremont delegate and former supervisor Jim Greier said the land is “big enough,” as the new owner bought an additional 65 acres to accommodate their plans. “Fremont has its own zoning. We don’t want to lose the project.”

“It’s in the corridor,” McGuinness replied.

Discussion of the draft led to the removal of wording for a “respectful request to be a consulting party… along with our partners at the National Park Service,” in the concluding paragraph. It was replaced with a line stating UDC’s availability “to provide technical assistance during the site plan and project development…. ”

In January, the Sullivan West Board of Education approved the $1.16 million sale of the school campus to Emily Wu, who had operated the Windsor School in Queens, NY.

The letter was approved with Greier and Hancock’s Fred Peckham abstaining.

McGuinness said that inconsistencies and ambiguities in the language of the river plan and its L&WUG exist. After two decades, the likelihood of decisions based on varying interpretations of the guidelines and the unfamiliarity of other agencies with the plan in making bad or uninformed decisions is more likely. “It’s time to revise the River Management Plan,” he said following the meeting.

In other business, the council heard a presentation on river flows and New York City reservoir management from Garth Pettinger, representing a group of upstream environmental and river-related groups that are petitioning the Delaware River Basin Commission to consider a new, lower daily “safe yield” for NYC use of Delaware River water. Seeking UDC support of their petition, Pettinger said that the current 800 million gallon-per- day (MGD) figure was based on a 1930s drought of record, which was surpassed in duration in the 1960s. He said the figure should be 480 MGD. He further charged that to justify its increased drawdown of Delaware River water, the city has been dumping water from its Catskill and Croton systems.

Additionally, UDC Executive Director Laurie Ramie reported that with the end of the government shutdown, Congress approved an 8% cut in UDC funding, allowing $80,900 to carry the council through January 15, when another continuing resolution would be scheduled to take effect.