UDC defunding: consternation, not applause, is warranted
The defunding and potential demise of the Upper Delaware Council should not be cause for celebration, as some seem to think, but consternation. Towns and townships will still be subject to all Land and Water Use Guidelines outlined in the River Management Plan (RMP). Except now, town boards, planning boards, zoning boards, code enforcers, and attorneys will not be dealing with the UDC’s local Resource Specialist but directly with the National Park Service.
Whether assigned here, or from Washington or Colorado or wherever, NPS staff will continue the timely reviews of all relevant local plans, permits, laws, ordinances, ordinance amendments, challenges and variances, and significant projects for the purpose of determining if they substantially conform with the guidelines and the RMP.
And while some towns have skated for years on sketchy conformance and commitment to the RMP, the NPS has recently—rightly—renewed its focus on proper policy and procedure. In 1978, Section 704 of Public Law 95-625 established the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River as a unit of the Wild and Scenic River Systems, whose purpose states that the river must be protected in its free-flowing condition and managed for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
The legislation further stipulated that the Secretary of the Interior (through the NPS), the Delaware River Basin Commission, the states of New York and Pennsylvania, and various citizens groups prepare a plan to do that. After years of hostilities and literal knock-down fights among several factions, the RMP—or “peace treaty,” as one participant likes to call it—was finally adopted in 1986. It included the proposal for the formation of the Upper Delaware Council, comprising the many cooperative partnerships, and operating as the agency responsible for coordinating the management plan.
This year, ironically, the UDC celebrates its 30th anniversary.
Contentious factions still exist. I’ve witnessed those who believe “that anything that’s good for business is GOOD period. Exclamation point!” And those who quote the Cato Institute’s libertarian handbook that states “private property rights do not include the right to environmental degradation,” particularly when that degradation threatens the economy of existing recreational, second-home, or other tourism-related businesses dependent on the healthy vitality of the Delaware.
It’s a balancing act, and the UDC is the fulcrum. No one side has ever been fully happy.
True, without the UDC, the RMP would still exist. But the language is outdated and open to interpretation. Instead of having many interpretations from many partners as is currently the case, there would be just one opinion: the NPS. To all those who have shaken their fists at the UDC and tried to undermine its operation over the years, “Is that what you want?”
A strict interpretation of the RMP would not allow for unforeseen commercial solar farms in the river corridor, nor a cider distillery operation, such as those already in the works. In the past year, UDC member towns overwhelmingly insisted such enterprises are highly desirable under the right circumstances. So the UDC is attempting to establish policies to, as painlessly as possible, align such enterprises with the RMP without a literal Act of Congress. If the UDC disbands, what will happen? The NPS is fully empowered to take the path of least resistance and simply disallow such activities in the river corridor. Is that what anyone wants?
To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, “There are two tragedies in life: One is not getting what you want. The other is getting what you want.” Let’s be careful what we wish for—and work for.
[Debra Conway is Town of Highland co-historian and alternate delegate to the Upper Delaware Council, but is writing as a private citizen.]