“We’ve had a few changes,” said Nadia Rajsz, as she opened the April 7 meeting of the Upper Delaware Council (UDC). Rajsz, who is the UDC vice chair, was referring to the vacancy created in the position of chairman that resulted when the Damascus Township supervisors abruptly removed Dolores Keesler from her post as the township’s UDC representative at their meeting on March 21.
The reason given for Keesler’s termination was stated at that meeting by supervisor Joe Canfield, who charged that “she doesn’t represent the whole township.”
Some at the UDC meeting disagreed, with praise coming from other representatives on the council. Since the UDC had not received formal notification of the township’s decision, it was requested that a letter confirming that action be submitted. Damascus Township alternate Jeff Dexter said he would look into the matter. Dexter added that the township has not yet determined who their new representative will be.
During public comment, several came to Keesler’s defense. Damascus Township resident Bernard Handler praised Keesler’s leadership, noting that she fairly represented the terms of the River Management Plan (RMP).
“I feel that her dismissal was fallacious,” he said. “The fact that the majority of parcels of land have not been leased would mean that maybe she was representing a good portion of the township.” Referring to the results of a poll conducted by Damascus Citizens for Sustainability last year, Handler added, “I request that whomever they place not be a representative of the third of the people who are pro-leasing. The 67% of the people who have not leased their properties also need representation.”
The matter was advanced with the nominating committee’s recommendation of Town of Cochecton representative Larry Richardson to the post. The UDC will vote on the nomination at its next meeting on May 4.
Council members then discussed a letter, which addresses Damascus Township’s proposed zoning ordinance amendment pertaining to oil and gas wells and pads. The letter states that the RMP, drafted in 1986, did not envision high-volume slick-water hydraulic fracturing and that due to the scale of development, it should be considered a “heavy industrial use,” which would be incompatible within the river corridor.
It continues, “We are concerned about the property rights of individuals living within the Upper Delaware River Wild and Scenic Corridor. There is a difficult quandary that natural gas drilling and exploration poses to the region: how to protect the rights of individuals who choose to contract for the extraction of natural gas, while at the same time protecting the rights of those who choose not to extract gas from their property.”
The letter also recommends a minimum setback from the River District of 500 feet or greater. Dexter objected to that specification, adding that the township has been told it cannot establish a minimum standard. “If we put in 500 feet, we could end up in court,” he said.
Town of Highland representative Andrew Boyar responded, “We haven’t even sent the letter yet. Why don’t we send it so we can get a written response on this?” The letter was approved as drafted.
Town of Tusten representative Tony Ritter noted that the NYC Department of Environmental Protection has announced what it terms a “landmark framework agreement” between the decree parties on management of the Delaware River Basin. The agreement provides a framework for a new interim flow program that allows for the release of more water from the city’s reservoirs to help fisheries and provides for voids in the reservoirs to enhance flood protection. Town of Deerpark representative Phil Chase commented, “It’s the biggest victory we’ve ever had for the river and I’m glad the UDC had a hand in it.”
But while acknowledging some progress has been made, the council approved a letter to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) on water flow management, prepared by the Water Resources Committee, favoring still stronger measures contained in a white paper by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. The letter also argues for the inclusion of a “habitat bank” of water to be used for unforeseen circumstances and a set of minimum targets on the upper rivers. The decree party agreement is only scheduled to last one year, so it is not too early to urge such additional changes.
Two other letters from the council were also approved. The first addresses a proposed cell tower on Henderson Road in Mileses, NY; the second applauds the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Draft Delaware River Management Plan. The letters are available for review at the UDC office.
It was noted that the deadline for the extended public comment
period for the DRBC’s Draft Natural Gas Development Regulations is April 15. Comments must be received by 5 p.m. Visit www.state.nj.us/drbc/notice_naturalgas-draftregs.htm  for more information.
The UDC meets monthly on the first Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at its office at 211 Bridge Street in Narrowsburg. All meetings are open to the public. Visit www.upperdelawarecouncil.org  or call 845/252-3022.