For the past 22 years, William Douglass has seen the River Management Plan (RMP) put to the test time and again. The executive director of the Upper Delaware Council (UDC), who announced his retirement effective January 1 at the council’s monthly meeting on December 1, got to see the process play out once again as members weighed in on a draft comment letter to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on its draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement.
The letter was ultimately defeated and sent back to committee. Discussion was tense at times, and the process was observed by two guests who accompanied National Park Service (NPS) Superintendent Sean McGuinness: Rick Harris, NPS associate regional director for Natural Resources and Science and Gay Vietzke, the new deputy regional director for Parks Operations, who toured the Upper Delaware to learn more about the region and the issues it faces.
The UDC was established in 1988 to oversee implementation of the RMP for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, a 1978 Congressionally designated unit of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in which more than 85% of the property remains privately owned. The UDC operates under a cooperative agreement partnership with the NPS to carry out the 1986 RMP and its Land and Water Use Guidelines.
Several times during the meeting, McGuinness referenced a copy of the RMP lying on the table in front of him, reminding council members of their responsibility to know and understand the plan and its guidelines, and to make decisions based on upholding its goals and objectives.
A roll-call vote established that four New York towns voted in favor of approving the letter (Tusten, Highland, Lumberland and Cochecton), while four New York towns opposed it (Delaware, Deerpark, Fremont and Hancock). Two Pennsylvania townships voted against the proposed letter (Damascus and Berlin), while Shohola Township abstained.
During public comment, Shohola alternate representative George Fluhr Sr. was asked by township resident Shirley Masuo to explain his abstention. He said, “I have not been privy to the discussion here and I felt I would prefer to abstain.”
Town of Tusten representative Tony Ritter pointed out that Shohola Township representative Scott Rando had been present at the committee meeting where the initial draft letter was approved. Ritter asked if Fluhr was aware that Rando had approved the letter. “I’m aware of that,” replied Fluhr.
“So you abstained personally, not for the town?” asked Ritter.
“I represented the town and I exercised my option of abstaining,” said Fluhr. “I have no obligation to consult Mr. Rando.”
Town of Deerpark representative David Dean said he thinks it’s time to revisit the RMP and its guidelines. “All documents, including the U.S. Constitution, are amendable,” he said.
McGuinness responded, “The document is amendable, but it’s based on the land and water use guidelines which the secretary put in place during the local discussions back in the day.
Those guidelines are not amendable. The communities are supposed to have zoning in place according to the guidelines and this body is supposed to have discussions about ways to make it all work in a partnership.
“Your Congresspeople voted and made this a wild and scenic river, and told the secretary to work with local governments and residents to develop land and water use guidelines to provide protection for this corridor so that the quality of life would remain the same. This plan guides how everyone is going to work together to make sure that this valley is protected for present and future generations. The guidelines are not amendable unless Congress amends them.”
McGuinness reminded the council of their role. “You just
decided not to approve the letter to New York State,” he said. “That letter is supposed to tell New York State how drilling and fracking is going to affect this corridor, not how it will affect New York State. The job of this body is to protect this river corridor according to the guidelines. Understand what they say and what your responsibilities are.”
Fluhr added the council was established for essentially two reasons. “One was to protect the river, the second was to protect the private property along the river,” he said. “We ended up with the RMP. Each township had the option of accepting it or not. The towns then were obligated to do zoning to protect the river from certain things. Over the years, with a lot of controversy, we’ve always been able to find a middle way between these two extremes.”
In other matters, concerns raised about the excessive rainfall in August and the current levels of the reservoirs brought a reminder from Delaware River Basin Commission branch manager William Muszynski that the release schedules are set by the Flexible Flow Management Program. Town of Hancock, NY representative Fred Peckham responded, “The bottom line is there’s too much water in the reservoirs.”
The nominating committee has recommended a slate of officers for 2012 to be voted on at the monthly meeting on January 5, 2012. Nominations are Nadia Rajsz, Town of Lumberland, NY, chairperson; Scott Rando, Shohola Township, PA, vice chairperson; and Jack Niflot, Town of Fremont, NY, secretary-treasurer.
The board voted unanimously to appoint UDC public relations/fundraising specialist Laurie Ramie as acting executive director effective December 5 with no time period specified or current plan to advertise the position. For more information visit www.upperdelawarecouncil.org  or call 845/252-3022.