New faces were at the helm and around the table as the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) kicked off the new year at its January 5 meeting. After acknowledging the new representatives, retiring UDC chairman Larry Richardson handed over the gavel to Town of Lumberland representative Nadia Rajsz, who will serve as chairman for 2012.
Rajsz, who last held the post in 2004, said “things were a little easier” at that time, and encouraged council members to work together. “I’m hoping for 2012 that we act more as a cohesive body in protecting the river valley,” she said. “That is our charge.”
Before the meeting concluded, Rajsz saw that hope realized as council members settled on several letters, two of which had been stalled at previous meetings.
The first letter pertains to the application by Wayne Holbert that seeks to expand two existing five-acre mining permits into one 40-acre major mining permit at the Holbert Brothers Quarry in Lackawaxen Township, PA. The letter cites the UDC’s objections to the permit, noting that the quarry is “already out of substantial compliance with the Land and Water Use Guidelines in the River Management Plan,” (RMP) and further requests a public hearing.
While an earlier committee meeting on the matter failed to move the letter to the full council, a discussion initiated by Richardson brought it back into consideration. “Any project this size we typically would want to comment on,” he said. “There’s never been any effort on this council to shut these people down or not allow them to operate, so this could be an opportunity for some discussion between the parties. Maybe there’s an opportunity for some compromise to see if there isn’t a way for all of us to win.”
Town of Highland representative Andy Boyar agreed, adding, “All we’re asking for is to have a seat at the table to open a dialogue or discussion.” Town of Hancock representative Fred Peckham agreed, but added that the discussion should have taken place earlier in the process. He noted that the RMP makes provisions to address individual property owners to satisfy a non-conforming condition.
National Park Service Superintendent Sean McGuinness said that he had spoken to Holbert earlier that day and “it’s looking like we’re going to be able to come to a pretty good solution.” McGuinness reminded the council, “All you’re asking for is a hearing to specifically look at the conditions of the permit.
It’s an opportunity to review the permit conditions and talk about it. It would be prudent that you go on record asking for a hearing.”
McGuinness said he had also spoken with Lackawaxen Township Supervisor Brian Stuart. “I feel pretty confident that this is all going to work out,” he added. The UDC voted to send the letter, with Peckham and Lackawaxen Township representative John McKay abstaining.
The council also approved a letter to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on its draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement. The letter had been defeated at the UDC’s December meeting following a divisive discussion, and sent back to committee.
The revised letter, which requests that “no permits for natural gas well pads, or ancillary facilities, be approved within the Congressionally-designated Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River corridor,” along with several additional points, was approved without further discussion. It also opposes “any state regulations that diminish towns’ existing home rule authorities or jeopardize private property rights.”
A third letter, to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, asks for a veto of Senate Bill 1100 and House Bill 1950 amending the Oil and Gas Act, and “any other legislative attempt to centralize authority that is properly vested at the local level,” and was also approved by the UDC. Copies of all three letters are available at the UDC office on Bridge Street in Narrowsburg or by calling 845/252-3022.
In other matters, Delaware River Basin Commission Executive Director (DRBC) Carol Collier said that the organization expects to “know a path forward” in several weeks regarding its proposed natural gas regulations, which were stalled by DRBC commissioners in late 2011.
William Rudge of the DEC said that a marine fishing registry is being implemented to provide more accurate data on migratory fish populations. An illegal tilapia fish aquaculture operation that was constructed on Big Island near Callicoon has been shut down and is in the process of being restored to its prior condition. The NPS has contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is conducting an investigation related to wildlife that died when it became trapped in netting installed over the excavated ponds.
Acting executive director Laurie Ramie noted that the council’s website has become an “attack site,” which may install viruses on computers attempting to access it. Ramie urged caution while the site is being repaired.
The UDC nominations committee announced that it will need additional time to identify a new nominee for vice chairman of the council. Last month, it had nominated Shohola Township, PA representative Scott Rando for the post. But in a move that confirmed suspicions raised at the last UDC meeting (see www.river  reporteronline.com/news/14/2011/12/07/udc-grapples-comments-nys-draft-sgeis-executive-director-douglass-retire), Shohola supervisors replaced Rando with Shohola Township landowner Pat Jeffer at its reorganizational meeting on January 3, saying that it was time for a change.
Other new representatives included Alex Cena of Westfall Township, PA (a post which had been vacant) and Al Henry of Berlin Township, PA, who replaces Lillian Russell.