August 14, 2012 —
After considerable debate, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) rejected an opportunity to join the steering committee of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW) at its monthly meeting on August 2. It did, however, authorize UDC executive director Laurie Ramie to participate in conference calls as an observer for a trial period of six months.
At the UDC’s meeting on July 5, discussion about the opportunity was tabled. Members again were provided with a copy of the CDRW’s draft governance document to review. The document describes the CDRW’s proposed mission “to unite organizations and enhance their capacity to effectively advocate for protecting and restoring the Delaware River Basin by coordinating communications, messages and actions and fostering accountability for success at the federal, state and local levels.”
The CDRW proposes to function primarily by conference calls, a listserv and a web page, in addition to an annual meeting. It will be composed of regional, state, local and national non-governmental organizations committed to seeking an improved Delaware River Watershed policy and protection. A steering committee composed of no more than 16 local, regional and national organizations will guide its efforts.
UDC members heard from Cinda Waldbuesser, the PA regional representative of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), about her group’s decision to join the CDRW. “Our organization was founded in 1919 by the first director of the National Park Service (NPS), who thought the national parks needed a voice outside of the federal government to look out for their best interest,” she said. “We’re an advocacy group and also a watchdog group. We’ve been called the park service’s best friend and most ardent critic.
“We see this coalition as being very beneficial to raise the profile of the Delaware River. It’s in its very beginning, which is a good time to be involved because you can have a say on how it is developed. Members can choose to sign on to letters or not.” Waldbuesser cited the success of a similar organization to which NPCA belongs, the Choose Clean Water Coalition.
UDC members argued both in favor of and against accepting the invitation to serve on the steering committee, which so far is composed of organizations such as American Rivers, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, New Jersey Audubon, Friends of the Upper Delaware, Delaware Highlands Conservancy, Delaware Riverkeeper and more.
Town of Hancock, NY representative Fred Peckham expressed concerns over some of the coalition’s members. “The UDC represents municipalities along the river, and you’re getting into environmental groups and you’re getting into agendas, and we have our agenda—the river, the corridor—and that’s what we should stick with,” he said. “We’re not here for the basin; we’re not here for what happens 200 miles away. We’re concerned with the river corridor.”
“What’s the downside of being a member?” asked Town of Highland, NY representative Debra Conway. “From what I understand, the coalition will support us in some of our issues that concern the river.”
“All we need is the River Management Plan,” responded Peckham. “Some of these other groups are environmental groups. We’re unique and we should stay that way.”
“What’s the downside of an environmental group?” asked Conway.
Damascus Township, PA representative Jeff Dexter responded, “There’s one group that’s making a claim that the greatest threat to the Upper Delaware is the increased wood cutting in the upper region. The forest cover in Wayne County is increasing and it’s increasing by a lot. I have a fear we’re signing up for something that is going to put increased pressure on us to do things that we’re already doing.”
“What would be the problem of us telling Laurie [Ramie] to represent that concern in these kinds of conversations?” asked Conway.
“Because they’re already pushing for legislation that has this grave concern,” said Dexter.
“So then, Laurie would push back and say that the UDC doesn’t want it,” said Conway. “How better can you fight a stance like that than by being part of the group?”
“The Riverkeeper’s trying to get super special protection in PA. We don’t need more rules,” said Dexter.
“I could go for a non-participatory situation, just sit in and listen, no input, no vote. Bring it back to the council, and we can decide if it’s worth doing something,” said Peckham.
“I can understand your caution. We are also monitoring it,” said NPS superintendent Sean McGuiness. “I would be in because of the advantage to protect the river, but we’re not eligible for membership as a governmental organization.”
“I’ve always felt it’s better to be on the inside, and be part of the decision-making, than be standing outside, waving your hands and saying you can’t do this,” said Town of Cochecton, NY representative Larry Richardson. “When you have organizations looking at our area, you want to know what’s going on.”
Berlin Township, PA representative Al Henry moved that Ramie be permitted to audit the group for a period of six months to “see if it’s beneficial.” The motion carried by a vote of 8 to 3.
The UDC meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month at 211 Bridge Street in Narrowsburg, NY. The public is welcome. For more information, visit www.upperdelawarecouncil.org  or call 845/252-3022.