UDC reorganizes, names officers, talks shutdown
NARROWSBURG, NY — The Upper Delaware Council (UDC) will shut down on March 30 if federal funding, withheld since October, is not forthcoming, officials announced at the panel’s February 1 meeting.
The non-profit, local government co-manager for the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River has been unable to access funding from the $300,000 grant, based on cooperative agreements with the National Park Service (NPS), which it has received annually for the past 30 years. The funding stoppage is due to an ongoing review by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) of all federal grants and cooperative agreements over a $50,000 value. DOI has offered no timetable for completion of that review. In a statement, the UDC announced that its unrestricted fund account, used to advance payment of its federal expenses while awaiting monthly reimbursement from the federal government, is “quickly dwindling. Therefore, the council will implement a closure plan with staff layoffs on March 30, unless or until the DOI authorizes the NPS Northeast Regional Office to release any portion…” of its funding.
One staff loss has already resulted. UDC secretary Cindy Odell announced that because of the uncertainty of situation and her ongoing family financial responsibilities she has resigned and found other employment.
Incoming UDC chair Aaron Robinson commented on the situation. He said he was assuming the chair with “anger, frustration and regret.” He said the three-person UDC staff were “three of the most competent employees I’ve seen, and I’ve been in business a long time. It’s been a wonderful partnership. This is a result of the lack of funding, and I’m saddened by it.” Robinson said he was frustrated by the lack of help that UDC has received, despite having reached out to state and federal representatives, “whoever would listen and could help.” Officials were especially frustrated by their inability even to reach DOI contacts by telephone. Robinson said he regretted that the sense of trust, developed over 30 years of UDC operation, was “now at risk due to the loss of funding and closure. It’s almost unthinkable. It’s a casualty of larger scale policy— nothing we did or didn’t do.”
Upper Delaware NPS Superintendent Kris Heister noted that she has worked with “people around these tables for four years. The park service as a whole recognizes and values the work of the UDC and we’re fully aware of and share your concerns.” She said she and the agency are doing everything they can to get funding through as soon as possible.
“Personally, I see a resolution coming soon. The loss of staff here is crushing. It’s more than a group of people, it’s an idea. We can’t function here as Congress intended without a group like this. We’re doing everything we can.” This latest financial hardship comes after the UDC experienced a three-month lag in funding six months into Fiscal Year 2017 when Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke ordered a similar review of all Cooperative Agreements over a $100,000 award ceiling, until the council’s balance of funding through September 30 was restored in July. If the UDC closes its Narrowsburg office, all non-essential programs and services will be suspended and three full-time positions of executive director, resource specialist and secretary will be subject to layoff.
Among the activities in jeopardy are:
• Monthly meetings of the full council and three standing committees dedicated to water use/resource management, project review, and operations to provide an intergovernmental forum for collectively sharing information, deliberating and taking action on issues impacting the river corridor;
• Reviews of land-use projects and zoning ordinances that the UDC conducts for its 13-member municipalities to assure substantial conformance with the Upper Delaware Land and Water Use Guidelines, a task which would then fall directly to the National Park Service;
• Technical assistance guidance and grants that the UDC provides, through which $845,605 was awarded from 1988-2017 to fund 247 river valley projects; and
• Public outreach including publication of “The Upper Delaware” newsletter, hosting of the 30th annual Awards Ceremony in April, and sponsorship of the 30th annual Family Raft Trip in August.
[See My View in Editorial.]