NARROWSBURG – Rooted in the desire to retain local control over the Upper Delaware River Valley’s land use while securing federal protection for the treasured New York-Pennsylvania border river, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) is proud to celebrate 20 years of service in 2008.
A year-long commemoration is being coordinated in conjunction with activities to mark the 30th anniversary of the Congressional designation of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River as a unit of the National Parks System and the 40th anniversary of the passage of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
To formally kick off its 20th anniversary observance, the UDC is sponsoring a public workshop on March 26 titled, “A Review of the River Management Plan’s Land and Water Use Guidelines for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River” from 7-9 p.m. at the Tusten Town Hall in Narrowsburg. The theme will also be highlighted at the UDC’s 20th Annual Awards Ceremony on April 27 and the 20th Annual Family Raft Trip on August 3.
The Council is also helping the National Park Service (NPS) to plan a series of events under its 30th anniversary theme of “Partnering to Protect the River: 1978-2008.”
Activities are expected to include: an anniversaries publication and dedicated web page; special monthly exhibits at the NPS Narrowsburg Information Center; a poster contest for river valley high school students starting in September in which 12 winning images will be produced on a 2009 calendar; an Upper Delaware River Valley Expo in October with presentations and hands-on demonstrations; and a 30-Year Historical Retrospective program in November.
A Bit of History
The Upper Delaware Council evolved from a nucleus of concerned river valley residents and the many grassroots organizations which formed in response to federal overtures made in the 1960’s to stake a presence in the Upper Delaware region.
Those early efforts, which ranged from house-to-house visits to meetings where the attendance nearly outnumbered the sizes of the small communities that hosted them, planted the seed for the unique river corridor management structure which was ultimately adopted.
The first legislation which sparked the Council’s origins came on October 2, 1968 – the date on which the Upper Delaware River was classified for study under the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (PL 90-542). Evaluation by the Federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation officially lasted for seven years, ultimately resulting in Congress designating a 73.4-mile stretch of the Upper Delaare from Hancock, NY to Mill Rift, PA as the 19th component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System on November 10, 1978. The U.S. Department of the Interior, through the National Park Service, arrived to begin interim administration of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.
The development of a plan to manage the river caused a decade’s worth of tumult in the valley. While the environmental impact of increased river use was of concern to local residents, a vocal faction fought against the federal designation. In a rural area that prided itself on autonomy from governmental controls, fears of large-scale federal property condemnation dominated. Public pressure urged local zoning over acquisition.
In 1981, the Conference of Upper Delaware Townships (COUP) formed to provide a forum for local response to the planning effort. This group later evolved into the Upper Delaware Council. After observing two drafts of a river management plan thoroughly trounced by the public, the National Park Service entered into a cooperative agreement with COUP in May of 1984 to write a more acceptable version.
For the next year and a half, more than 100 individuals representing local governments and interest groups pitched in during often contentious meetings to shape the future management plan, which was released in January 1986 for public review and adopted in November of that year by COUP. Approval by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior followed in October 1987.
After Congressional review, the plan became effective on January 4, 1988. Unique Partnership Model The final River Management Plan for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River completely reversed the traditional concept of federal land ownership in virtually all units of the National Park Service and Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
In the Upper Delaware, approximately 95 percent of the land is privately owned. The legislation limits the National Park Service to managing its facilities, enforcing laws pertaining to the river’s surface, and assisting local governments with resource protection. Acquisition of land by NPS, on a willing seller basis only, is specifically restricted to 124 acres out of the 55,575 acres in the river corridor.
A proposal to create an Upper Delaware Council as an alternative to federal management of the river corridor was the paramount recommendation of the River Management Plan. It s governmental members, numbering 19 if all agreed to participate, would use their existing authorities to cooperatively implement the Plan’s goals, aimed at protecting the river through ongoing reviews and recommendations pertaining to any relevant actions, developments, ordinances or laws in the corridor.
Eligible for membership were the eight New York towns and seven Pennsylvania townships in five counties bordering the river; the State of New York; Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; the Delaware River Basin Commission; and the Upper Delaware Citizens Advisory Council. Voting rights are reserved for the representatives of local and state governments. Funding would come from a line-item appropriation through the Department of the Interior, supplemented by in-kind contributions and external grants.
Incorporated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on February 18, 1988 as a not-for-profit organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, the UDC carries a Certificate of Authority to conduct business in New York State. After leasing front office space in the GTE building in Narrowsburg, the Council in 1993 purchased the building at 211 Bridge Street as its permanent headquarters.
The UDC recently entered into its fifth Five-Year Cooperative Agreement with the National Park Service, which will carry their partnership through to Sept. 30, 2012.
In the Beginning
The success of the River Management Plan depended on the foresight and creativity of its drafters in COUP, UDC, and NPS, some of whom remain involved in its implementation today.
The UDC held its first official meeting on Feb. 22, 1988. Organizational duties included electing its first slate of officers: Chairman Phil Fitzpatrick (Westfall Township, PA), Vice-Chairman George Frosch (Town of Hancock, NY), and Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Selneck (Shohola Township, PA); as well as approving bylaws, signing the UDC’s first Cooperative Agreement with the Park Service; establishing committees; and setting meeting dates.
The initial roster of local governments in the UDC included only eight municipalities: Hancock, Delaware, Cochecton, Lumberland, and Deerpark (NY); Lackawaxen, Shohola, and Westfall (PA). The last three New York towns in the river corridor – Highland, Fremont, and Tusten – joined in 1990. The State of New York and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were each voting members, while the Delaware River Basin Commission participated as a non-voting member. The Upper Delaware Citizens Advisory Council served as an ex-officio member of the UDC until the organization expired in 1999.
Four Wayne County, PA townships (Damascus, Manchester, Buckingham, and Berlin) remain eligible to join the UDC and would complete the full membership roster.
Today, four full-time staff members carry out the policy decisions of a Council comprised of 28 representatives and alternates. The full Council and three standing committees – Operations, Project Review, and Water Use/Resource Management – each meet monthly.
Accomplishments Are Many
The UDC’s role in overseeing the various entities tasked with implementation of the River Management Plan’s goals and objectives represents a working partnership that has been nationally recognized and emulated.
At the heart of the River Management Plan is the directive that all participants will act consistently with its policies. The Delaware River Basin Commission adopted the Plan on March 23, 1988. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Robert P. Casey signed Executive Order No. 1989-2 on Feb. 16, 1989 assuring compliance by all Commonwealth agencies. Gov. Edward G. Rendell issued his own Executive Order 2003-05 on June 22, 2003 to affirm support and reflect the restructuring of Pennsylvania’s environmental departments. New York’s Executive Order No. 169 was signed by Gov. Mario Cuomo on March 22, 1993 and remains in effect.
Towns and townships comply when their local land use regulations are declared upon review by the UDC, NPS and Secretary of the Interior to be in substantial conformance with the Land and Water Use Guidelines in the River Management Plan, the first of which was Lumberland on Feb. 2, 1989. William E. Douglass, who has served as the UDC’s original executive director since March 13, 1989, said that the Council remains critically relevant two decades later.
“We continue to face threats to the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River’s resources through familiar sources like repetitive flooding, flow management issues, and inappropriate development proposals, as well as newer initiatives such as a high-voltage electric transmission line, the potential environmental impacts of natural gas drilling, and growth pressures on our communities. The Upper Delaware Council’s most important role is providing a forum for all parties to meet and discuss river corridor-related issues. Our greatest strength is in our collective actions,” Douglass said.
“We are also pleased with the fact that no land has been acquired by the National Park Service in the river corridor by condemnation – which was the greatest fear of the opponents to the National Wild and Scenic River designation and the River Management Plan,” he added.
One of the most tangible benefits to member governments is the availability of Technical Assistance Grants (TAG) by annual application to the UDC. From 1988 to 2007, a total of $609,692 has been awarded to help subsidize 173 non-construction projects which further the goals of the River Management Plan.
Technical assistance extends to reviewing new municipal ordinances, zoning updates, and comprehensive plans, and researching proposed development projects in the river corridor to assess compliance with prevailing authorities and any risks to river resources.
Since 2000, the UDC has administered $315,000 in five rounds of Legislative Member Item pass-through grants to its New York State towns for local improvement projects.
The UDC has hosted conferences and symposiums over the years focusing on such hot topics as river recreation, water flows, the New York City reservoir system, ecotourism, Upper Delaware fisheries, cell towers, and invasive plant species; as well as producing position papers; and co-sponsoring public programs.
Major UDC publications include
The Upper Delaware newsletter distributed quarterly to more than 10,000 river valley residents and property owners across the U.S., a “Visitor Information Map and Guide for Touring the Upper Delaware” brochure that has been updated for an April 2008 release, and Annual Reports available since 1989.
In 1991, the Council received a $20,000 grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund to conduct a Toxics Identification and Control Campaign which led to the publication of a comprehensive manual outlining potential pollution sources in the Upper Delaware watershed.
Public outreach efforts include the presentation of annual awards to river corridor contributors, organizing a popular summer raft trip to provide direct contact with this magnificent river, and staffing informational booths at area festivals.
Other projects in which the UDC is currently involved include providing staff support for the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, Inc., serving on the steering committee for the Annual Delaware River Sojourn, and participating as a voting member of the D&H Transportation Heritage Council.
Prepared to act as advocate, critic or facilitator as the subjects require, the UDC continuously monitors proposed legislation, new developments, studies, and governmental policies to assess potential impacts on the Upper Delaware’s resources, protect private property rights, and uphold the far-sighted vision of the River Management Plan to protect and conserve the area for present and future generations.