NARROWSBURG, NY – Working with the River Management Plan for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River was the subject of a recent training workshop targeted to town and township officials in New York and Pennsylvania.
The Upper Delaware Council, Inc. (UDC) and National Park Service Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (NPS) co-sponsored the March 24 program held at the Tusten Town Hall meeting room in Narrowsburg.
“We want to make everyone aware of the River Management Plan and how important it is to the river valley,” said UDC Chairperson Nadia Rajsz from the Town of Lumberland as she greeted the 43 workshop participants primarily representing local governments, planning and zoning boards, UDC members, and NPS management staff.
NPS Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River Superintendent Sean J. McGuinness said that the 73.4-mile federally-protected river and 55,575.5 acres of land in the Congressionally-designated river corridor is both special and rare in that – unlike in a traditional national park – over 90% of the land remains privately owned.
One of the best pieces of advice McGuinness said he received when he began his duties here two years ago was, “Don’t tell everybody what they need to do.”
“That really changed my management philosophy,” he recalled. “It became more about, what can the Park Service do for you?”
“The key words are cooperation and partnership. The common cause is the river and our quality of life so we can pass this river along to future generations to enjoy. The point of this workshop today is: how can we work together in a more collaborative way?” McGuinness said.
George J. Fluhr, the UDC’s unofficial historian since its inception in 1988 and the official historian for Shohola Township and Pike County, PA, provided context to the 20-year struggle that led to the River Management Plan’s implementation.
It began with the U.S. Congress’s 1968 passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, continued when President Jimmy Carter signed the enabling legislation that added the Upper Delaware to that national system of protected rivers in 1978, and persevered through 18 drafts of the plan labored over by various entities until the cooperative management structure gained its hard-fought acceptance.
“When we speak of the Upper Delaware Council, we speak almost unbelievably of an organization composed of representatives of 13 towns and townships with 39,000 people in them, two states with their agencies, the five-member Delaware River Basin Commission, and the federal Department of Interior including the National Park Service. And as you know, there is a very large and vocal constituency in not only the 39,000 local residents but also over a quarter million annual visitors,” Fluhr said.
Since the UDC began its operations in 1988, Fluhr said that the non-profit organization’s achievements in dealing with river valley issues of concern are too numerous to count.
“Today, the Council continues to face challenges in its two primary goals: 1. the protection of the river; and 2. the protection of private property rights,” he said.
Fluhr concluded, “Today, as technical knowledge and business opportunities expand activities within the river corridor, the need for listening and compromising to protect the rights of both sides becomes more urgent. But based on the history of the Council, we know that compromise may be difficult but it has never been impossible.”
A complete account of Fluhr’s “Historical Perspective” is posted in the news releases section of the UDC’s website at www.upperdelawarecouncil.org .
The RMP workshop continued with an overview of relevant federal legislation presented by Paul Kenney, Partnership Rivers Manager for the National Park Service’s National Wild & Scenic Rivers Program based in Philadelphia, PA.
Kenney discussed the “outstandingly remarkable values” that qualified the Upper Delaware River for Congressional designation as a Wild and Scenic River under Public Law 90-542 and how the legislation continues to protect those values.
He pointed out that the Upper Delaware’s unique approach provided a model that other rivers in the country used when establishing their management structures.
“It’s the best River Management Plan I have ever seen. What happened here with local powers and zoning has been repeated throughout the [National] Park system,” he said.
NPS Superintendent McGuinness recounted how the Upper Delaware was the 19th river to be designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. He reviewed the Public Law’s outline for such procedures as mapping the corridor boundaries, publishing Land and Water Use Guidelines, placing limitations on NPS land ownership, and conducting substantial conformance reviews.
McGuinness characterized the RMP as “the bible that we work with” and offered real-life examples of how its principles and objectives have been put into practice.
He asked the workshop participants to do their part by keeping the UDC and NPS informed of local developments.“The law says that we’re all supposed to work together to protect this river. We have to know what’s going on out there. If there’s a project that’s happening in your town or township, you should send it to the UDC for review,” McGuinness said.
With the exception of the Townships of Buckingham and Manchester that NPS oversees because they have opted against joining the UDC to date, the Council conducts reviews of projects in all other river valley municipalities under the terms of its Cooperative Agreement with the Park Service and as a member service.
“We’re at the point now where the Upper Delaware Council is being looked at as the bad guys in the river corridor. The UDC is you,” McGuinness countered. “You people make the decisions. We’re here to help protect the river and our quality of life.”
Land and Water Use Guidelines
NPS Chief of Resource Management Don Hamilton, UDC Senior Resource Specialist David Soete, and Community Planning and Management, LLC Planning Consultant Carson Helfrich provided an overview of the Land and Water Use Guidelines.
“These are common sense, rule of thumb, and for the most part have already been incorporated into local zoning,” Hamilton said.
Soete reviewed the list of Compatible and Incompatible Land Uses in scenic, recreational, and hamlet sections of the corridor, along with their allowable conditions.
“The intent is to direct more industrial, commercial uses into the hamlet areas,” he said, adding however that the drafters of the 1986 Plan left “wiggle room” for interpretation and could not anticipate every modern technological development.
“There were some uses never envisioned by the River Management Plan, like cell towers and major wind turbines,” Soete said.
He emphasized that the Land and Water Use Guidelines are advisory in nature. Local governments’ home rule authority prevails.
“We don’t have any enforcement powers,” Soete said of the UDC. “The goal is that local zoning should cover it.”
UDC Project Review Committee Chairperson and Town of Cochecton Representative Larry H. Richardson added that local, state, and federal entities “should recognize that the UDC can help them by providing advice to make a project better.”
Since the UDC acts simultaneously with established review deadlines, no additional burdens or time requirements are placed on the applicant.
Helfrich spoke to the topic of how the New York towns and Pennsylvania townships can incorporate the Land and Water Use Guidelines into their zoning codes, and reminded local governments that they must be vigilant in regularly updating their ordinances to address new land uses.
River Management Plan
Retired NPS Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River Assistant Superintendent Sandra S. Schultz traveled from her Virginia home to participate in the workshop as a River Management Plan Overview presenter.
Having been responsible as a federal employee for preparing the Legislative Support Data package that led to the Upper Delaware’s 1978 designation and gaining perspective from working with this park unit for 27 years, Schultz said that she still marvels over those early years.
“It’s indisputable that the Delaware River is a national treasure. There was never any doubt that it would qualify as a Wild & Scenic River,” she said.
But Schultz added that it became clear that it wouldn’t happen in the traditional way here.
“The people from the bureaucracy failed to appreciate the value that home rule played in these communities. The local people stepped up. They said: we will take care of this place. We want to do things our way. Some risked elections and friendships to participate in the planning process,” she said.
Twenty-six years after the River Management Plan was adopted, Schultz said it has succeeded in its overall mission.
“The Plan has preserved the character of the river valley. It was all because people have stepped up and continue to care about the resource,” she said.
Carla Hahn, management assistant at NPS Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, provided handy booklets outlining the roles and responsibilities of all the partners in the Upper Delaware’s management, as excerpted from the River Management Plan.
The Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service, Upper Delaware Council, State of New York and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Delaware River Basin Commission, counties, towns and townships, private sector and non-profit organizations, and other federal agencies are all assigned certain tasks to meet the objectives of eight programs for Land Management, Water Resources Management, Fisheries and Wildlife, Threatened and Endangered Species, Unique Land Resources, Cultural Resources Management, Facilities, and Water Use.
Hahn referred to the booklets as “CliffsNotes ™ versions of the River Management Plan” that the partners should routinely consult to refresh themselves on their responsibilities.
“This seems scary but it isn’t,” George J. Fluhr commented. “In 25 years, we haven’t had any major problems. This is a very workable system.”
Hahn said that NPS and UDC would be willing to do a “road show” of visiting local boards to provide them with a condensed version of this information.
Facts and Fables
UDC Acting Executive Director Laurie Ramie took a humorous approach to address five common misperceptions that exist in the river valley.
She explained that a few were rooted in legitimate fear of the unknown about what the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River designation would signify for this area, while others reflect a need for more public education about the UDC and NPS.
The five fables presented on individual pages of a flip chart were:
1. The Park Service is out to take over our land.
2. The Park Service will tell me what color I can paint my house, where I can build on my property, and whether I can cut down trees on my lawn.
3. A municipality gives up some rights by joining the UDC.
4. Isn’t the UDC just a front for the National Park Service?
5. The UDC is “just another layer of government”.
In countering each of the fables with a few factual points, Ramie said that a common theme was to ascribe more authority to the NPS and UDC than they actually possess.
The Park Service’s jurisdiction is detailed in the enabling legislation and RMP, such as the 124-acre limit on owning land; although since NPS began its operations in 1979, they have acquired just 30.74 acres of property for their facilities. Eminent domain may only be invoked to head off a proposed action that poses a clear and direct threat to the river, and only after following a series of steps specified in the Plan. Any property acquired would have to be put back on the market for sale to a private owner.
Neither the UDC nor the NPS has direct authority over individual land use.
Towns and townships benefit from their UDC membership by being at the table with key local, state, and federal players in the Upper Delaware’s management; the clout of having a collective voice to provide input on policies and decisions; having access to professional project reviews and advice; and the availability of the UDC’s Technical Assistance Grants (TAG) program that has awarded $687,492 to member municipalities since 1988.
“Unlike governments, the UDC can’t pass laws, make regulations, or enforce policies. We provide the forum through which governmental entities and the public can come together to discuss river valley issues and developments. It is then up to each of our members to implement decisions that are made, using their traditional powers and authorities,” Ramie said.
She noted that all efforts by NPS and UDC are aimed at reinforcing the goals and objectives of the River Management Plan in cooperation with their partners.
“There is strength in numbers when we all focus on the common goal of protecting our quality of life, private property rights, and the river ecosystem that bonds us together,” Ramie concluded.
For more information on the Upper Delaware Council and its activities, visit www.upperdelawarecouncil.org , call (845) 252-3022, or stop by the office at 211 Bridge St. in Narrowsburg.
The National Park Service Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River may be contacted through its website at www.nps.gov/upde , call (570) 729-8251, or visit their headquarters at 274 River Road in Beach Lake, PA.