Tera Mezzanotte, Warren County’s liaison to the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic River (LDWS) Management Council, came before the Blairstown Township Committee at a meeting on August 23 to present the organization’s efforts to designate more freshwater streams that feed into the mainstem Delaware River. The Paulinskill could qualify.
The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, established in 1968, protects rivers and streams with “outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values,” and relies on the combined efforts of state, local and federal governments, as well as nonprofit organizations.
The Lower Delaware River portion of the mainstem was designated in 2000 and includes a 38.9 mile section between the Delaware Water Gap and Washington’s Crossing in PA. This portion of the river is managed as a “partnership” and hosts no federal lands.
The partnership is made up of all the municipalities on each side of the river and other cooperating organizations, operating through a collaborative approach. These rivers are to be administered by the Secretary of Interior through the National Park Service (NPS).
The LDWS is currently studying all waterways in NJ and PA along the lower portion of the Delaware River and rolling out a Tributary Expansion Program.
“What we’re able to do is to protect and enhance the Lower Delaware. What better way to protect and enhance than to reach out to the tributaries that feed that main stem and see if we can include as many as we can into our designation,” asked Mezzanotte.
The Management Council is looking for the township to endorse adding Blairstown’s portion of the Paulinskill for congressional designation. This new title could offer long-lasting positive impacts.
Since 2000, more than 2 million dollars in National Park Service Grants have been rewarded to river communities, with more than 80 partnership projects completed. Mezzanotte explained that this designation is grant competitive and enhancement activities on township owned property could be entirely funded through the National Park Service.
Property values of homes with private property access to a river with this distinction could rise. The municipality can market the public land connected to the river as environmental attractions.
The Paulinskill joining the LDWS could open the door to National Park Service technical and financial support. If the river were to be affected by a natural disaster the township could reach out to NPS resources and financial aid could become available.
These opportunities apply to public riverfront property. If the township were to create a specific program to aid private owners, then the LDWS could join those efforts.
“We’re not going to be giving National Park Service money to a private owner,” elaborated Mezzanotte.
Under a LDWS designation, land ownership remains private, subject only to existing local government zoning and water management codes. Oversight must operate under the LDWS Management Plan.
Under this plan water quality, natural resources, historical and cultural resources, recreation, economic development, and open space preservation are all prioritized. This designation seeks to encourage sustainable development.
If this portion of the Paulinskill joins the LDWS, property built on the river, requiring a federal action, could trigger a Wild and Scenic River Review.
“If you are planning to build 100-foot warehouses right next to the river, yes, a review could come on that,” Mezzanotte stated.
The construction of a 73,780-square-foot warehouse has been proposed for a patch of farmland in Blairstown along Rt. 94. The potential site would be adjacent to the Paulinskill River.
Mezzanotte added, “But we’re not into stopping these projects, we’re into minimizing the impacts.”
To be clear, the LDWS does not want to study to Paulinskill as its own wild and scenic river, but to simply pull it under their umbrella.
“You will get the same protection benefits, and the financial benefits, and the partnership benefits that come along in the end by being your own Wild and Scenic [River], you just don’t get your own management council,” stated Mezzanotte.
Committeewoman Karen Lance asked, “If we adopt this, does it prevent us from later seeking our own federal designation for Wild and Scenic?”
Mezzanotte answered that previously beneficiaries have not been allowed to succeed to a higher designation after joining a regional designation, but, promised to triple check with a NPS representative.
According to Mezzanotte, each Wild and Scenic River receives between $210,000 to $260,000. Instead of sharing that grant money with the rest of the tributaries in the LDWS, the Paulinskill could qualify for its own grant with its own sole designation.
Originally, in 2000, Knowlton, Belvidere, and Pohatcong Township turned down a LDWS designation due to what Mezzanotte calls “Tocks Island fears.”
The Tocks Island Controversy, occurred in 1955 after hurricane flooding caused Congress to look into building several dams on the Delaware River, one at the southern tip of Tocks Island. More than 600 families were displaced to make room for a lake-sized reservoir left by the dam, sowing mistrust in the environmental movement.
After local outrage, the project was shelved. Eventually the federal government handed over the already acquired land to the National Park Service and it became the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
The Wild and Scenic River partnership model, however, was created with the private landowner in mind.
According to Mezzanotte, “We [the LDWS Management Council] are the ones that decide what to do with the budget that is given to us from the Department of Interior through the National Park Service… Everything that happens in our section of the river is decided by us.”
Township Attorney, Kevin Benbrook, spoke in favor of the partnership and designation. “I don’t think there is a con or a negative.”
Working for Franklin Township, which got the designation for the Musconetcong River, Benbrook has experience acquiring a Wild and Scenic title. “I think that designation was pretty important in us getting a 100% fully funded grant for the reconstruction of stream beds.”
The Foodshed Alliance’s Paulinskill Watershed Community along with the Ridge and Valley Nature Conservancy have offered their support in this partnership.
After this proposal, Mezzanotte and LDSW will draft a Blairstown specific resolution regarding the Paulinskill River to review at September’s Blairstown Township Committee meeting.
Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
A recent graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, Alex pursued a degree in journalism with a double minor in American Sign Language and nonprofit studies. She worked as assistant news editor to the Fourth Estate, the university newspaper where she reported on many things but mostly focused on campus crime and PD activity. While working for a nonprofit called the Borgen Project, she wrote about global health and poverty in third-world nations. Alex recently finished an internship writing and editing for a business consulting company in NY. Growing up in the area, she has always been active in her community and brings the same intention as a contributing writer for the Ridge View Echo.