Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Blairstown Questions Wild & Scenic Designation for Lower Delaware

The Paulinskill River, viewed from West Crisman. Photo by A. Tironi, 10/2023

The Blairstown Township Committee (BTC) further explored the idea of adding the Paulinskill River to the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic River Partnership (LDWS) at a meeting on September 27.

Tara Mezzanotte, Warren County’s liaison to the LDWS Management Council returned to join the conversation, bringing additional information.

At last month’s township committee meeting, Committeewoman Karen Lance asked Mezzanotte if the Paulinskill were to join the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic River designation, would it impede the waterway from securing its own larger, unique designation.

Reading from the proposed resolution drafted by the LDWSR, Mezzanotte answered, “If the lower Delaware Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is amended to include Blairstown’s segment of the Paulinskill, it would no longer be eligible for its own full Paulinskill Wild and Scenic River study.”

According to Mezzanotte, full independent Wild and Scenic designation process can take up to seven years to complete. A typical Wild and Scenic study takes several years to be approved by Congress. Once approved, the study takes three years to complete, then spends another few years under review from the House and the Senate before, eventually, ending up on the president’s desk.

The LDWS estimates the current tributary study will be completed by 2025 and approved by the secretary of interior by 2026. The organization asserts that despite existing under the Lower Delaware designation, the Paulinskill could maintain its own identity, “through a variety of yet to be determined creative measures.”

Mezzanotte suggested the river be identified as the Paulinskill Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic River for marketing and signage. She advised against waiting for this unique designation saying, “To me this is bird in hand. This is now. These protections are available in 2025 or 2026. These are the same protections you’ll get in seven years or so if you were to do the big wild and scenic thing.”

When Mezzanotte suggested properties on a LDWS tributary could see an increase in value, Moorhead questioned the possibility of government intervention. “Just don’t ask anyone related to the Tock’s Island debacle… there’s still houses sitting in there that are left to decay.”

Tock’s Island, a small island north of the Delaware Water Gap, part of Hardwick Township, was purchased by the US government to build the Tocks Island dam and lake-sized reservoir. Six hundred families and property owners were displaced. Due to protests, neither were built and the land was handed over to the National Park Service.

Township Attorney, Kevin Benbrook, spoke to quell those fears. “The one big difference between this and something like Tock’s Island and this is the federal government came in there and they took people’s property, and they own that land. This designation has nothing to do with ownership. Our ordinances remain valid.”

According to Mezzanotte, the Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers Program was created in direct response to Tock’s Island.

“How do we protect those rivers that flow through private lands? [This designation] is only for rivers that flow through private, state, municipal, nonfederal properties. It is managed by the local communities.”

Federal action, applying to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection for permit related to flood hazard or water discharge, and a dam proposal are the only factors that could trigger National Park Service (NPS) intervention. The NPS can choose to review these types of projects, but it is not a requirement.

Working as an attorney for other townships, Benbrook has gone through this designation process before. He stated, “And I can say we’ve never had a letter submitted to a land use board from the federal government saying they object or have jurisdiction… I haven’t seen any type of any type of federal intervention or overreach.”

Committeewoman Debra Waldron asked about the financial benefits.

Mezzanotte explained that the current model operates on a five-year cycle with river designations receiving between $210 and $260 thousand dollars. But, by adding significant mileage with an updated management plan and new members to the LDWS management council, additional funding for tributaries could be considered.

“Why can’t we get another $200,000 since we just quadrupled our size and our opportunity to enhance and protect,” quipped Mezzanotte.

If Blairstown opts to join the LDWS, a representative would be chosen for the management council and would be made aware of any “mini grants” of up to $10,000 the tributary could be eligible for. This designation would also put the area in touch with technical resources from the NPS in case of a natural disaster.

The Paulinskill River, as viewed from Footbridge Park. Photo by A. Tironi, 10/2023

The proposed LDWS resolution states that “During the tributary study process municipalities and organizations maintain the option to withdraw support until the final required local support resolution is passed near completion of the study.”

The Foodshed Alliance and the Paulinskill Watershed Community, two organizations that have given the greenlight for this designation have chosen to proceed with the Wild and Scenic study while continuing to discuss the possibility of the Paulinskill earning its own Wild and Scenic River study— such a position preserves both options.

Blairstown Township can wait up to 12 months to opt in for this designation, and also have the ability to opt out later in the process for any reason.

Alex Tironi Headshot
Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
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.