By Ted Waddell
LACKAWAXEN, PA June 21, 2005 A lot of folks in the Upper Delaware River Valley are concerned about development.
Is clear-cutting to open up vistas of the river for new ridgetop building lots really the right way to develop the area?
Is the racket from chainsaws drowning out the sounds of silence in a pristine river environment?
Are developers being allowed to stampede town zoning and planning boards in a rush to add tax dollars to economically strapped local coffers?
Is development the greatest thing since sliced cheese, or the root of all evils facing a community?
On Sunday, the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition (UDPC) held its first public meeting at the Inn at Lackawaxen to deal with those questions.
Several founding members of the not-for-profit organization outlined what the grassroots organization views as the greatest threats to the Upper Delaware River Valley.
"Some of us met at a 'Visioning the Upper Delaware Corridor' meeting held in Shohola [Pa.] in the late fall of 2003," said Marcia Nehemiah, lead speaker for the UDPC.
According to Nehemiah, the visioning process opened our eyes for the need for action, and in January '04, a small cadre of people began meeting to seek ways to preserve "the river, the landscape we love for its aesthetic, spirit and economic value" and to clarify "the challenges facing the region as we saw them, and to confront unprecedented threats to the beauty and physical integrity of the Upper Delaware."
The UDPC contends that the original federal mission of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River and a mishmash of local laws and regulations designed to protect the environment in the river corridor have "been seriously violated in recent years. . . . Irresponsible land use, granting of variances that compromise river communities' own laws, ridgetop clear-cutting and large mountain ridge subdivisions pose a constant threat."
Hank Schneider, a commercial photographer/woodworker, has lived along the river off Crawford Road in the Town of Tusten for more than 20 years, a year after the National Park Service came to town in 1978.
"I came up here because I love to fish," he said.
Since then, things have changed a lot.
In recent years, Schneider said he has watched the developer of the Eagles Nest in Narrowsburg log and clear the ridgetop to provide vistas of the river far below.
"Unchecked development is threatening the beauty of the Upper Delaware," he said. "People are getting away with murder.
"When I came up here, the river was pristine," he added. "Now all I see are posted [no trespassing] signs all over the place, and all I hear are lawnmowers, ATV'ers and falling trees."
So what's to be done?
According to Schneider, one of UDPC's founding members, limit development, and if you develop, "do it properly so it's environmentally sound" and not abusive of the land.
"I came up here because of the environment, and it's being destroyed," he added. "I think it should be more difficult for a developer to develop a property."
Jeffrey Moore of the Town of Fremont is afraid the Scenic Byway along NYS Rt. 97, a road that parallels the river, is turning into a highway full of signs, much like the sequential Burma Shave signs of years past.
Moore said that motorists headed northbound toward Callicoon encounter three signs in quick succession leading up to the Delaware Ridge Estates development (formerly Top of the World Estates), and as soon as they pass the entrance, they are treated to three more reading, "Thanks For Coming."
"About a hundred yards past the last sign, there is a scenic byway sign," said Moore. "I wonder why the scenic byway designation doesn't prevent something like that are we going to fill up the place with real estate signs?"
The stated mission of the fledgling grassroots preservation group is "to work with local governments, planning boards and environmental agencies at state levels (NY and PA) as well as federal agencies. . . . We strive to establish a pro-active relationship with resources outside the region wherever local powers fall short of environmental protections or violate their own zoning laws."
"We want to halt inappropriate development before it happens," said Nehemiah. "We want to give people a voice and help them make choices about the communities in which they live, and we want their voices to be heard. . . . We want to promote the democratic process where an informed group of citizens . . . know the issues being considered and have input into decisions that affect your home.
"Our reason for existence is to stop things happening before it's too late," she added.
Don Downs of Long Eddy wears a lot of hats.
He is a member of the Delaware Heritage Conservancy, the Scenic Byway Committee and the Basket Historical Society.
His reaction to the first UDPC public meeting?
"I think they have a long way to go," said Downs. "It's a tough road, but they're on the right track as an independent organization.
"Development is inevitable, but developers should have alternative plans to develop in a non-selfish way, plans that include conserving space and what it will look like when people look back up at you," he said.
Downs said there are more environmentally friendly ways of building new houses rather than clear-cutting ridgetops above the river to provide unobstructed vistas: paint the structure to blend in with the natural background, cut understory vegetation as opposed to "all the trees" and situate the structure so an angled facet faces the river, rather than a full-side view.
"A river like no other needs protection like never before," reads a UDPC flyer. "Preserve our home . . . for our children and theirs."
Members of the UDPC too offered a few words of advice to the audience: join the organization, stay on top of developers, attend town planning/zoning board meetings and report back to the the UDPC.
For information about the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition, write them at P.O. Box 252, Narrowsburg, NY 12764 or visit their Website at www.udpc.net.