By Ted Waddell
LACKAWAXEN, PA May 9, 2006 "We need this to be a community effort," said Marcia Nehemiah of the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition (UDPC) at the opening of Sunday's meeting to voice opposition to the proposed New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI) plan to construct a series of high-voltage powerline towers in the Upper Delaware River Valley.
At the close of the public meeting that attracted an overflow crowd of more than 420 folks concerned about the environmental and financial impacts created by a system of 80'-130' metal towers marching down the river, it was revealed that NYRI will hold a public meeting on Thursday, May 18 at the Delaware Youth Center in Callicoon from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
NYRI is in the process of filing for permission to construct a 200-mile-long string of eight- to twelve-story high-voltage direct current (HVDC) powerlines (spaced at 800' intervals) designed to carry 400,000 volts (1.4 billion watts) of direct current from Oneida to Orange County, passing through portions of Sullivan County, designated by the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) in 1978 for everlasting protection as part of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
NYRI is a privately held corporation backed by a Canadian holding company and is in essence an entity morphed from the Pegasus Corp., whose plan to run power down the river corridor was withdrawn a couple of years ago in the face of public outcry.
In January 2004, when initial word of the first proposed project hit the streets, Marcia and Pat Nehemiah and a small cadre of like-minded people banded together to form the UDPC.
"We wanted to preserve the landscape that we love," she said. "If we aren't proactive in determining our destiny, we know they [NYRI] will be."
Richard J. Lippes, counselor-at-law of Richard J. Lippes & Associates, a Buffalo-based law firm, was recently retained to represent the UDPC in its fight against NYRI.
Lippes is nationally recognized for almost four decades of advocacy for plaintiffs in high-profile and historic cases dealing with significant enviromental and preservation issues.
"You can fight city hall . . . and you can arbitrate in the political arena," he said.
On the issue of federally approved eminent domain lurking in the wings to take over privately owned land for private-enterprise projects, Pat Nehemiah said, "This is a perfect case where eminent domain will be used."
"We're on the case, Pegasus," he added of NYRI President Richard Muddliman, a Canadian entrepreneur who served as head of the now-defunct Pegasus Corp.
Chris Cunningham, chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature, drew a round of applause from the audience when he announced that within two weeks the legislative body wlll "pass a resolution opposing this project completely."
"Obviously this project is the wrong project in the wrong place. It goes against pretty much everything we're trying to do in Sullivan County, and it goes against everyone's wishes for what's right and proper for life in the river valley. . . . There's got to be a better way to get the power from where it is to where it needs to be."
After the meeting adjourned, three residents of the Delaware River Valley met outside on the deck of the Inn at Lackawaxen Pa. overlooking the Delaware River by the Roebling Aqueduct to discuss the situation and how to, as signs put it, Save the River Valley! No Power Lines Along the Delaware River!
It's just such a shame because we have such a beautiful area that we live in, and once they build this, there's no turning back . . . and from what I heard today, there might not even be a need for it, so to build something and destroy nature, you can't recapture it," said Erica Hart, an artist who lives with her husband in Mileses.
"We enjoy the river," she added. "We walk along the river, we kayak the river, we bicycle along the river. ... It's a big part of our lives."
Howie Hart weighed in on the issue.
"It's clearly against the law," he said. "It would be nice if the law were really respected and humanity was cared about.
"I think with enough common sense and human involvement and respect of law, it won't happen," he added.
According to the UDPC, the NYRI plan would violate the Act of Congress which amended the 1976 Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1978 to include the 73.4-mile stretch of the Upper Delaware River from the confluence below Hancock to just above Port Jervis.
"Do they really believe that we'll just sit back and take this?" said Jeanne Leewe of Obernberg.
"How dare they come knocking on our back door not even knock, just think they can come in and do not thinking we're going to put up a real big fight and say 'no way', added the lifelong resident of the river valley.
For more information about the issue, contact the UDPC (www.udpc.net) and NYRI (www.nyri.us).
Editor's Note: Look for extended coverage of the May 7 meeting in Friday's issue of the Sullivan County Democrat.