Delaware Wild & Scenic River Group Joins Bull’s Island Debate
DEP Official Claims That Bull’s Island Sycamores Are “An Invasive Species”
The claim in that headline is not a typo or misquote. It was made by Cindy Randazzo, Director of DEP’s Local Government Assistance program to the Chair of the Alexandria Township Environmental Commission. Like her boss “customer friendly Bob”, Randazzo has no environmental training or experience.
I’m sure Larry Rangonese of the DEP press office will be relieved – he no longer holds the DEP record for the biggest whopper for his “landfill leachate is natural” claim. (runners up include former DEP Commissioner Shinn’s claim sunlight causes water pollution; DEP Press Officer Peter Page’s claim that sewage in rivers provides food for fish; and DEP water quality modeling assumption that wetlands are a pollution source). But I’m getting off topic and way ahead of myself.
Last night, the Lower Delaware River Wild and Scenic Management Committee met in Frenchtown NJ.
The Committee oversees the Management Plan for the River, which is part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers program. They meet quarterly, so the meeting was a big deal. And the upshot is that another set of federal eyes at NPS now join USFWS and USACE looking into the Bull’s Island “War on Killer trees” debacle
I was on the agenda and asked by NPS to give a brief presentation on Bull’s Island. There were some fireworks and absolutely amazing statements made! It became obvious that there is a lot of behind the scenes political pressure being exerted by DEP on everyone from the media to local officials (so read on! I saved the best for last!)
DEP was invited by the Committee and asked to give a presentation, a request to which they initially agreed. But in a continuing pattern of secrecy, DEP refused to show up or even send a representative to monitor the meeting. That clearly irked members of the Committee and the public.
Just prior to my presentation, the National Parks Service (NPS) member of the Committee had a highly unusual and detailed written report on Bull’s Island read out loud (she could not attend due to illness). I will provide a link as soon as I get the full document.
According to NPS, DEP said:
1. DEP will put together a “hand picked stakeholder group” in late August/early September to discuss DEP’s management plan for the Island. It will include fed, state,and local agencies, plus ENGO’s.
2. There will be no public input until plan is submitted to D&R Canal Commission for review/approval.
3. DEP said that they want to cut trees this winter, but said there would be no significant cutting until all D&R Canal approvals and DEP permits are issued.
Just before the meeting Delaware Riverkeeper sent me their strong letter to the Committee opposing DEP’s clearcut plan. Portions were read during the meeting and it had an impact (I can provide as email word doc upon request).
Emile Devito called me as I was driving to the meeting to ask that I advise the group that NJCF opposes the DEP plan, and will soon be issuing an alert to their members.
Opponents now include Sierra Club, NJ Audubon, Washington Crossing Audubon, NJCF, Riverkeeper, and NJ PEER.
Prior to the meeting, I contacted Curtis Leeds, news editor of the Hunterdon County Democrat (as did the Chair of the Committee, who was told the her heads up was provided on too short notice). I assumed that the Democrat was closely following the issue as a result of their April 17, 2012 page one story: DEP plans to clear-cut trees at Bull’s Island park, site of fatal campground accident
But, like DEP, curiously they were a no show (and they failed to write a story on the Alexandria Resolution, despite having a reporter at that meeting!). So, something is going on behind the scenes for sure.
So, here’s a brief newsy rundown of what went down:
1. The Committee is part of the National Wild & Scenic Rivers program. Important local Hunterdon County issues were discussed by local residents, local environmental groups, and local officials (Frenchtown Mayor, Alexandria Environmental Commission). There are meeting sign in sheets and agenda to document this. Official minutes will take some time – they only meet quarterly
2. On the NJ side of the river, the “Hot Dog Man” and Bull’s Island got the most discussion.
3. After my presentation, questions from Committee members and the audience, and lively discussion, the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic Management Committee agreed to write a letter to DEP expressing their concerns and request a public planning process. I assume that they will do something very similar to the Alexandria Resolution 2012 – 157 ”To Oppose Plan To Clear Cut The Northen Portion of Bull’s Island State Park”.
4. The Delaware Greenway Partnership clarified their concerns and carefully distinguished their invasive species and Black Locust restoration work from DEP’s tree cutting plan, which they opposed. They also were misled by DEP false statements about the riverfront bulldozing and debris disposal. DEP told them that was a temporary dewatering operation.
I want to apologize for my prior criticism that they were misleading the public about what was going on – it was not their fault, they were mislead by DEP.
5. Emile Devito of the NJ Conservation Foundation could not attend, but called me to ask that I advise the LDW&SC that NJCF opposing any cutting of trees and that they will be issuing an alert to their members shortly. As you know, NJCF is very active and well respected in Hunterdon County.
6. There were two remarkable moments:
a) A resident of Lumberville, a former longtime local official and daily visitor to Bull’s Island, rehashed his story of discovering the riverfront bulldozing and fill and accused DEP of “a conspiracy” for intentionally misleading him and others. He said DEP intentionally misdirected inspectors away from the riverfront violations and to the wrong location on the Island where they discovered no problem. (I observed the same thing with DEP inspection reports and Hunterdon County Soil Conservation District inspections).
b) The Chair of the Alexandria Env. Commission spoke and stated that Cindy Randazzo, Director of DEP Local Government Assistance, called her twice to express her concerns about the Alexandria Resolution. During these calls, Randazzo stated, and this is a quote, that “sycamore’s are invasive species”. That elicited laughter from the audience.
7. It became apparent, from multiple people’s comments, that DEP is running away from the “clear cut” plan and claiming that there is “confusion”. But Larry Rangonese from the DEP press office announced the “clearcut plan” in a March 15, 2012 press release and confirmed that in the Democrat’s April 17, 2012 story:
DELAWARE TWP. — More than 200 trees, including sycamores that were saplings in the 1800s, are slated to be clear cut from the northwestern end of Bull’s Island state park.
The state Department of Environment Protection, which owns the recreation area on the banks of the Delaware River, plans the work by summer’s end.
Bill Wolfe of West Amwell Township, an activist and former DEP employee, said that the “harebrained scheme to wipe out supposedly killer trees should be halted in its tracks.” He said the plan will “denude more than five acres of parkland.”
DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese responded today: “We’re saddened to take the sycamores down but we’re acting on the basis of science and facts. We are going to restore this to what we believe to be very health and viable ecosystem” that is “beneficial to the wildlife. We have no reason to do otherwise.”
Also, a DEP memorandum of February 8, 2012 to Commissioner Martin goes beyond a “clear cut” and states:
- “Based on the consultant’s report and a technical review by DEP forestry experts, we are proceeding with removing all vegetative material in the upper river section of Bull’s Island.
- Once the area is cleared, the Department will proceed with replanting the area with appropriate floodplain vegetation that matures at smaller heights and does not pose a public safety risk.”
Commissioner Martin’s decision announced in this memo was made BEFORE any environmental review, federal consultation, or required D&R Canal Commission or DEP or permit process, and even BEFORE DEP had any plans for “developing a restoration landscape plan”.
I also have July 2011 emails from DEP Assistant Commissioner Amy Cradic that document the Commissioner’s decision – made PRIOR TO submission of the consultant’s Report – to cut and remove trees and directing her staff to start the timber bidding and permitting work to do that.
And you don’t have to take my word for it, these are all facts and all in the Department’s own words and documents.
So, lets see DEP walk back all that!
Easy way out: Issue a statement by the Commissioner declaring that the northern portion of the Island will not be clear-cut and instead made a Natural Area.
Tuns Martin from Goat to Hero.