Home > Uncategorized > D&R Canal Commission Will Review Master Plan Regarding Future of Bull’s Island

D&R Canal Commission Will Review Master Plan Regarding Future of Bull’s Island

Prallsville Mills - Stockton NJ at confluence of Wickecheoke Creekand Delaware River (March 7, 2012)

DEP Backs Away From February Clearcut Plan – Says No Decisions Made 

[Update: 9/22/12 – Lehigh Valley live has story on this hearing:  Environmental group gathering signatures to fight Bull’s Island tree removal – end update]

The D&R Canal Commission held their regular monthly meeting this morning at their lovely Prallsville Mills office.

Bull’s Island was not on the agenda, but again served as the Gorilla in the Room.

Again, mum was the word on Bull’s Island – the DEP representative on the Commission, the Executive Director, Park Superintendent and the NJ Water Supply Authority did not initiate any comments or provide a current status report on what is going on behind the scenes on Bull’s Island.

During the public comment session, I provided an update since the last meeting (see this and this). I emphasized the growing public opposition to any tree cutting on Bull’s Island and the strong preference for a Natural Area designation.

I noted the DEP’s February clearcut plan, the Department’s comments in the Philadelphia Inquirer September 2 story, and a recent expansion of the flawed “tree collar” health assessment to the central portion of the Island. I noted that this was the only official information available to the public, and challenged DEP to present current information to the public about what their plans were for the Island.

When previously asked these questions, DEP refused to comment. So, to my surprise, DEP finally responded today!

In response to my questions, the DEP representative on the Commission said DEP met yesterday, and then indicated that the prior February plan is not their current thinking and that all options are on the table (presumably including a preservation option to make the Island a Natural Area, although when asked he refused to confirm this).

[Note: But if all options are on the table, just where is this DEP table and who has seats at it?]

I then again challenged the Commission, as steward of the Park, to provide a public forum where the public could express their views and preferences about the future of the Island.

I stressed that if they passively wait for DEP to submit an application for tree cutting, then it will be too late.

If DEP were to submit an application for tree removal, the Commission and the DEP would be locked into a narrow technical regulatory debate that did not address the fundamental policy and planning issue, which is: whether the Island should be preserved as a Natural Area or have trees cut down to make it “safe” for campers and recreational use.

To their credit, the Commission accepted that challenge!

The discussion started off on a sour note. Commissioners Marchand and Knights, noting the controversial nature of the issue, recommended that the Commission take no action and instead wait and see what DEP decided to do. Knights emphasized that he trusted DEP and did not share my skeptical views.

But then Commissioner Alison Mitchell spoke about the Commissions’ planning powers, distinguishing those powers from the regulatory review of a DEP application.

In response, Acting Chairman Loos noted the current Master Plan designates the southern portion as a Natural Area and the northern portions of Bull’s Island as a rural area, including for recreational use. Loos suggested that the Commission could amend the  Master Plan with respect to the Island.

Loos seemed to agree with Mithcell’s recommendations with respect for the need for a pro-active planning process to address “the future of Bull’s Island”. He  then requested that next months meeting agenda include an item to discuss procedures for amending the Master Plan.

The D&R Canal State Park Master Plan is 23 years old, last updated and adopted in May 1989.

The Master Plan provides an excellent historical overview, assessment of current conditions, and a vision for the Park’s future. The Plan explains the roles and responsibilities of the various agencies with involvement in the Park, and provides a resource inventory of the Park.

The Vision, principles, and objective adopted by the Plan (p. 31) are particularly important and relevant. The Plan emphasizes the unique nature of a linear park.

The Plan recognizes that despite the multi-uses of the Park, there is a special need for “serenity and separation from the man-made world”. To assure that serenity,  the Plan explicitly rejects compromising the protection of designated uses by competing uses.

The principle and strong sense of separation from man-made activities in the rural portions of the Park are core values.

Of particular relevance to Bull’s Island debate is this principle:

To the extent that it is practical, the Canal Park is an area that should be maintained in its natural state.

With respect to Bull’s Island, the Plan provides:

We welcome a planning process that focuses on maintaining Bull’s Island in its natural state.

Please, come to the next meeting on Monday October 15 and let the Commission know how you feel about that.

[Note: Here are the Commission’s planning powers – note that “portions” of the Master Plan may be updated and amended periodically, in the absence of a comprehensive update:

13:13A-13. Master plan for physical development of park; review of State projects, permits.

13. a. The commission shall prepare, or cause to be prepared, and, after a public hearing, or public hearings, and pursuant to the provisions provided for in subsection 13 b. of this act, adopt a master plan or portion thereof for the physical development of the park, which plan may include proposals for various stages in the future development of the park, or amend the master plan. The master plan shall include a report presenting the objectives, assumptions, standards and principles which are embodied in the various interlocking portions of the master plan. The master plan shall be a composite of the one or more written proposals recommending the physical development and expansion of the park either in its entirety or a portion thereof which the commission shall prepare after meetings with the governing bodies of the affected municipalities and counties, and any agencies and instrumentalities thereof.

b.     In preparing the master plan or any portion thereof or amendment thereto the commission shall give due consideration to: (1) the function of the canal as a major water supply facility in the State; (2) the necessity to provide recreational activities to the citizens of this State, including but not limited to, facilities, design capacities, and relationship to other available recreational areas; (3) existing historical sites and potential restorations or compatible development; (4) the range of uses and potential uses of the canal in the urban environments of the older, intensively developed communities through which it passes; and (5) designated wilderness areas to be kept as undeveloped, limited-access areas restricted to canoeing and hiking. In preparing the master plan or any portion thereof or amendment thereto the commission shall consider existing patterns of development and any relevant master plan or other plan of development, and shall insure widespread citizen involvement and participation in the planning process.

c.     The commission shall act in support of local suggestions or desires to complement the park master plan. Consultation, planning, and technical expertise will be made available to local planning bodies that wish to implement land-use policy to enhance the park area. The commission shall act on or refer complaints by citizens’ groups or private residents who discover hazardous situations, pollution, or evidence of noncompliance with use regulations.

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  1. Harry Schwartz
    September 19th, 2012 at 15:15 | #1

    I am thrilled to see that it at least appears there is the potential that DEP may back down from their horrendous plan to clear-cut even a portion of Bull’s Island!

    I have camped there numerous times with my family and friends and have been upset that the park has remained closed to camping. While the death there was certainly tragic, the solution is not to remove all of the trees. Camping under trees poses a certain amount of risk, and good management would minimize the risk by removing unhealthy trees – not simply all trees! I have camped in many tree-covered places throughout the northeast and can say that being able to recreate and sleep beneath big tall trees is part of the appeal to natural places like Bull’s Island.

    I propose that a happy medium at Bull’s Island would be to close the north end of the island (the walk-in sites) to camping, and inspect and prune (as needed) the trees in the central camping portion of the island. And let the rest of the island be wild the way Mother Nature intended! And allow families to once again fish and swim and tube and kayak and camp on this beautiful state park!

  2. September 19th, 2012 at 23:12 | #2

    @Harry Schwartz

    Harry, it does appear that DEP is backing off the clearcut, but they are still focused on cutting lots of trees and they are expanding the flawed cutting plan from the 6 acre northern tip to the central portion of the Island.

    For details, and links to the petition and other documents, see:

    20,000 PROTEST NEW JERSEY PLAN TO CLEAR-CUT BULL’S ISLAND — Tree Removals Expand as State Eschews Public Review or Expert Consultation


    I am not opposed to re-opening the central portion of the Island to camping, but NOT if that would require cutting ANY trees.

  3. April 2nd, 2013 at 09:02 | #3

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