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When Elite Foundations Hijack The Agenda, There Are Consequences

Neglect and Disinvestment In Urban Areas

Investment and Priority On Wealthy Suburban Areas

massive garbage dumping and litter along Delaware River on Duck Island, Trenton, NJ (April 2016)

massive garbage dumping and litter along Delaware River on Duck Island, Trenton, NJ (April 2016)

[Update below]

I wrote yesterday about how the William Penn Foundation has hijacked the public advocacy program for the Clean Water Act and DRBC planning and regulation of the Delaware River.

The Yale Environment 360 story I reacted to sought to manufacture a myth that the restoration of the Delaware River constituted a “new era in the cleanup of an urban river”.

My focus was on how Penn Foundation money was invested in Neoliberal initiatives that stressed voluntary individual actions and market based solutions, while undermining collective action, political advocacy, and governmental planning and regulation (while taking credit for the progress that was the result of many years of government investment and regulation).

I listed briefly 20 general examples of how this abuse operated. But today I was provided a concrete example.

Word:Even within the voluntary Neoliberal framework, the role of elite Foundations is destructive.

Case in point, from a remarkably timed email I just received today: the “3rd annual Delaware River Cleanup” sponsored by the DEP (I assume with funding from the State Clean Communities Program).

That initiative targets and invests State resources in stretches of the Delaware River that flow through wealthy Hunterdon County towns and the D&R Canal State Park and Bulls Island State Park.

While those stretches do receive many visitors, compared to downriver stretches of the river in Trenton, they are far less impacted by litter.

If the litter program were based on rational criteria and objectives to maximize the reduction of litter, no way would Hunterdon be allocated resources over Trenton.

Obviously, there are urban and environmental justice issues involved as well that compelling argue for investments in Trenton over Hunterdon river stretches.

Targeting and investing resources in the Hunterdon stretches of the River translates into protecting the green backyards of the wealthy while neglecting the riverfront in the poor and minority city of Trenton.

In contrast to wealthy Hunterdon towns, Duck Island in Trenton has been neglected for years (see above photo, and hit this links for more).

Duck Island is a magnificent place on the river that should be a Urban State Park, not a neglected wasteland.

This is an example of reverse Robin Hood: DEP is essentially waging class warfare.  And it is facilitated, legitimized and provided cover by the dominance of William Penn Foundation money (which is allocated to elite groups that work in places like Hunterdon County and not Trenton).

I wrote this note to the Stephanie Fox, the DEP staff contact on the Cleanup Day:

Hi – I got your contact information from Delaware Greenway folks.

I notice that the 3rd annual cleanup is targeted along stretched of the river in Hunterdon County near Bulls Island.

I have 2 questions and concerns about the selection of these sites:

1) Why not target Duck Island? That stretch is far more impacted by litter than the targeted Hunterdon stretches, and it would allocate cleanup resources in a far more equitable fashion than providing resources to the wealthy towns in Hunterdon County (i.e. Environmental Justice).

Take a look at the neglect and mess I’ve documented on Duck Island – a spectacular place that should be an urban State Park:


2) Has the northern section of Bulls Island been re-opened yet?

Again, the neglect of that State Park is unacceptable, see:


I appreciate your timely and favorable consideration and response

(and yes, I know how clean community funds are allocated. All’s it takes is a little leadership by DEP to make my proposals a reality).

Bill Wolfe

[Update – 9/4/20 – the D&R Park responded. While they agree with our concerns, I see no real commitment:

Mr. Wolfe,

Thank you for your inquiry regarding your concerns on some of the planned cleanup efforts along the Delaware River on lands that are part of D&R Canal State Park. The 3rd Annual Delaware River Cleanup, scheduled for September 19 th, is focused on the non-tidal sections of the river in Hunterdon County. Presently there is a partnership established between the Park, the Clean Communities program, and local municipalities within Hunterdon County along the Delaware River. The Park Service wholeheartedly agrees that the Park as it runs through Mercer County, including Duck Island (part of the Abbott Marshlands), is a spectacular place that also needs some cleanup attention. In fact, the Park Service worked diligently this past year with the NJ Watershed Ambassador Program to conduct cleanups within the Trenton sections that you are highlighting.

The second annual South Jersey Scrub, scheduled for April 1st, had been in its final stages of preparation but was unfortunately cancelled due to the coronavirus situation. That particular cleanup would have included areas within Abbott Marshlands and Duck Island. We are confident that the Park will be able to move forward with 2021 Watershed Ambassador cleanups (within WMA11) and the DEP-sponsored South Jersey Scrub. The COVID pandemic has made such organized efforts extremely challenging, but we remain committed to the efforts of keeping these precious areas protected.

Additionally, to bring attention to these lesser-known park areas, Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park staff have been working with the Friends for the Abbott Marshlands on the creation and joint implementation of Marsh-related educational programs. Additionally, we continue to pursue organizing future cleanup initiatives in conjunction with the various user groups and agencies. We concur that a large-scale cleanup event to help the Marshlands and Duck Island is a beneficial way to introduce people to the many outdoor recreational activities available there and highlight the importance of the marsh as a natural and historic treasure.

Finally, the DEP is working on a revised plan to reopen the northern tip of Bulls Island Recreation Area. We will present this reopening plan to the D&R Canal Commission and look forward to public participation at this future meeting. No date for the presentation has been confirmed yet, but it will be in the coming months. Thank you for your continued interest in

D&R Canal State Park.


Patricia Kallesser, Superintendent

Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park


Jenny Felton

Stephanie Fox

 Here is my response to DEP:

Thanks Pat –
Do you think the Department, the Murphy Administration, and various allies could put together a plan to make Duck Island a magnificent urban riverfront State Park?
That would be something people could put on their tombstones.
Is a legacy even a meaningful concept anymore?
Respectfully, from 9,350 feet in San Isabel National Forest, Colorado.
PS – FYI, I updated my post on these issues to reflect your response, see:
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