Stopping the Delaware Water Gap Scenic Byway is vindictive and counterproductive

| 26 Aug 2020 | 03:01

The New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) has pulled support for the proposed Delaware Water Gap Scenic Byway project in Sussex and Warren counties. The project was proposed by Knowlton Township with support and coordination from DOT. This week, DOT spokesman Stephen Shapiro said, “NJDOT does not process Scenic Byway applications in areas where there are active projects in design or construction. In 2018, the applicants were notified that this application, which was not complete, would be placed on hold due to the I-80 Rockfall project that is currently in design.”

The “Department of Traffic” strikes again. They care more about rock walls or widening highways than they care about tourism or protecting scenic roads. They denied this scenic byway application because they are being petty and vindictive against the towns opposing their rockfall project.

We should not be walling off the Delaware Water Gap. This is a scenic and environmentally sensitive area and a gateway to a National Park. Denying this scenic byway is counterproductive as well as vindictive. Scenic byways encourage tourism, stimulate the local economy, and show off New Jersey’s natural assets, treasures, and environmentally beautiful areas. Most people’s view of New Jersey is the Turnpike through Linden. Stopping this byway will hurt the economy and local tourism.

DOT plans to spend an estimated $58 million to build a series of high industrial fences to protect drivers from rock falls below Mt. Tammany in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Lower Delaware Scenic and Recreation River. The New Jersey Sierra Club issued a resolution to join Knowlton and Hardwick Township in opposition to the I-80 Rockfall Mitigation Project.

NJDOT has always taken the side of more pavement and cement over actually trying to deal with the situation. Instead of having walls barriers and fences, they need to look at alternatives by using low-visibility mesh fences or grout the rock wall to cement it in place. There has not been proper analysis on the historical and potential Native American sites nor impacts on critical or endangered species like the Swallow. The Delaware River Basin Commission enacted regulations to protect this area because it provides high scenic, recreation, ecological and water supply value. This is a project Robert Moses would be proud of. They are taking us back to the 1950s, paving over environmentally sensitive areas to make way for the automobile.

The Delaware Water Gap is a nationally prominent scenic wonder and a gateway to the one of the most widely used National Park units in the nation. The income generated by tourism to the Delaware Water Gap and the scenic value of Northwest New Jersey will likely be negatively impacted by the proposed fence. New Jersey Sierra Club’s involvement continues its legacy as a formable defender of the Delaware River Valley. Casey Kays, a former Chapter Chair, battled against Tocks Island Dam that would have been an ecological disaster and would have jeopardized Philadelphia’s water supply

The Sierra Club has been fighting to protect the Delaware Water Gap for the past 60 years because this is our Yellowstone, our Yosemite. The Delaware Water Gap belongs to all of us. This land is held in trust for the public, not for the NJDOT to build a giant wall fence. The NJDOT should not be wasting taxpayer money on a non-essential project in an environmentally sensitive area.

Jeff Tittel, Director

New Jersey Sierra Club