The Tocks Island Dam Controversy/
Delaware Water Gap National Rec. Area
Following the disastrous flooding on the Delaware River in 1955, the Army Corps of Engineers secured Congressional approval to build a dam just above the Delaware Water Gap, at a location called Tocks Island.
The results were equally disastrous, with thousands of people being displaced from their small farms and homes in a quiet, largely unrecognized, area of Northwestern New Jersey and Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Poorly conceived but pursued with vigor by the Army Corps of Engineers, the project encountered stiff opposition, and became a focus of the early environmental movement. The dam was never built, but left behind was the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a National Park Service treasure faced with more responsibilities than it can cope with.
Jim tells the story, recognizing the early Leni Lenape occupants and the Dutch who brought European civilization to the area, bringing focus on the disastrous impact of the Federal project on the local people, the demise of municipalities, and the lingering hurt and unresolved expectations. He concludes with an understanding of the magnificent park that now remains, and the challenges it now faces.
The initial main article, a heavily illustrated video presentation, and additional information are available from the links below, including insight into the American Indian perspective and the significant role of women in opposing government efforts they knew were wrong. Information continues to be added.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is administered by the National Park Service, but it was created by Congress, and is required to operate within Federal statutes and regulations. The Park Service today is committed to professional, responsible, and sensitive management, but the park faces massive challenges.
While the forces who wanted a dam to protect against downstream flooding, and those who wanted to provide a massive water supply and electric generation, are now quiet, new challenges have emerged. Each year, several million people visit the park, stressing the roads, parking, hiking, swimming and camping facilities, sanitation, and other visitor service capabilities. Federal funding is limited, and it has a massive backlog of decaying historic properties about which some care intensely and others do not. As currently funded, there’s no way the park can meet all needs, so it employs difficult prioritization strategies. Even a multi-million dollar mitigation fund received by the park in return for allowing a power line across it has proven inadequate and been a source of contention among competing needs.
This current research focuses on the failures of government in the process of creating the park. One of the ironies of the situation is that while the Service seeks to meet important contemporary and future needs, it carries with it the legacy of earlier decades.
For some, that history is out of mind and not relevant; for others it cannot be be ignored. It is perhaps a story larger than that of a park.
There has been much written about the proposed dam and its consequences, with much of it focusing on particular times or aspects. A list of initial sources may be found at the end of the story article. Additional research is based on communications with individuals involved and further access to a wide range of newspapers of the era.
Especially helpful in our current research were:
Richard C. Albert, Damming the Delaware (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1987). The most comprehensive and authoritative book on the subject. A later quotation from Albert in the following source captures the essence of the issue.
Kathleen Duca-Sandberg, “The History and Demise of the Tocks Island Dam Project: Environmental war or the War in Vietnam” (2011).” Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses. A comprehensive, well-researched study, it combines deep research with interviews of key figures involved. (The Albert quotation in the video was actually a part of an interview she did with him, as noted in the thesis.)
The New York Times presented a number of insightful articles over the years, and local and state newspapers also provided helpful coverage. Articles with a real feel of life there at the time were crafted by reporter Richard Harpster in several newspapers. Other helpful contemporaneous articles are available from newspapers.com and newspaperarchive.com.
Kathleen Sandt, Public Affairs Specialist, National Park Service, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, provided valued personal and authoritative insight into historical aspects.
The personal words of those who were affected by the project, as recounted in many publications and available web sources, were especially compelling. Recent communications with Sidney Marshall, a former resident of nearby Walpack who was of American Indian descent and fought the plan but was forced off his land by the Corps of Engineers, have continued to provide significant additional insight into the plight of the local residents. Other valuable insight has come from people such as Mina Hamilton and Sandy Hull, both of whom who served as officials of the Delaware Valley Conservation Association, which fought the government’s efforts with skill and valor.