Changing Public Good

Changing the project’s “public good” endgame

A tangle of political resistance to the Tocks Island dam project, geological problems in developing the dam and reservoir, and an emerging environmental movement in the late 1960s, ultimately put the brakes on the building of the dam. Consequently, the focus of the project moved to the creation of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The land taken by eminent domain or bought under the threat of eminent domain remained in the hands of the government. The use of the land—the public good justifying the project—changed.

This underscores how determining the “costs” versus “benefits” of any eminent domain process is political process and not always an objective process guided by transparent government rules and due process. As one displaced resident active in the anti-dam efforts explains,

"With Tocks Island, the benefit/cost ratio fluctuated tremendously. When they first passed the legislation in 1962 they said it was for flood control and then the dam critics said that most of the flood damage occurred on the tributaries of the Delaware River and this dam would not have prevented those floods. So, they came up with another benefit and over the years recreation became more and more of the benefit so it ended up being 44% of the benefit although it started at around 12%. So, how do you determine the fairness of a project on behalf of which you are doing this eminent domain? (Hamilton)"

The official legislative story of the dam project’s demise has the dam being “indefinitely delayed” in 1975 after it, in the words of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “met with numerous major impediments, including local opposition, geologic issues, and financial limits.”[1] In 1978, President Carter recommended that the project land become part of the National Wild and Scenic River system. Congress passed legislation making this designation in the same year; it was signed into law by the president. Technically this did not end the dam project, it was not until 2002 that Congress officially de-authorized the Tocks Island Dam Project.[2]

[1] U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District Marine Design Center, “History of Relevant Flood Studies and Related Actions.” N.D. Website. Accessed February 2, 2016.

[2] U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.