Urgency to Build a Dam

Urgency to Build a Dam and Justification for Taking Land through Eminent Domain

© Richard Wasserman, 2010

The Flood of 1955 increased the urgency for government action.  The federal government authorized a U.S. Army Corp of Engineers study on flood control along the Delaware River and the feasibility of building a dam at Tocks Island, just north of Stroudsburg. On January 1, 1962, the US Congress established the Delaware River Basin Commission, consisting of one representative from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. On October 23, 1962, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1962. Pending appropriate feasibility studies, the Act authorized the construction of a dam at Tocks Island just 5 miles north of the Delaware Water Gap.[1] It also authorized the creation of a recreation area along what would be a 37 mile long lake created by the dam. The National Park Service was to manage this property.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s states along the river had started purchasing limited parcels of land in anticipation of larger flood-control efforts. After the 1962 federal legislation, but before the dam had been fully approved, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers began buying properties or taking properties through eminent domain powers. Ultimately the Corp’s plan was to buy 23,000 acres for the dam and reservoir and another 47,000 acres for a surrounding recreational area to be managed by the National Park Service. Local papers described the take-over as being done with “a heavy hand.”[2]

Many residents felt they were offered a fraction of what their land was worth, and if they refused the property was condemned. Between the years 1966 and 1970 10,000 properties were bought or condemned. According to a Seton Hall University researcher, “Park records show that more than 3,000 homes occupied by nearly 8,000 people were razed, 25 summer camps, 125 farms and more than 100 businesses, seven churches and three schools were all demolished or abandoned.” The towns of Bushkill and Dingmans Ferry were substantially emptied out.[3]

[1] Albert, Richard C. Damming the Delaware: The Rise and Fall of Tocks Island Dam, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1987, p. 64.

[2] Dave Pierce, “Gov’t used ‘eminent domain’ to acquire land,” Pocono Record, August 13, 2001. Accessed on line on February 3, 2016. http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/99999999/NEWS/60711015

[3] Judy Peet, “A Bitterness Runs Through It,” The [Newark] Star Ledger, 23 November, 2003, p.19, cited in Kathleen Duca-Sandberg, The History and Demise of the Tocks Island Dam Project: Environmental war of the War in Vietnam.” MA Thesis. Seton Hall University. April 14, 2011, p. 2.