June 25, 2024

Environmental and Conservation Groups Seek to Intervene to Protect 300-foot Riparian Buffer Municipal Ordinance

Large riparian buffers are critical to protect the water quality of local Exceptional Value streams and wetlands in the face of increased commercial and industrial development.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024, Stroudsburg, PA – Last week, PennFuture, Tobyhanna Creek/Tunkhannock Creek Watershed Association, and Tobyhanna Conservation Association filed a Petition to Intervene in two developers’ challenge to Coolbaugh Township’s amendment to its stormwater management ordinance. This amendment, passed in August 2023, increases buffers surrounding wetlands from 150-feet to 300-feet.  

Coolbaugh Township is home to the headwaters of both the Tobyhanna Creek and Brodhead Creek watersheds, nearly all which are classified by the Department of Environmental Protection as “special protection waters.” In fact, more than half of Coolbaugh Township is located in the Tobyhanna Creek watershed, approximately 36% of the total watershed area. The portion of the Brodhead Creek watershed located in Coolbaugh Township includes the Exceptional Value headwater streams of Tank Creek, Devils Hole Creek, and Buck Hill Creek. These special protection waters and the wetlands that surround them are critical to water quality both in the immediate area and downstream, and therefore receive the highest level of protection under the law.  

Riparian buffers are vegetated areas next to creeks, streams, and rivers that protect from things like pollution, heat, and flooding. They also provide habitat for wildlife and various ecosystem benefits like better fishing and hunting and, according to a report commissioned by Our Pocono Waters, are a vital part of a complex interrelated ecosystem that provides billions of dollars in economic benefits in the Poconos.  

“Riparian buffers are the easiest, most natural, and often the cheapest way to protect water quality of streams and wetlands. The science supports Coolbaugh Township’s desire to fully protect the outstanding water resources that it has within its municipal boundaries,” said Brigitte Meyer, Staff Attorney for PennFuture representing all the organizations. “By increasing the protection to 300-feet, Coolbaugh Township is doing exactly what a municipality should be doing to ensure that its precious water resources remain pristine.”

“The Tobyhanna Creek/Tunkhannock Creek Watershed Association has long recognized the value of our headwater streams and wetlands and have worked to ensure that the needs of regional growth are balanced with preserving our water resources,” said Geoff Rogalsky, President of TC/TCWA. “We have been monitoring the water quality of the Tobyhanna Creek for years now and know the importance of responsibly managing the impact that local land use changes have on the water quality and ecosystems of the watershed. We support Coolbaugh Township’s recognition of the need to fully protect these special resources.” 

William Leonard, representative of Tobyhanna Conservation Association, said: “Water quality is essential for the health of our fish and wildlife including recreational opportunities in the Tobyhanna Creek Watershed. As we rapidly lose open space and forested areas along creeks in Monroe County, including Coolbaugh Township, and as more and more wetlands are converted to impervious surfaces, our local officials must do more to protect our critical water resources. Once they are lost, they are gone forever.” 

A 2022 report by Monroe County acknowledged that the water quality benefits of open space and buffers are easily degraded due to land use-related activities and would be expensive to resolve without adequate water management. That same year, a poll commissioned by Our Pocono Waters revealed that 94% of respondents agreed that state or local governments should do more to protect and preserve Exceptional Value waters from added commercial development.  

Media Contact: Leigh Martinez, PennFuture Communications Director, martinez@pennfuture.org