TOCKS ISLAND DAM PROJECT
The Tocks Island Dam was a huge multi-purpose reservoir project proposed for the Delaware River six miles upstream from the Delaware Water Gap. The project involved the purchase of 70,000 acres of land, construction of a 40 mile long lake with depths up to 150 feet with a storage capacity of 250 billion gallons of water. It would have been the largest dam project east of the Mississippi River.
The thought of building a dam along the Delaware River began in 1934, when the Army Corps recommended a large dam be built by Tocks Island. In 1942 the corps conducted tests to see if the ground was stable enough to support a dam. The borings were taken down to 140 feet below the riverbed, but no bedrock was found to secure a firm foundation for the dam. The costs would be astronomical.
The dam was to have served four purposes: flood control, water supply, hydroelectric power and recreation. The most exciting spin-off was that the project would have created a national recreation area serving both New York and Philadelphia metro areas including New Jersey.
In 1961 the formation of the Delaware River Basin Commission was established, comprised of representatives of the Governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware. A year later Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1962 calling for the Tocks Island Dam Project to be built. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson authorized construction of the dam. Construction was to begin in 1967 and by 1972 the reservoir was to begin filling and be fully operational by 1975.
Opposition to the project began almost immediately among landowners on both sides of the Delaware whose properties were targeted for condemnation. The Delaware Valley Conservation Association was established in 1965 with more than a 1,000 members to fight the project.
The Army corps were accused of having properties appraised at much lower values than they were actually worth. The Corps were demanding many sellers evacuate their properties immediately, even though the flooding would not take place for years. Families that had farms for generations along the Delaware were treated like second rate citizens as the federal government rode roughshod over their lives. At least two landowners committed suicide.
A number of other problems developed for the project. Costs for the dam began to mushroom in the late 1960’s and the Johnson Administration was mired in the escalating cost of the Vietnam War. In addition, “squatters, family communes and flower children” began living along the Delaware in abandoned houses - others set up tents and teepees.
Many Pocono residents resented the “hippies” cultivating marijuana and living in the homes that they had to vacate. Nude bathing and drug dealing was commonplace.
Finally, in 1973 a judge ruled the squatters were illegally occupying the valley and ordered to vacate within 30 days.
On July 31, 1975 the Delaware River Commission voted 3 – 1 against the immediate construction of the Tocks Island Dam. Pennsylvania was the only state to approve the dam, while the federal government abstained. The Commission stopped the dam, but the true end of the project came in 1978 when Congress designated the section of the river that is within the recreation area as a “Wild and Scenic River,” in effect barring the construction of any dams at the Tocks Island site or anywhere along this section of the river. In 1992, the Tocks Island Dam Project was officially de-authorized by Congress.
Today, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a 70,000 acre national jewel with more than 10,000,000 visitors each year.