Susquehanna run softly til I end my song

ImageCivil Engineering kayak trip on West Branch near Milton

(Above) Top: The Howland Preserve, adjoining Camp Lackawanna, preserves a stretch of the Susquehanna River’s main stem or North Branch, by its 222-mile midpoint at the Vosburg Neck. Below: Local kayakers and boaters enjoy a favorite stretch of the Susquehanna’s West Branch by the site of a proposed tire burner.

November 30, 2013

A threat to river preservation (from The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA, Nov. 30, 2013)


“Sweet Thames run softly, til I end my song,” wrote Edmund Spenser in poetry celebrating his Elizabethan green world.

T.S. Eliot later used that line ironically in his poem The Wasteland, a disillusioned commentary on the devastation of humans and earth wrought by World War I.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a gathering celebrating our own Susquehanna River, at the Howland Preserve, part of an effort to conserve riverfront land including Camp Lackawanna on the midpoint of the main river.

Yet while that group celebrated and planned efforts to preserve its scenic natural river corridor, the West Branch near Watsontown faces a potential threat to river preservation.

That threat is a tire burner in White Deer Township to power the National Gypsum plant. It would be the only of its type in the country, in an industry with a history of accidents and fires, and with large operations less than a mile from the river and an elementary school.

Bucknell students recently spoke about this project with State Rep. Fred Keller. Stressing he is “pro-business,” Keller told of his concerns that the out-of-state operator, En-Tire, would not be a careful steward. He described his dismay that company representatives at a local public hearing couldn’t describe the chemical composition of tires, and what he saw as a general lack of care in their successful application process. Keller formerly worked for Conestoga Wood Products, which has won recognition for river-related environmental efforts.

“We look at the river and all the stresses on the river now … golf courses, energy, coal, or other,” he said. “Particularly with a company that came in unable to answer basic questions … we simply don’t need to put another user or stress on this river.”

The site is within the historic river corridor recently designated by the National Park Service, on a stretch that is a prime area for recreational uses. Native Iroquois leaders helped with the designation. Their ethos emphasizes making decisions that keep in mind the interests of future generations to come. The conservative Anglican philosopher Roger Scruton termed the motivation behind such an environmental ethos as oikophilia or “love of home.”

That is potentially strong motivation for opposing the project. Keller noted if we won’t allow elementary school children to smoke cigarettes, why would we accept a process that produces toxins, in an industry with a track record of accidents, across from an elementary school? Or near the river?

Nearby, in the Susquehanna watershed, around the corner from Conestoga Wood Products where Keller used to work, our pastor recently told our house chapel the biblical parable of the rich man and the barn. The rich man, proud of all his belongings, built a big barn to stock them up. But then his soul was required of him and he died.

Remember, Fr. Basil Biberdorf told the Orthodox Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Beavertown, what we have is not just our own, but God’s.

He wasn’t speaking of the tire burner. But lawn signs apply the lesson: “God’s country doesn’t smell like burning tires.”

In future hopefully we here in the Valley can echo Spenser with no irony: “Sweet Susquehanna, run softly, til I end my song.”

Alfred Kentigern Siewers is an associate professor of English and affiliate faculty in Environmental Studies at Bucknell University.


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