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Nature events planned at Dunes despite court ruling

DELANCO Though a judge recently ruled that much of Delanco's Dunes area belongs to the State of New Jersey - and not the township - the town's recreation commission is holding its third annual nature celebration there on Saturday.

"Our solicitor told us to proceed as usual," said Township Committeewoman Marlene Jass, adding that the town is appealing last month's court decision.

Superior Court Judge Karen L. Suter upheld the "riparian rights" of the state to claim lands that are submerged by tidal waters or that were underwater in the past, and based her decision on a 1946 aerial map of the Dunes. The 35-acre area sits on the banks of the Delaware River. Riparian claims can date back to the '40s.

The ruling paves the way for the state Department of Environmental Protection to designate the Dunes as a depository for dredge spoils when the shipping channel is cleared of sediment. More than 40 years ago, dredge spoils were dumped on the Dunes. But that operation stopped more than 25 years ago, and woods reclaimed the land.

Two years ago, Delanco created hiking trails on the land and began using it for nature activities. That decision prompted the DEP to file a lawsuit, claiming the state owns the land.

Doug Heinold, the town's solicitor, argued that the state claimed too much of the land, including marshland that the DEP had interpreted as wet mud. But the DEP argued it had used specialized microscopes and the map to determine where the river once flowed.

The free nature event at the Dunes will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will feature a raptors and reptile show, a birdhouse building workshop, face-painting, and other activities. - Jan Hefler