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Guest Opinion

Richard “The River Man” McNutt, of Plumsteadville, remembered


“People ask, why do you bring people to the water? What is the Rising Nation? The answers, water is the lifeblood of all things on Mother Earth. We bring people to the water to experience the critical need to respect it.”

- Richard H. McNutt, Legacies of Cape May

We are all born with hope, dreams and expectation. As we grow, we often become discouraged — life happens, as it is said.

There are a few others, though, who overcome their circumstances, stay true to their principles and commit themselves to purpose, regardless of time, place or situation.

Richard was one of those people.

Richard Hunt McNutt died of cancer age 80 on Sept. 23 with his family holding his hand.

McNutt was born in 1943, graduated from Wissahickon High School and joined the U.S. Marines right afterward in 1960. Sent overseas to Europe, Africa and Asia during the Vietnam War, he served as Honor Guard to President John F. Kennedy while he toured the troops.

It was overseas McNutt saw the depth of the conflict’s environmental impact. He saw children and families desperately trying to survive without clean water. And he never forgot.

After he was honorably discharged in 1964, clean water and saving the Delaware became his lifetime aspiration. His mantra was “clean water for the next seven generations” and he quickly became known as “The River Man.”

McNutt moved to Plumsteadville, close to Point Pleasant where for decades the area was faced with water shortages due to drought, flooding and contaminated ground water. Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) had sights on Point Pleasant as a place to pump water from the Delaware River to provide water to the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant. The pumping station wanted to remove 95 million gallons of water a day from the Delaware River for use as drinking water for residents of Bucks and Montgomery counties.

Residents were concerned the pump would kill fish and animal life, and harmfully alter the river’s natural balance. They were concerned new construction would be drawn to the area permanently changing the landscape, its charm and the Revolutionary War character of Point Pleasant, and impact surrounding counties as well.

McNutt formed Del-AWARE in 1982. It was a grassroots environmental group whose goal was to inform residents of the impending development, the harm to the Delaware River to prevent PECO from building the pump. Del-AWARE published the Citizens Voice which served as a sounding board for residents and provided a forum for free speech.

On Jan. 10, 1983, PECO sent an advance construction team to excavate the foundation. They were greeted by 2,000 citizen-activists forming human barricades, carrying signs while helicopters flew over. Hundreds were arrested.

So began the Dump the Pump protests.

Del-AWARE staged a two-month sleep-in inside the Bucks County courthouse in Doylestown to force a referendum be placed on the upcoming ballot. Manure was dumped outside the building during the heat of August 1983.

Although the pump was ultimately built, Del-AWARE did win some legal successes. The capacity of the water pipes was reduced and large residential development was averted in environmentally unsuitable parts of Bucks and Montgomery counties.

Last September, “Uprising on the Delaware: How the Point Pleasant Project United Thousands in Disobedience” produced by Lanny Morgnanesi, premiered at the County Theater in Doylestown celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Dump the Pump protests.

The 1980s saw further development threats. In 1989, D&R Greenway Land Trust was born in Princeton.

Linda Mead, president and CEO of Greenway said Richard McNutt was there in the beginning and was in the forefront advocating with Pennsylvania Democrat Congressman Peter Kostmayer and Republican Jim Greenwood of Pennsylvania’s Eighth Congressional District.

From 1989 to 2007, D&R Greenway preserved 10,000 acres of land and from 2007 through 2017, it preserved a second 10,000 acres, reaching a milestone of 20,000 acres of preserved land in 2017.

“Richard had an inquiring mind and was always willing to step forward,” said Linda Mead, president and CEO of Greenway. “His passion for the environment and his knowledge of science made a lot of good things happen. He was a very good ‘connector’ of people and ideas and he would network and know who could help with what.... Richard’s truth and integrity, his free-spirited courage, his focused support and his not caring about recognition or his life legacy made him our unsung hero.”

McNutt was also a founding partner of The Rising Nation River Journey, a 333-mile canoe and kayak trip down the entire length of the Delaware River from Hancock, N.Y. to Cape May, N.J. The next scheduled River Journey will be held in 2026.

A Celebration of Richard “The River Man” McNutt’s life will be held on June 22 at 5 p.m. at Point Breeze, Bordentown, N.J. following the 29th Delaware River Sojourn.

Donations can be made to the Tidewater Scholarship in honor of Richard H. McNutt, D&R Greenway Land Trust at the Johnson Education Center, One Preservation Place, Princeton, N.J. 08540.

Jennifer Brownstone Kopp is managing editor of Cape May Star and Wave Newspaper, where a version of this piece first appeared.

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