ALEXANDRIA – A state appellate court upheld $20,000 in fines given to Delaware River Tubing (DR Tubing) for unauthorized commercial activity in a state park.
DR Tubing has been one of the most popular summertime destinations in Hunterdon County for tourists who want to go tubing on the Delaware River. According its website, the business is temporarily closed until it secures access to the river.
The case, which attracted widespread media attention, began in 2019 when the state Department of Environmental Protection declined to renew a concession agreement with DR Tubing because the company had not paid $43,000 in concession fees in 2016 and 2017.
The annual agreements, which began in 2013, gave DR Tubing the exclusive right to rent tubes for recreational floating down the river to and from designated points in Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park. The agreement also allowed the company to use designated spots for its buses and install seasonal stairs to access the river.DR Tubing took its customers by shuttle bus to the park, then employees escorted the tubers to the river across park property. Shuttles then picked up the customers about 6 miles downstream.
Though the DEP notified DR Tubing in writing that the concession agreement had not been renewed, DR Tubing continued in summer 2019 to transport hundreds of customers each day into the park for tubing, according to court papers.
The State Park Police then issued 38 summonses for unauthorized commercial activity in the park. The summonses initially named the late Gregory Crance, president of the company, but later DR Tubing was added. Crance, known as the Famous River Hot Dog Man for selling food to tubers on the river, died at age 56 in May 2021 from COVID-19 complications.
After the case was transferred from Kingwood Municipal Court, a four-day bench trial was held in Superior Court in November 2020. At the end, DR Tubing was found to have violated state law on 25 occasions. The company was fined $800 for each occasion for a total of $20,000.
The court found that DR Tubing parked its buses on state property, the company's employees were on state property escorting customers to the river and tubes were piled on the towpath in the park.
DR Tubing then appealed the ruling, arguing it was not a violation of law to take customers to a state park, the state cannot penalize DR Tubing for transporting customers to use the river, the right to use the river is guaranteed by the state's Public Trust Doctrine and other legal issues.
But the appellate court, in its 15-page decision, rejected those arguments.
The appellate court wrote that the Superior Court decision was "supported by substantial credible evidence" and that the state law requiring a person to obtain permission to operate a business in a state park is "clear."
The appellate court also wrote that the state "has the right to impose reasonable regulations" for access to public areas and "commercial businesses can facilitate that reasonable access so long as they have a concession agreement."
In addition, the appellate court ruled that DR Tubing faced a fine of $500 to $1,500 for each violation. The $800 fine was within that range.
"We discern no error in the imposition of those penalties," the court wrote.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: NJ court rejects Delaware River Tubing appeal of state fines