By Jeanne Sager
SMALLWOOD September 12, 2003 A boat launch on the Toronto Reservoir is once again in danger of closing.
Smallwood residents have been fighting for almost a year now to retain one of two public access sites on the reservoir.
But Tuesday morning, during a press conference aimed at touting the benefits developer Woodstone Corporation is bringing to the county, Town of Bethel and Monticello school district tax base, a suggestion of closing the hotly contested site was once again brought up.
As part of a licensing agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to make use of the waters for energy, Mirant Corporation of Suffern is required to provide the public with two boat launches.
But Woodstone partners Howard Schoor and Steve Dubrovsky say one of the current sites takes people from Town Road 62 (the old Moscoe Road) onto a path through their property.
We require Mirant to have access to their recreation areas, FERC representative Heather Campbell said. Mirant has told us they have the right.
But Woodstone has suggested shutting down that area, which they allege is unsafe and hard for police to patrol.
Its a liability for Woodstone, Schoor said what if someone gets hurt?
In exchange, Woodstone has pledged its own monies to improve an access site off of (the new) Moscoe Road several miles away, adding parking spaces and landscaping to make the area look more like a park.
I dont understand the controversy, Schoor said. Were not denying access to the Toronto Reservoir, were asking people to change their habits.
The license puts requirements on the power company to provide a boat launch, he continued. It did not give them the right to use our property.
We feel very confident that we have the right to close that gate, because people dont have the right to traverse our property, Schoor noted.
Dubrovsky admitted Mirant does have a right of way over Woodstones property to drive their own vehicles used in the business of making hydroelectric power.
Mirants license comes from FERC, which originally approved the location of the two launch sites.
When asked why FERC approved an allegedly unsafe place for a launch site, Schoor said he thought it was a good idea at the time but not thought through.
Campbell has received a letter from former Town of Bethel Supervisor Allan Scott requesting abandonment of the site.
No correspondence supporting that suggestion has been received from Mirant, she said.
The agency will study the issue, but currently there is a requirement in place for two launch sites, Campbell noted.
The license, issued in 1992 to Mirant predecessor Orange and Rockland Utilities, delineated the need for two sites as well as a requirement that there be different types of recreational opportunities.
That license is for 30 years but can be changed.
Its a living license, Campbell noted.
Smallwood resident and vocal activist Bob Barrett isnt ready to say goodbye to one of his favorite recreational sites.
The habit, he said, is a good one protected by the federal governments regulations.
It may be that they own the road, but that doesnt mean they own the road without exceptions, Barrett said. This habit is a good thing.
Because of the backwoods nature of the second site, people are more able to safely bicycle and take nature walks, he said.
And for children, closing down the site would make it nearly impossible for them to access the reservoir at all those used to using the site in question would have to travel eight miles to get to Moscoe Road, he said.
Barrett explained that Woodstones addition to the tax base is a positive improvement for the Town of Bethel, but its another matter entirely.
Mixing the two, he said, is a ruse, a smokescreen.
Theyre trying to give this a public relations spin, Barrett claimed. Theyre trying to make the Smallwoodites look like the bad ones.
Meanwhile, the Town of Bethel is overjoyed by the positive effects of the development. Just $4,395 in taxes were generated in 2000 on the land that was then part of the forest tax exemption program.
In 2003, the same property with seven homes and the potential for a total of 124 lots brought in $416,689 in taxes to the town, county and Monticello schools.
Its a very positive effect, and of course it increases our tax base, said Acting Supervisor Vicky Simpson.
The potential for $3 million in tax dollars that Woodstone assumes its Chapin Estates development will generate upon complete build-out on all 124 lots would have enormous effects throughout the county, said Mike Sullivan, head of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development.
Every $1 spent in Sullivan County can be multiplied by 2.87 to determine its effect on the economy, he said, surmising $3 million would actually bring more than $8 million into the countys market.
The Moscoe Road issue is still something that has to be looked at, however. Simpson said the town has considered closing their portion of the access because of safety issues.
There has been no proposal to close the road, she said. Were researching it.
If an answer cannot be reached amicably, Woodstone said they may take the issue one step further.
Ultimately a court may make the decision as to who has what rights, Schoor said.