By Nathan Mayberg
KAUNEONGA LAKE June 1, 2004 Bethel residents nearly lunged for the throats of the Town of Bethel Board on Thursday during a three-hour melee in which they called for the board to reverse their recommendation to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to eliminate the Toronto Dam area access requirement.
The proposed change would allow Steve Dubrovsky and Howard Schoor, owners of part of the property, to eliminate public access to the beach.
In return, Dubrovsky offered to build the town a park on Old Moscoe Road and create a parking area on Pine Grove Road, along with an easement along two miles of his private land for fishing.
The board passed the resolution after an eleventh-hour executive session meeting March 11, after many people had gone home.
Over 50 residents from Smallwood, White Lake and Kauneonga Lake attended the latest board meeting Thursday, and several of them were involved in shouting matches with Supervisor Vicky Vassmer-Simpson.
The pitch of their voices rose through the night, as the trustees steadfastly refused to rescind their resolution, which in effect, could end the residents several decades worth of enjoyment on that particular beach.
Only one board member Richard Crumley offered to rescind the resolution. The others Supervisor Simpson, Robert Blais, Harold Russell and Daniel Sturm would not budge.
Russell attempted to position himself in the middle by calling for a resolution which would have attorneys review the matter but that did not fly with the just-as-stubborn crowd.
You cant ride the rail, said one resident.
Just rescind the resolution, was their overwhelming contention.
Under current law, the residents have a right to the beach as part of an agreement between FERC and Mirant, which owns the reservoir and uses it to generate hydroelectric energy.
Town Road 62 is a public road which allows people access to the beach. Dubrovsky and Schoors Woodstone Development Corporation, which is building million-dollar homes in the area, has tried to shut off access to the beach but legally cannot do so unless FERC agrees.
And that is what has the townspeople so mad. Why would the board go out of their way to ask FERC to shut off access to a beach that thousands of people enjoy every summer?
Simpson said she supported the resolution in order to get a park and access to Black Lake Creek for fishermen.
Blais said the restrictions would make the site easier to maintain. The six miles of dirt road was rough for emergency services to get to, he said.
Harold Russell claimed he was forced to choose between two proposals by then-Supervisor Ira Liff on the evening of March 11. The other proposal by Woodstone stated that it would consider building a road through the end of Town Road 62 through its property to the existing boat launch . . . and that the town would need to maintain it.
The residents claimed to have 1,500 signatures calling for the Toronto Reservoir to be kept open for public access. Over 90 percent of those signatures are Town of Bethel residents, said one of them.
Two years ago, a gate was put up in front of the access point with the false premise that FERC had called upon its closure, said Smallwood resident Bob Barrett. The gate was taken down when FERC said it did no such thing, he added.
You were blackmailed by Mr. Dubrovsky, Smallwood resident David Saltzman said to the town board. He told you he would build a park only if you closed the other access. You are victims, and we are victims.
Furthermore, even though Woodstones deed gives them part of Town Road 62, it is still a public road because the town has done work to it for over ten years, he added.
Residents were also upset with the March 11 resolution because it closed Town Road 62. However, the board has since opened up the road.
We realized our mistake and opened the road, said Simpson.
Barbara McGraw complained about the town and county signing off on over $200,000 in tax breaks for Woodstone Development.
The taxpayers who can least afford it have to pay for it, she charged.
Speaking after the meeting, she claimed the county issued the tax breaks illegally. McGraw contended that the county violated its own resolution by providing the breaks without the consent of the Monticello school district.
The law requires the county to obtain approval from the legislature, town and school district, she maintained. However, the school district did not agree to the breaks, after much expensive consultation with its lawyers, said McGraw.
Barrett was frustrated by the boards continuing reference to their attorneys, but the attorneys were never at the board meetings. Simpson said the attorneys costs were too high to bring them to the meetings.
Barrett was also not happy with Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who has been a critic of the Patriot Act but supports a gate on the property on the pretense of preventing terrorism, said Barrett.
Saltzman lamented that the dispute is heartbreaking. . . . Every time we declare peace in Bethel, the board declares war.
One woman said during the meeting, I really enjoy going to the beach. You feel free there. It is really a nice, quiet place.
Then she added, I know there is big money coming in.
She was cut off by Simpson, who said, It is not about money.
But that brought immediate heckles from the crowd.
Simpsons solution was to bring the towns lawyers, as well as representatives from Orange and Rockland Utilities (the company which sold their property to Mirant), to a meeting in order to help sort things out.
They will be meeting together with Barrett. The attorney will also be in attendance at the next board meeting, or in four weeks, she said.