By Ted Waddell and Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE May 3, 2005 The last item on the agenda was a hot one at Thursday's regularly scheduled Town of Bethel Board meeting.
Bob Barrett, arguably the leader of a three-year fight to maintain a specific public access to Toronto Reservoir explained in the deed as "an easement area described as Cliff Lake Access," addressed the board and a packed house, reporting an incident that occured on Monday, April 25.
"A very ugly incident happened on Monday," he alleged. "My wife and I went out to that dam site and I know we had the right to be there and when we tried to leave, a pickup truck was put in front of me."
According to Barrett (the 71-year-old president of the Smallwood Civic Association and member of its offshoot organization, Friends of Toronto), when he and his wife June, 68, went down to the access, they were prevented from leaving the area by a construction worker later identified as "Wade," who got down off an excavating machine and blocked in their vehicle with a pickup truck.
"Then the developer came, and his words to us were, 'I don't care if you're here all night, you're not getting out,'" claimed Barrett, alleging it was a case of harassment.
I feel the developer should be notified by this town board that he is not to interfere with the public's right to enter the area," Barrett told the Bethel board.
In a follow-up phone conversation, Barrett identified the developer as Steve Dubrovsky, the guiding light behind Woodstone Development and the Chapin Estate, a multi-million-dollar housing development that borders the reservoir and owns property around the two public accesses.
Barrett told the audience that he called 911, and after "about an hour and 10 or 15 minutes," Det. Don Starner of the Sullivan County Sheriff's Dept. and Town of Bethel Constable Doug Ketchum arrived at the scene and told the operator of the truck to move it, thus allowing the Barretts to leave.
According to Barrett, Det. Starner said he would continue the investigation through records on file with the town and contacts with the Sullivan County District Attorney's Office.
When contacted yesterday, Det. Starner said he responded to the scene as backup to Town of Bethel Constable Ketchum.
In an effort to keep the peace, he said the incident was treated as a no-arrest situation, as Barrett complained about being detained on property granted public access by a recent FERC ruling, while Dubrovsky said Barrett and his wife were trespassing on private property.
"Steve Dubrovsky does not feel they have a right to be on the land ... [but] FERC said yes, they do." said Starner.
"He [Dubrovsky] is in the process of building a road to go around that whole situation [the FERC access site at the dam]," added Starner.
(Woodstone declined to comment on the road in question, and Bethel Supervisor Victoria Simpson would only say that Dubrovsky is working on a road in that general vicinity.)
"Steve Dubrovsky didn't want to get into an arrest situation, and Mr. Barrett didn't want to get into any type of arrest situation the whole problem is that Mr. Barrett is representing the Smallwood Civic Association that says they have a right to be there on the property. . . . Well, Mr. Dubrovsky says no, it's my property and you don't have a right to be there," continued Starner.
"Until some judge someplace rules on it, it's going to be problem," he added.
According to Starner, Dubrovsky told him that he has paperwork showing that he has title free and clear but to date has not forwarded these documents to the Sheriff's Department.
David Allen, general manager of Woodstone Development, said yesterday that Barretts version of the situation is inaccurate.
He was trespassing, said Allen, and Woodstone is considering whether or not to file charges.
Bob Barrett has continually been trespassing on Chapin Estate, said Allen, adding that Barrett has previously been told to stop.
Allen said he had an incident report which indicated the Barretts were deliberately blocked in while a Woodstone employee called the police to have the couple escorted out.
When contacted yesterday, Supervisor Simpson said the dispute is between Dubrovsky and Barrett and is not a town matter.
Some thought this issue was over.
Woodstone with the support of the town board, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, the U.S. Interior Department and the reservoirs hydroelectric company Mirant Bowline and others had petitioned FERC to amend its license to allow for just one expanded access off Moscoe Road plus a new trout fishing area, so as to avoid routing public traffic through Woodstone property on the way to the dam access.
After a three-year fight, FERC issued an "Order Denying Recreational Plan Amendment" dated April 18, 2005, in response to a request by Mirant NY-General LLC, licensee for the Swinging Bridge Project No. 10482, "to amend the project's recreation plan to close a boat launch and expand a recreation area."
In denying the application, Pat Wood III (chairman) and commissioners Nora Mead Brownell, Joseph T. Kelliher and Suedeen G. Kelly ruled, "This order is in the public interest because it ensures appropriate public recreation at the site," adding later, "We have also explained that we will not allow the interests of private landowners to override the general public's right to enjoy the recreational resources.
But various interpretations of deeds to the property may force a legal determination as to whether or not the road to the dam access is privately owned or open to the public a situation Dubrovsky apparently is attempting to remedy by building another road to the access, away from the highly private Chapin Estate.
Although Woodstone would not comment on the matter, several years ago one of the plans offered by Dubrovsky was to build a new road off Town Road 62 and turn it over to Bethel to afford access to the area.