Homowack faces arson, investigation
By Dan Hust
PHILLIPSPORT More violations were cited, and a fire broke out at the old Homowack Lodge in Phillipsport this past weekend.
Yet the aging hotel which emergency officials have called a fire trap remains occupied as of Sunday evening, when neighbors and passersby observed at least two dozen teenage girl campers on the grounds.
Authorities have been insisting the Homowack undertake a voluntary evacuation due to a host of safety and sanitary issues discovered after an oil spill on July 9, but a mandatory evacuation order may be near.
At the end of last week, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) slapped more violations on the Homowack’s owners, a Hasidic group based in Rockland County.
The DEC cited the owners on two counts of operating a solid waste management facility without a permit, one of which is a misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $22,500.
The state Department of Health (DOH), however, is undertaking efforts with its Division of Legal Affairs to force the Homowack’s occupants to relocate and the Attorney General’s Office may get involved if that order is ignored.
The department has already cited the Homowack for a host of sanitary and safety issues.
“The Monticello District Office of the DOH is working with other agencies to try to get the operators of the camp to comply with the citations issued and if not, probably move to order an evacuation,” said DOH spokesperson Juan Merino yesterday.
Adding to the trouble was Saturday’s fire which consumed a three-story building that formerly housed Homowack staff.
The State Police are investigating it as arson, as the building was abandoned and utilities were turned off.
The fire was discovered by a passerby at 5 a.m. Saturday, by which time the quarters were fully engulfed. Summitville, Wurtsboro, Ellenville, Bloomingburg and Westbrookville fire departments responded but could not save the structure (which, according to the Town of Mamakating, already had been cited for a code violation).
Police said a small, dark-colored car was seen in the area at the time, while Summitville FD Chief Tim Koestler told the Democrat yesterday that three people were seen running near the building early that morning.
Anyone with info is asked to call the State Police at 888-5379 or 292-6600.
A false alarm was set off in the main lodge later in the day due to a child pulling a fire alarm handle which indicated, as Koestler confirmed, that people are still occupying the complex, possibly as many as 400, including dozens of children.
“There are just as many people there now,” Koestler said, “if not more.”
Mamakating Supervisor Bob Fiore indicated yesterday that evacuations are contingent upon the owners finding appropriate space for the Homowack’s occupants but that the township is intent on emptying the buildings.
“We’re not waiting to get approval from them [the owners],” Fiore said.
He added that Mamakating Councilman Teddy Brebbia has been working with him to photograph the property and identify areas of concern.
“We will be initiating a program to deal with these buildings,” he promised, “... which will probably include securing all the structures so no one has access to them.”