By Dan Hust
WURTSBORO March 16, 2007 While the Basha Kill Area Association (BKAA) fights criticism on the homefront, it’s lost a battle over the proposed Yukiguni Maitake mushroom plant in Wurtsboro.
Sullivan County Supreme Court Justice Robert Sackett ruled on March 5 that the BKAA had not established sufficient standing to challenge the Town of Mamakating Planning Board’s August 22, 2006 decision to grant site plan approval and a special use permit for the construction of Yukiguni Maitake Manufacturing Corporation of America’s 44,563-square-foot, two-story mushroom processing plant near Wurtsboro.
The BKAA and plant neighbor Jodi Rubenstein argued that the facility especially if fully built out in phases to a planned 206,344-square-foot four stories would harm the environment and quality of life in the area, and that the planning board had not exercised due diligence in researching and approving the plan and its impact.
Sackett, however, found Rubenstein’s arguments uncompelling and determined that Yukiguni and the planning board had met all appropriate requirements.
“This court is satisfied that the planning board took a ‘hard look’ at the areas of environmental concern and made a reasoned elaboration of the basis for its determination as required by Environmental Conservation Law,” wrote the judge.
“… The planning board’s approval of the site plan and special use permit had a rational basis and is supported by substantial evidence,” he concluded. “Accordingly, the petition is dismissed in its entirety.”
“I’m glad,” acknowledged Kazunori Kameyama, president of Yukiguni Maitake Manufacturing Corp.
Although weary of the constant battles over the plant, he said many American groups and individuals are eagerly awaiting the promise of Maitake mushrooms, heralded for their health benefits.
Now that the town-level hurdles have been crossed, the Japanese-based company plans to submit applications for needed permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Health and the Delaware River Basin Commission.
Once those are given, Kameyama expects construction could begin either later this year or next.
When fully built, the plant is anticipated to process 33 tons of mushrooms a day and employ up to 250 people.
As for the BKAA, President Paula Medley said the organization’s suit will continue through an appeal under Rubenstein’s name.
Judge Sackett did grant Rubenstein had standing to bring a suit, and Medley pointed out that the judge did not dismiss the BKAA on the merits of its argument but simply on the fact that it had not clearly established standing in the matter.
“The decision from Judge Sackett is not surprising in light of the fact that he made similar decisions” in past cases, Medley remarked. “We have known all along that our chances were not that great on the local Supreme Court level.
“But we still believe our legal arguments are strong,” she continued. “And we are definitely planning to appeal.”
Sup. Penna Takes on BKAA
By Dan Hust
WURTSBORO Mamakating Supervisor Charlie Penna admits he may be one of the only political officials nowadays who will directly attack an environmental group.
And he says he has good reason to go after the Basha Kill Area Association (BKAA) in his home township.
“They’re going to throw us into bankruptcy,” he remarked this week. “If I don’t say something, it will just continue.”
But Penna isn’t just questioning the BKAA’s activities he’s claiming the non-profit steward of the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area near Wurtsboro is deliberately railroading the town.
And he’s posted a lengthy letter about it on Mamakating’s town website (www.mamakating.org/bkaa/sharks.htm), complete with the image of a shark attacking a man.
“They’re professional lobbyists,” he said. “They’re very good at what they do.”
BKAA President Paula Medley, on the other hand, sees nothing but lies, anger and politics in Penna’s diatribe.
“You have the supervisor of the town using his powers of office to pursue a vendetta against the BKAA and other non-profits who don’t necessarily agree with his point of view,” she said this week.
“He’s the shark the one who preys on the fears of people.”
“He’s angry at our organization because he perceives we had something to do with his almost losing the election a year and a half ago,” Medley explained, claiming a resident heard Penna vow to “get us back.”
One thing is for certain: Penna is not pleased with the BKAA. Recently, he attempted to bar a longtime BKAA board member from serving on the Town of Mamakating Parks and Recreation Advisory Panel, resulting in an angry rebuke from Panel President Jackie Broder.
Now, his 1,400-word letter lambastes the 500-member BKAA for seizing “the golden opportunity of using the Bashakill name to fight and lobby all potential growth, jobs and development in the area while working towards obtaining as much land as possible taken off the tax rolls.”
The 35-year-old BKAA contracts with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in efforts to preserve the Bashakill and the surrounding state-owned wildlife management area. As a steward in the Adopt a Natural Resource Program, the BKAA conducts educational programs, monthly water testing, and an annual cleanup.
But it’s also a major environmental force in matters extending beyond the DEC and the Bashakill, and its members have frequently been vocal critics of various plans to develop the area, including but not limited to the Bashakill.
Likening its potential to the Cape May, NJ region, Penna claims the Bashakill is not being utilized effectively.
Yet his scope is far larger. Penna feels the BKAA has helped to take so much land off the tax rolls and fought so vigorously against developments like the Yukiguni Maitake mushroom factory that they’ve stunted the entire township’s growth.
“The state is the biggest property owner in the town,” he said, claiming the BKAA has succeeded in adding 5,000 more Bashakill acres to state ownership through the years and wants more.
“They’re not satisfied until they have it all,” he said. “They have their own agenda, and it’s not in the best interests of the town.”
Penna believes it’s because a good deal of the BKAA’s membership does not reside in Mamakating.
“They use locals to manipulate the issues here in Sullivan County,” he claimed.
He’s also of the mind that Democrats have used the BKAA to try to discredit and marginalize him considering his status as a conservative Republican. (Penna is up for re-election this year but has indicated he does not plan to run.)
And should anyone dare to speak out against the BKAA, “they use intimidation,” he concluded. “I refuse to be intimidated.”
According to Medley, Penna has also refused to listen.
“Charlie wants to be able to blame us for things,” she said. “It’s a passive-aggressive stance… and I don’t think there’s anything we can do to change his mind.”
As for his claims about the BKAA, Medley disputed them all, saying the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area only comprises around 3,000 acres which, thanks to the late Assemblyman Jake Gunther, pours around $45,000 every year into county and town coffers through taxes and special payment arrangements.
“We do not participate in land acquisition,” she added, explaining that the BKAA may assist in identifying properties worthy of environmental protection, if necessary.
Medley also pointed out that Mamakating has the least amount of tax-exempt land vs. taxable land in all of Sullivan County (9.4 percent of the town’s land area as of 2005).
As for the concern over “outsiders” influencing local issues, Medley said 9 of the BKAA’s 10 board members live in Mamakating, and while she acknowledged the group is open to all and includes a sizeable amount of people who don’t live in the township, the BKAA was incorporated in Westbrookville and focuses on local environmental issues.
Regarding the political overtones, Medley believes Penna may be assuming people are speaking on behalf of the BKAA at meetings when in fact they are not.
“I’m the only person, or my representative, who can represent the BKAA at board meetings,” she stated.
Furthermore, she said, the organization is not interested in bankrupting Mamakating and “has only brought a couple of lawsuits against the town” most recently over the controversial mushroom factory, which the BKAA feels would harm the environment. (Yukiguni has paid the legal fees, not Mamakating, she added.)
Indeed, she’d like to foster more cooperation from town officials, who have yet to even offer a link to the BKAA on the town’s Website.
Medley would also like to know what fellow town board members think of Penna’s comments.
“Did they approve this or go along with this?” she asked.
Sean Moriarty said he agrees with Penna but was not made aware of the letter beforehand.
“The Bashakill is a beautiful area, and I think it should be harnessed [for tourism],” Moriarty explained, adding that he’s not advocating for pollution but for better promotion.
He also wondered where the BKAA gets funding to mount expensive legal campaigns.
“All they want to do is stop any kind of growth,” he said. “They’re just about against everything, some of these members.”
Still, Moriarty wrote a letter to Penna this week urging him to remove the Bashakill letter from the town’s Website, as the town board had not been made aware of the piece prior to its publication.
Board member Judith Young had not yet read the letter, as she just returned from vacation yesterday, but she agreed with Moriarty that the letter should have been passed by the town board before being uploaded to the Website.
“This was not discussed with me as a town board member,” she pointed out. “I do not approve of the town Website being used for any political purpose.”
Young lamented that this, however, is business as usual.
“Charlie Penna has a history of not sharing information with the town board,” she said. “He does what he wants to do, and when you question him, he attacks you.”
Board member Nick Salomone was just as strong in his wording.
“It’s horrible,” he said of the letter. “It’s politically motivated, and we never sanctioned it.”
Salomone also said he “strongly disagrees” with Penna’s thoughts regarding the Bashakill and the BKAA.
“I think they’re a vital group,” he remarked.
Deputy Supervisor Regina Saunders, the fifth board member, said she was “a little annoyed” with the fact that people have automatically assumed the board signed off on Penna’s letter.
“It’s not a case of whether I agree with it or not,” she explained. “It’s Mr. Penna’s feelings, and he’s entitled to them.
“But I did not write it my name is not on it,” she continued, saying she was unaware of the letter until it was published. “Unfortunately, I feel I’m being connected with it only because I’m on the town board.”
Saunders assured all that should she choose to speak about the BKAA, people will know it’s coming from her.
In that light, the matter is sure to be brought up at the next town board meeting, scheduled for this Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the town hall off Route 209 in Wurtsboro.