Ted Waddell | Democrat
RAY AND GRACE Sheenan carried signs demanding the access off Town Road 62 be opened up to the public.
Again, a Tiff Over Reservoir Access
By Ted Waddell
BETHEL August 7, 2007 “We feel these people have closed off a public entrance to a lake that has been in use by the public for sixty or seventy years,” said Dr. Herman Goldfarb of Smallwood.
On Saturday, about 30 folks representing the Friends of Toronto, a grassroots organization devoted to forcing the re-opening of a second public access to Toronto Reservoir, showed up for a “speakout” outside the front entrance to the Chapin Estate, a high-end gated community created by Woodstone Development, headed up by Steve Dubrovsky.
In 1992, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted a license (#10482) to Mirant Energy to generate hydroelectric power at the dam on Toronto Reservoir.
One of the requirements of the license was the power company had to maintain two public access points to the lake: one off Moscoe Road near the entrance to what would become Chapin Estate, and a second at the end of Town Rd 62 in Smallwood, at the other side of the 850-acre lake.
After Woodstone bought approximately 5,700 acres (to date, about 2,500 acres have been developed) including land surrounding the lake, they built a gate closing off private property at the end of the town road, an action that many local folks viewed as “illegal”, but the move was backed by a decision handed down by NYS Supreme Court Judge Robert Sackett.
In a ruling dated February 26, 2007, Judge Sackett issued a decision against plaintiffs Bob and June Barrett, who sought the court to intervene in their quest to force Woodstone into opening up Smallwood access to the reservoir.
“It is undisputed that the easement reserved in 1971 is not in their chain of title, so that indeed, they are ‘strangers to the deed’… Consequently, any easement reserved in favor of O & R [Orange and Rockland Utilities, Mirant’s predecessor] was ineffective to create an easement in favor of the proposed intervenors…” said Judge Sackett.
“To the extent that the proposed intervenors seek to enforce their alleged right to use the easement pursuant to the FERC License, no such rights emanate from a license issued pursuant to the Federal Power Act (see USC 825P). Equally if not more significant is the fact that defendants Woodstone are not parties to the FERC License.”
The court ruling is under appeal, and on Friday, August 17, a closed hearing between the involved parties is set before Judge Robert C. Williams in Monticello in an effort to resolve the vexing issues.
In the past, Dubrovsky offered to build a second public access.
Proposed plans presented to the former town board showed an improved road with better parking at the site of the Moscow Road Boat Launch, but the deal collapsed, according to Woodstone, because there “wasn’t enough public interest.”
Dubrovsky makes no bones about his position.
His corporation owns the land at the end of TR 62, but it’s the power company’s mandated responsibility to maintain two public accesses as stipulated in the FERC license.
Mirant recently sold out to Alliance Energy, thus creating what is now called the Mongaup System consisting of a quartet of reservoirs (Toronto, Swinging Bridge, Mongaup Falls and Rio).
Along with the dam at Toronto, Alliance inherited the mandate to maintain two accesses for the general public.
“They have to comply with the terms and conditions of the license,” FERC spokesperson Celeste Miller was quoted.
But all that still doesn’t make the Friends of Toronto a happy bunch of beachgoers.
With the locked iron gate at the end of TR 62 and plenty of large red “No Trespassing” signs, there’s no more fishing, boating, walks through the woods or relaxing on the sandy beach at least at that end of Toronto.
“They own the property but not the access, which is an easement from the electric company which they are required to have by FERC,” said Dr. Goldfarb.
“It’s a classical case of the big shot against the little guy,” he added. “Now these rich people come over and take it over, illegally denying us access to our lake.”
Ray and Grace Sheenan have lived in Smallwood for about 13 years, and are angry about the locked gate at the end of the road.
He carried a sign reading “Keep Toronto Lake Open” while his wife’s read “Dubrovsky. Private Greed vs. Public Good”.
“It’s our lake and our beach,” said Ray Sheenan.
Last year, at a similar “speak out” in front of the gatehouse, the folks from the Chapin Estate offered the protesters bottles of cold water.
This year, a couple of Chapin Estate representatives sat alongside the road with bottles of ice cold water, hot coffee and fresh donuts.
But once again, no takers.
“It’s sort of like a peace offering… I won’t accept it because it’s against my principles,” said Helen Noeth of Mongaup Valley.
Nino Nannarone, a 20-some year resident of Smallwood, said, “We don’t want the coffee, the water or the donuts. What we want is the lake.”
In previously published reports, Richard Stoloff, an attorney-at-law representing Woodstone, Development, LLC, said the private development corporation cannot be held to the stipulations outlined in a FERC license issued to a power company.
“I understand the protesters’ frustration with the access issue on Toronto Reservoir,” said Dubrovsky on Monday.
“But the court has confirmed our longstanding belief that there is no public easement through our property, and that we are not a party to the FERC License. They really need to communicate with FERC to find an alternative.”