Wednesday, August 01, 2007


It's time for the OD report about just plain folk protesting.

This time its some people around Bethel, New York who would just like to get to the lake, but can't because of a gated community of well offers.

Friends of the Toronto Reservoir is planning a short march and what organizers describe as a “speak-out” on Saturday, August 4 at 11:30 a.m. Demonstrators will gather at Route 55 and Moscoe Road and walk to the gate at Chapin Estate on Route 55. They want to be able to get to the lake along a road now cut off by private development, huge homes, and a gated community.

In June 2006, the group demonstrated at the controversial gate on Town Road 62 blocking access to Toronto Reservoir, which is hidden from public view because of its remote location. According to demonstration organizer Mary Anne Burke, the group chose the more public gate this time with the goal of reaching more members of the public, and perhaps bringing their cause to the attention of residents who reside in Chapin Estate.

The developer of the gated community has been locked in a legal battle with residents of the community for more than four years over public access to Toronto Reservoir through private property within the development. Alliance Energy Renewables, which in May purchased the reservoir, and is charged with maintaining public access to it, has not yet indicated how it intends to handle the dispute.

The new gate was erected by Woodstone Development, which is trying to keep private the road into its tony Chapin Estates development. Toronto Reservoir, however, was owned at the time by the hydroelectric company Mirant Corp. (and now Alliance Energy), is required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to provide public access.

There's an entrance from Moscoe Road in Bethel, but the Smallwood entrance from Pine Grove Road leads to the preferred beach and boat launch. Woodstone's position on the matter, as expressed in a statement from their lawyers: Their property has no public access. All roads on the Chapin Estates property are private.

This brouhaha may not seem like much to you, but to folks who for generations have been able to go down to their little lake for a picnic or to fish or to swim or whatever, it matters.

These are certainly not the poorest folks in the world (or in the country, or in New York), and this is not the biggest issue facing all of humankind. The topic of lake access is, I'm pretty sure, unlikely to come up in a Presidential debate near you.

No, it's just another one of those everyday irritants that get people's dander up and deserve someone at least paying attention.

And like most everything else in America, class plays a part.

The following story comes from the Times Herald Record (Bethel, New York)

Gated beach entrance angers Bethel residents

Bethel — Once again, Bethel developer Steve Dubrovsky is facing protests. Last summer, it was 27 people holding signs saying he was a greedy developer. This Saturday the same protestors are coming again.

The issue of access to the Toronto Reservoir won't go away quietly for The Chapin Estate developer. Residents said they are not going to stop protesting until Dubrovsky removes a gate at the end of Town Road 62, once the most popular access point to the deep waters.

On Monday as a dress rehearsal to a larger protest coming Saturday, Mary Ann Burke and other residents stood outside the gated community of million-dollar homes in the heart of western Sullivan County, holding signs. This is becoming a recurring nightmare for the man who is marketing a quiet lake club retreat to Manhattan's doctors and corporation heads.

"Dubrovsky: locks out the public from the right to use the Toronto Reservoir," one sign said.

"Dubrovsky: tear down this gate."

Nothing has changed about the issue. Town Road 62 peters out about a mile from the Reservoir, and Dubrovsky owns the private road, and he put up a gate. For nearly four years now, Burke and other residents have been fighting Dubrovsky to remove it.

Dubrovsky has won some recent rounds. Last year, state Supreme Court Judge Robert Sackett ruled in his favor, saying he had a right to stop non-Chapin residents from tramping along his private road.

"The court has ruled against them on this access issue," Dubrovsky said in a release this week in response to the protesters.

"However this is a free country, and if they want to protest the courts decision, they certainly can."

To calm waters in the past, Dubrovsky offered to build a road to another access point. He and the town couldn't reach a deal. And as he pointed out, providing access to the reservoir is not his problem.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said it is the dam owner's problem.

In this case, Alliance Renewable's problem. That company, which recently purchased the dam from Mirant, must provide two public access points, as required by their FERC operating licence. With the Smallwood entrance blocked, that leaves just one access point — off Moscoe Road on the other side of the lake.

"Nothing has changed," FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said. "They have to comply with the terms and conditions of the license."

Alliance did what it has frequently done since taking ownership of Mirant's dams this year: to not comment.

Dubrovsky, who is viewed by many in Sullivan as something of a savior for boosting the tax base in Bethel, is looked upon differently by his neighbors.

The bottom line, said Burke, is that for 25 years, any resident rich or poor could walk down Town Road 62, lined with lush trees, and eventually reach a white sandy beach, swimming holes and a trout stream flowing nearby.

That is, she said, until Dubrovsky put an iron gate across the road and big, red no trespassing signs along their walk.

Now only rich weekenders can get through.

And that's why protesters carrying signs will be camped outside The Chapin Estate this Saturday.

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