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Toronto Reservoir access battle appears over; public will be allowed to cross through

By Fritz Mayer
February 29, 2012

The 10-year legal battle over whether or not the public will be allowed to traverse land in the development created by the Woodstone Companies appears to be over. According to an application filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Alliance Energy Renewables (AER) posted a bond of $402,000 and, “Accordingly, as of February 24, the public has a right to travel along this pathway to the recreation area.”

It’s not clear if the gates blocking the way have been taken down, yet, but Smallwood resident Bob Barrett believes if they are not down yet, they soon will be.

According to Barrett, Judge Michael H. Melkonian ruled on the eminent domain case brought against Woodstone Companies and developer Steve Dubrovsky in January, and said that AER will be granted the land in question.

AER is licensed by FERC to operate a hydropower plant at the Swinging Birgde reservoir, and one of the conditions of the permit is that there needs to be two areas of public access to the Toronto Reservoir. The legal battle was over whether that provision of the license could be enforced, and one of the access points has been blocked for most of the last 10 years.

Two years ago, AER moved to sell its reservoirs and hydropower operations in Sullivan County to The Eagle Creek Companies, but FERC denied the transfer of title for the Toronto until the matter of access was resolved, forcing AER into the eminent domain proceeding.

In discussing the judge’s decision, Barrett said, “The judge said what I said 10 years ago: that the Bethel Planning Board did not listen to the fact that there was an impediment to an application by Woodstone when they were going to build that section of their project, and that impediment also appeared in the deed.”

He continued, “That planning board, because of misinformation or being misled or whatever it was, just went along with Woodstone and refused to accept the information that I brought forward 10 years ago. And this thing has dragged on for this period of time because of that.”

Barrett said this is just about the end of the matter because there is no appeal on the eminent domain procedure. He said the $402,000 is to compensate Dubrovsky and two other property owners for the easements, and the amount of the award can be appealed, but the not the use of the road.

Dubrovsky’s attorney John Houghton, however, said his office has filed an appeal of the decision and, “If it stands, my client must be justly compensated.”