March 14, 2014 —
BLOOMINGBURG, NY — More than 200 newly registered voters in the Village of Bloomingburg have been formally challenged, and on March 13, dozens of FBI agents moved into the village to serve search warrants on buildings owned by developer Shalom Lamm. Village residents believe the investigation is related to allegations that many of the new voters have listed their addresses as buildings that Lamm owns, but they don’t really live there.
No one in an official capacity would confirm that is the focus of the FBI investigation, and no one from the Sullivan County Board of Elections (BOE) could comment on whether the FBI investigation had any impact on the status of the challenged voters. Both election commissioners, Rodney Gaebel and Ann Prusinski, said they had been told not to comment on the matter. Prusinksi did say a determination on the question of the challenged voters would not be made before the election on March 18.
It was generally believed before the election that if the votes of challenged voters are counted, the benefit would go to Mark Berentsen, who is a supporter of Lamm and who is the subject of a lawsuit to kick him out of office for the way he benefitted from Lamm’s 396-unit development, Villages at Chestnut Ridge.
If the challenged voters are blocked, it was believed that would benefit Berentsen’s opponent, Frank Gerardi, who is opposed to the development, and is running on the Rural Heritage Party (RHP) line.
The FBI confirmed that the searches were related to an investigation, but would not provide further details. Teek Persaud, who is a member of the board of the Rural Community Coalition, said that many village residents were pleased that the FBI appeared to be taking action as dozens of FBI agents and vehicles filtered through the town. Persaud said he considered this a win in the ongoing battle against the developer.
Joel Cohen, a lawyer for Lamm’s company Black Creek, told reporters that they were confident that ultimately the FBI would find no wrongdoing on Lamm’s part.
The sewer connection
Regardless of the findings concerning the challenged voters, events on the ground are moving forward, with Lamm continuing to make progress on his development and related projects. On the day before the raids, Lamm invited reporters to his office in Bloomingburg to unveil the new village sewage facility his company paid for.
While he wanted to keep the focus on the new facility, which he said several times his company is proud of, he also responded to a question about the lawsuit regarding the annexation of the land for the Villages at Chestnut Ridge development, which is being marketed to the Hasidic community and is at the center of the controversy here. He said an appellate court ruled the he could continue work on the project, which had been partially halted by a lower court, and he was “very confident” of ultimately winning the court battle.
In exchange for the annexation approval in 2006, Lamm promised to build and pay for a new sewer treatment facility that would serve the entire village, including his development. He said the village was under a consent order from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to repair or replace the existing facility by July of this year, or face the possibility of large fines, which the village could not afford to pay.
Lamm said that for years the existing sewer had been releaseing effluent into the Shawangunk Kill, a trout stream, and that the effluent had not always been treated correctly. The new sewer plant, which is about to go into the testing phase, and should be on line in April, will fix that problem as well as other problems and solve the repeated issues that were being cited by the DEC.
The new facility uses newer technology than the existing one, and can also handle more waste. The existing facility was designed to handle about 70,000 gallons per day, while the total load the new one will be able to handle is 325,000 gallons.
The new facility will also get rid of the foul odors that plague the area and drift past the Black Creek offices, which are located a stone’s throw away from the facility.