Neighbors oppose cultural center expansion

FRITZ MAYER
Posted 4/17/19

CUDDEBACKVILLE, NY — Dragon Springs Buddhist, Inc. (DSB) has been located in the Town of Deerpark since 2001. The now sprawling facility includes three temples, residential buildings, a …

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Neighbors oppose cultural center expansion

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CUDDEBACKVILLE, NY — Dragon Springs Buddhist, Inc. (DSB) has been located in the Town of Deerpark since 2001. The now sprawling facility includes three temples, residential buildings, a meditation hall, a college and K-12 school, a visitor center, a man-made lake and more.

 The facility is used by people who practice the spiritual philosophies of Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong.  The facility is also used to train some of the dancers in six dance troupes that tour the world with a traditional Chinese dance performance called Shen Yun. 

DSB has been wrangling with local officials and residents over the requirement of town zoning for years. Now DSB wants to undergo a significant expansion. The group has submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) regarding the expansion. The last approved site plan for the facility was in 2014. The authors of the DEIS freely admit that, “The project sponsor is seeking approval of a comprehensive site plan to both expand the religious use on the site and to rectify various structures which were constructed without a planning board approval.”

There was a public hearing on the DEIS on April 10, at the Port Jervis High School. Some 600 people filled the auditorium, and most of the 48 speakers were adamantly opposed to allowing the project to expand. 

The DSB is situated between the Basha Kill and the Neversink River. Andrew Willingham, an engineer representing the Basha Kill Area Association spoke about the proposed 100,000 gallon per day sewage treatment system that would empty into the Basha Kill. He said the DSB has a history with a stormwater discharge permit that racked up violation after violation. He also said that DSB has a history that shows they would not be able to comply with the terms of a much more complicated permit covering such a large sewer system.

Willingham also noted the expansion plans include an 1,100-car parking garage and a 900-person auditorium. State code requires fire apparatus roads going up to the buildings, he noted. “You need to be able to pull up next to it, get a ladder up on top of it, all kinds of regulations that they don’t meet at all,” Willingham said. “[The DEIS] doesn’t really come close.”

Erik Silldorff, restoration director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, also strongly opposed the expansion. “The draft environmental impact statement that has been provided is incomplete and inaccurate and fails to characterize the impacts from the proposed development,” he said. “The Town of Deerpark, the state of New York, the Basha Kill, the Neversink River and the Delaware River will all suffer serious and unacceptable harm.

 “Five acres of forested wetland that will be inundated as a result of the proposed dam, will disappear forever,” he continued. “The small trout stream that will receive stormwater and wastewater from the proposal will likely no longer support trout or trout spawning.”

John Hayes, a board member of Friends of Shawangunks (FOS) said, “The projected number of visitors to the site, more than 2,000 per day, will have a devastating impact on the small narrow [roads in the area]. It is FOS’s contention that the amount of consideration given to the impact of traffic on these roads, not to mention the degradation of air quality from cars, trucks and busses, has been insufficient, and thus must be denounced in the strongest terms.”

 “Dragon Springs is not environmentally friendly, to put it mildly,” said Grace Woodard, a resident of the area. “The Basha Kill filled, in 2018, six times with plumes of runoff from construction activities.”

Representatives from DSB made no comment at the meeting on any of the complaints. A few people spoke in favor of the activities of the organization and welcomed the entertainment and business activity DSB brought to the area.

Getting along with firefighters

When DBS first opened, fire officials could not get in to see if the structures being built were up to code, and could not observe conditions in the sprawling compound. In recent years, however, relations between DSB and fire officials have improved.

Fire District Commissioner Anthony Roussos said in an interview in the Cuddebackville Fire Department building that he began visiting the compound last year, and on one visit he took 19 colleagues from neighboring fire departments along with him. On the table beside Roussos were two binders provided by the DSB about the compound and its various structures. He said changes are still needed at the compound, but the people at the top of the organization are cooperating with him, especially the organization’s current president Jonathan Lee.

For more about this story, visit https://riverreporter.com/opinion-editorial/residents-anger-wealthy-cult-justified.

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