The beavers of Cackletown Road

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 10/5/21

NARROWSBURG, NY — A chain bars one end of Cackletown Road in Tusten, NY, stretching across the road at the top of a hill with a sign that says “Private property: keep out.”

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The beavers of Cackletown Road

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NARROWSBURG, NY — A chain bars one end of Cackletown Road in Tusten, NY, stretching across the road at the top of a hill with a sign that says “Private property: keep out.”

The sign and the chain were placed there by Robert Olman, who lives with his wife Yunhui on a property further down the road, according to another resident of the road, Nico Juarez. Juarez claims that the chain doesn’t mark the start of the Olman property, and that it blocks off around 300 feet of a public road.

Town of Tusten Supervisor Ben Johnson confirms, in part, Juarez’s account. While there is some ambiguity over where the town’s road ends and the private road begins, he says, as currently placed the chain marks the end of the town maintenance but not the end of the town road, and Olman does not have the right to block it off.

It’s an isolated incident, but one that’s part of a broader web of contested behavior involving Juarez, Olman, the wetlands by Cackletown Road and the Town of Tusten as a whole.

The wetland and its beavers

Juarez and Olman are currently embroiled in a civil lawsuit, connected to a criminal lawsuit that was resolved in September of 2020.

A portion of that lawsuit concerns the wetland that existed by Cackletown Road. A portion of the property bought by the Olmans was designated as a wetland in a 2008 survey done by Gary Packer, marked as the approximate location of NYS State-Regulated Wetland NA-3. The survey also marked a beaver dam as existing within that wetland.

According to Juarez, both the beavers and the wetland came up in the first conversation he and Robert Olman had, on April 21, 2018. In his counterclaims in the civil lawsuit, Juarez alleges that Olman introduced himself as a “hedge-fund headhunter” and went on to express interest in property development in the area, saying that he could kill the beavers and drain the pond but that it would turn into a buggy swamp if he did.

In their verified reply to Juarez’s counterclaims, the Olmans as plaintiffs deny the majority of that conversation, but admit to Robert Olman’s self-identification as a “hedge-fund headhunter.”

Juarez alleges that, two weeks following that conversation, on May 5, 2018, the Olmans began the process of draining the pond, hiring a contractor to make a breach in the beaver dam on their property, and that the breach was followed two weeks later by another on May 26, 2018.

In a verified complaint in the civil lawsuit, the Olman plaintiffs claim that “the beaver dam had been damaged by natural causes,” and deny responsibility for the damage.

A now-deleted comment on a GoFundMe started on the wetlands’ behalf, posted by an individual with the screen name ‘Robert Olman,’ reads, “There is no intention to drain the lake. There is a dedicated effort by a team of licenced, educated, and informed wetland and wildlife professionals, ENCON management instructors, civil engineers, and a caring, green landowner to develop and manage a sustainable water and wildlife management program at this location.”

The dam was eventually destroyed, and the beaver population declined, leading to the draining of the pond and the destruction of the wetlands, says Sharon T. Brown, a wildlife biologist with Beavers: Wetland & Wildlife. “NYDEC has done better than comparable agencies in many other states in acknowledging the many benefits of the freshwater wetlands beavers create. Still, DEC’s failure to protect the dam at Cackletown Lake that had provided wetland habitat for several rare species (wood turtles, timber rattlers and bald eagles) as well as many benefits for people (dams stabilize streams so that less costly flood damage occurs downstream) shows that much more needs to be done.”

A photo of the wetland by Cackletown Road, taken on May 14, 2018.
A photo of the wetland by Cackletown Road, taken on May 14, 2018.
The current state of the wetland by Cackletown Road, taken August 27, 2021.
The current state of the wetland by Cackletown Road, taken August 27, 2021.

Legal action

Soon after the alleged breaches to the beaver dam, Juarez and his neighbors began to spread awareness about the wetlands. Juarez went before the Tusten Town Board in June of 2018 to describe the situation, and other residents of Cackletown Road set up a GoFundMe to retain an environmental law firm to protect the wetlands from further damage.

Those public statements led to the Olmans’ attorney sending Juarez a letter in June of 2018, directing him to “cease and desist all defamation of… Robert Olman’s character and reputation,” according to Juarez’s counterclaims in the civil lawsuit.

Two years later, on May 3, 2020, following an encounter between Robert Olman and Juarez, Olman filed a criminal complaint against Juarez, accusing him of trespass.

The charge of trespass was not factual, in Juarez’s view; he had not entered Olman’s property, and had only approached Olman because the latter called to him, which Juarez claims was meant to entrap him. When the case went to trial in September of that year, the court exonerated Juarez of the charge.

In the meantime, Olman had filed a civil complaint against Juarez and two of his neighbors—a complaint that relied, in part, on an order of protection that would have been imposed on Juarez if he had taken an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD) instead of going to trial—alleging, among other charges, defamation.

The Olman plaintiffs have since dropped the charge of defamation, and Juarez responded to the civil suit with counterclaims, following his exoneration in the criminal case; that lawsuit remains ongoing.

But other area residents have allegations of similar harassment and threats of legal action from Robert Olman. A source who remained anonymous in fear of retaliation attested to that harassment, saying that residents of Cackletown Road were “cowering” in fear of Olman’s litigious behavior.

Brown experienced a threat of legal action as well. Following an appraisal she made of the beaver dam in 2018, Brown says she called Robert Olman to offer advice on preserving the wetlands and the beavers while allowing for needed development, and he responded with a threat to sue.

What’s at stake?

The case between Juarez and Olman has implications beyond Cackletown Road.

According to Juarez, Robert Olman has expressed intentions of real estate development in several areas of the Town of Tusten, including his property on Cackletown Road and another property on the same road known as “the camp.”

A post from June 15, 2020 on the Luxton Lake, Narrowsburg NY Facebook page advertises a presentation by Olman at the Town of Tusten planning board, concerning proposed mobile homes to be built on Lake Shore Lane.

As the chairman of the Town of Tusten Zoning Board of Appeals, Juarez has the power of oversight when Olman’s developments need zoning variances.

Additionally, in the coming election cycle, Yunhui Olman is running for Tusten councilwoman, on a platform of bringing change to the town board and of distributing resources to the town beyond Main Street.

The civil lawsuit mentioned in this article is ongoing. Both Yunhui and Robert Olman declined multiple requests to be interviewed on the record in connection with this article.

Yunhui Olman’s candidacy, in addition to her husband’s development plans, turns the case between them and Juarez from a private dispute into a matter of public note.

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