In response to public outcry from Gardiner residents living in the neighborhood of Tillson Lake, the Gardiner Town Board decided at its May 8 meeting to declare the town in active opposition to the proposal by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC), under the aegis of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), “to remove the dam and dewater Tillson Lake; to revise the 2010 Minnewaska State Park Preserve Master Plan…and to proceed with the permit process for the dam removal.”
On April 13, OPRHP informed town officials of its intent to pursue the project, with itself designated lead agency for the State Environmental Quality Review process. Deputy supervisor Laura Walls responded by drafting a resolution requesting “that the PIPC and the OPRHP withdraw the application to the NYS DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] for decommissioning of the dam and revision of the Park Master Plan and rescind the notice regarding SEQR Lead Agency Designation.”
The resolution cited in considerable detail provisions in the Town of Gardiner Master Plan that establish long-term goals of “protecting and preserving special natural resources and key water bodies and to improve opportunities for public access to recreation-related open space and waterways,” “to improve protection of the Shawangunk Ridge, the Shawangunk Kill, the Wallkill River and other waterways in the town” and “to both broaden and stabilize the Town’s tax base; any devaluation of property values in the Town of Gardiner is unacceptable.” It adds that “the Town of Gardiner is currently addressing townwide concerns about water quantity and quality.”
Aside from demonstrating that the proposed lake drainage runs counter to the town’s own planning priorities, the resolution also lists ways in which the project fails to conform with the goals stated in the Master Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) prepared by New York State for the Minnewaska State Park Preserve, of which Tillson Lake is now a part. The FEIS findings “establish the protection of the water resources in the Park Preserve as a major goal of this Plan,” the resolution notes.
“The Park Master Plan identifies Tillson Lake as the only one of the Park’s four lakes appropriate for fishing, and if eliminated would dispossess fisherpersons from a food source and a time-honored recreation, and the MP describes an improved parking area and a gravel boat launch be built to provide better for fishing and boating,” it continues. The wording elaborates on Tillson Lake’s historic recreational value to town residents, as well as its value as a primary water source for the Shawangunk Valley Fire Department in fighting house, forest and brush fires.
The retort to the state agencies wraps up with a procedural slap on the wrist: “The Town of Gardiner has myriad questions about the 2012 Engineering Assessment Report for Tillson Lake Dam prepared for OPHRP and PIPC related to transparency, failure to implement recommendations and lack of prior coordination with the Town.” The proposal to decommission the dam and drain the lack is based on the findings of the engineering report, according to PIPC.
Walls’ resolution passed unanimously, with councilman Mike Reynolds absent from the meeting. Opponents of the “dewatering” project, who formed a not-for-profit organization called Save Tillson Lake to fight the proposal, applauded the Town Board’s action. “Laura Walls did a brilliant job,” said community activist Annie O’Neill. ++