Easton Lane residents in Woodstock cited changing times and neighborhood safety as they expressed alarm at a timber harvest permit for land at the end of their narrow road, prompting the Planning Board to take another look before allowing work to resume.
The property, between Easton Lane and Blue’s Quarry Road has been under forest management since 1982, when Alex and Annabel Easton hired Anthony Del Vescovo to work on a forestry management plan. In 1999 and 2000, Del Vescovo managed a timber harvest to clean up damage done by Hurricane Floyd from 1998. “The forest that’s there now is largely a result of these management activities that I was a part of and it took place over the years,” Del Vescovo said.
The property has changed hands over the years and is now owned by Woodsy Mack, LLC, a company based in the Long Island town of North Bellmore run by John McCormack.
The McCormack family has a home on the property.
“We feel that this is a really positive thing for this property and continuing with the forest management. And New York State DEC are the ones that we report to on all of this. We had to get approval from them for the cutting that this was something good for the forest,” Del Vescovo said at a September 15 Planning Board public hearing on the timber harvest permit.
But Easton Lane residents say it’s not the same neighborhood as it was when the land was last harvested. Sara Kay complained about hearing of the application through the town, which she thinks is not very neighborly. “Had we received even a ‘Dear Neighbor’ letter or any effort to explain anything, it’s possible that we could have worked out and gotten our questions answered. But instead, we’re left to three-minute conversations in a public hearing to try to get some information about a project that has the potential to be incredibly disruptive,” Kay said. “We’re asking for some reasonable limitations to be placed on this license. We appreciate the need to maintain the forests. Nobody has an issue with that. And we understand there may be some inconvenience to the property owners surrounding (the forest)…Again, people are quite reasonable. But under the relevant state laws, and under the Woodstock town rules, special permits have to take into account the health and safety and well-being of the neighbors as well as the needs of the property owner.”
Kay complained the staging area will be directly across the street from four neighbors and a “stone’s throw” from two, including a couple who just had a baby. “There’s a very large lot that could be much further away from people, but they’ve chosen to put it in a place maybe that’s more convenient for them. But it’s going to generate noise and disruption to those of us who have to live here.”
Del Vescovo said there is no option to place the staging area anywhere else. “We really didn’t want to put it there. We had it there two other times over the years. As I mentioned, there were no mishaps. It got done and taken care of. And it’s not like it’s going to be a permanent operation,” he said.
Kay said when the McCormacks built their house, construction vehicles knocked out power lines, which are still less than 12 feet high. She wondered how logging trucks will be able to get down the road.
When Kay asked how long the harvesting will take, Del Vescovo said he couldn’t give an exact answer because it depends on weather conditions.
“We don’t want to go in there when the ground is wet and soft. We don’t want to make muddy conditions in there. So we’re looking for either dry like it was this summer, or frozen conditions, like we would hope it would be in the winter time. But the contract duration that we want to give the logger goes until the end of 2023.”
Del Vescovo explained it would be 60-65 days of logging within that time frame. He noted not all the work will be done at the staging area, with much of it happening some distance from people’s homes.
But Kay balked at Del Vescovo’s estimation of 40-50 truckloads of timber.
“Oh my God, you’re kidding? Going right by residential homes with little kids and dogs. And on a little skinny country road where by the way, my neighbor and friend, Kimberly Smith, had her property damaged by perhaps not the logger, but another piece of giant equipment that was going up to the McCormick’s house, to build their home or take down logs or whatever…it’s a really small place,” she said.
Planning Board Chair Peter Cross said the board can restrict the time of operation and the hours the trucks can roll. “We can certainly make it so they don’t go up and down the road at a time that people are commuting or kids are getting off the buses and whatnot,” Cross said.
Kay said she finds it hard to believe the staging area can’t be anywhere else, but Planning Board member Judith Kerman noted there really isn’t any other access according to county flyover photos.
Del Vescovo said the access from Chicken Joe Road, which is off Baumgarten Road, has a sharp turn with a rock wall on one side, making it impassable for large trucks.
Easton Lane resident Tara Ruth said there are old logging roads on the property and wondered why the staging area couldn’t be located off one of them.
Del Vescovo said it’s a matter of what type of equipment is used. “Machines that are made for moving timber and logs in the woods are off-road machines with big tires,” he said. “A log truck is a road truck that has to be able to travel down the highway. You can’t just take a highway truck and drive it through a woods where it’s rough and there’s stumps and there’s soft dirt. It doesn’t work that way.”
Del Vescovo conceded a logging truck could use McCormack’s driveway if a culvert was upgraded.
Planning Board weighs in
“I haven’t met Miss Kay before, but I echo her concerns and I echo everybody’s concerns that had been expressed in this public hearing,” said Planning Board member Brian Normoyle, who conducted the site walk. “When I went up there I immediately thought how the hell are they going to do a tree harvest up here, given the properties, the topography, and the residential community that’s embedded in that forest…I know that there’s a relationship with the DEC, and I know they’ve done this in the past, but it’s been a generation since this has happened. And a lot has happened since 2001,” he added. “I can’t imagine this happening in a reasonable way. I wouldn’t want it next to my house.”
Planning Board member John LaValle said a lot has changed in the last 40-50 years. “I think that we need to really visit this, revisit the entire process. This is not 1983 or 1981…It’s a vastly different township,” he said.
Cross said the Planning Board has approved many logging permits over the years, but the activities are almost always far away from houses. “This has definitely got a lot of folks living right next to it on a tiny road, and I agree with the other board members. I think we need to revisit this site and come up with a plan from the Planning Board, because it is definitely very close to a small neighborhood with one little road,” Cross said.
Cross recessed the public hearing pending another site visit by Planning Board members.