Money won’t heal pain caused by legal fight, Smiley patriarc

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Money won’t heal pain caused by legal fight, Smiley patriarc

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From the unofficial Town of Rochester News

Thursday, June 2, 2011

TOWN OF ROCHESTER — The penalty phase of a lawsuit won by Smiley family members against the Palisades Interstate Park Commission is under way, but the family patriarch says money won’t heal the pain suffered through years of court action involving a lease with Minnewaska State Park.

Alfred Brennan Smiley said in a recent interview that he and three sons brought the case because they wanted septic service restored after a Minnewaska crew tore down a building on the family’s 2-acre leased parcel. He said expenses have accumulated since a 99-year lease was signed with a different owner of the surrounding park land in 1958 and became effective in 1988.

“Fifty years of expenses — you think that’s going to be repaid?” Smiley said. “Everybody that’s had anything to do with the place has tried to break our lease. We’ve been in court since 1960 on this subject.”

The current case in state Supreme Court in Albany was decided in favor of the Smileys in July 2010. The ruling states the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, which took over the surrounding park land in 1971, owed damages for three illegal septic systems. Smiley declined to say how much money was being sought in the case.

The ruling found the first system consisted of a seepage pit that had been installed for the state’s portion of a cottage but never connected to the Smileys’ house while a second system failed health tests because of poor soil conditions and improper connections. A third system consisted of a 10,000-gallon holding tank that was part of a plan, ultimately deemed illegal, for the state to put a waste treatment facility on the Minnewaska park property.

“(State engineers) admitted that the various systems they designed violated new York State Health Department regulations and that, although they overlooked various requirements, they thought that the (state) Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation had the power not to comply with those regulations,” the court wrote.

Smiley said the property has been in the family since Lake Minnewaska was founded as a resort in the mid-1800s, with the leased property occupied until 1978 but unable to be used since then because of the septic issues. He said tests show there have been declining levels of acidity in the lake since the park began using its current septic system.

“The family’s view is that we’re very concerned that environmental matters be properly handled,” he said.

“Proper handling of the septic is essential,” Smiley said. “The state has a much more casual view of that matter and, to date, have used above-ground septic, which runs down bedrock. They are polluting the lake, and I’m not going to be part of it.”

Palisades Interstate Park Commission Executive Director James Hall said the commission will not comment about the case while it remains active. He did, however, stand by the agency’s environmental stewardship of the Minnewaska Preserve and said commission officials “obviously disagree” with Smiley’s view of the current septic system.

“We manage the park, we take care of the park, we have a lot of visitors, a lot of very happy visitors,” he said. (Freeman 6/2/11)
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