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‘Dam-ed if we do, damned if we don’t’

Liberty talks with residents to find the right choice

Derek Kirk
Posted 5/17/24

LIBERTY — Recently approached with an offer to acquire Swan Lake through a donation from its current owner, Town of Liberty officials have noted there is a great deal of information gathering …

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‘Dam-ed if we do, damned if we don’t’

Liberty talks with residents to find the right choice


LIBERTY — Recently approached with an offer to acquire Swan Lake through a donation from its current owner, Town of Liberty officials have noted there is a great deal of information gathering required to properly judge risk and reward before any decision can be made.

The offer from the owner was presented roughly three months ago, and includes only the lake itself. This deal is not exclusive to the town, as the owner noted interest in donating to other organizations should the town decline, according to town officials. There is no set deadline for a decision from the board.

However, one major deciding factor in whether the town should acquire the 333-acre lake is a problematic, man-made dam dating back to 1894 – something that officials predict will take tens of millions of dollars to repair and maintain. However, Town Supervisor Frank DeMayo said that the town currently does not have any solid figures on what the financial impacts acquiring the lake may have. Although, because the offer currently is just the lake, the taxes that would be paid on the property are extremely low.

“We don’t know [the costs], maybe it won’t even be that bad…we don’t know,” DeMayo said.

Town Board member Dean Farrand noted that redacted reports suggest that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), an authority throughout New York State in the handling and reporting on the health of many dams, has made attempts to push the owner to fix the structure in the recent past. According to DeMayo, reports on the dam date back to 1984. Farrand also expressed his desire to conduct research to see what the best decision would be.

“I don’t want to see the lake disappear because we did not do our homework,” he said.

A special meeting at the Swan Lake FD’s Firehall on May 8 invited the public to brainstorm and offer ideas before the town board, which was joined by District 1 Legislator, Matt McPhillips. Some public participants suggested that the deal would be made sweeter if a portion of land also held by the lake’s owner would be included in the offer. According to DeMayo, the owner of the lake also owns 21 5-acres lots within the town.

Another idea shared by town residents Nancy Levine and Michael Edwards proposed the town take a similar approach as Lake Superior State Park in Bethel, transforming the area into a State-run, county-managed park focused on recreation and protection from over-development. This proposition ran in tandem with an expressed desire from the public that it must be an organization with the resources to maintain the dam and lake who should take the helm. 

Levine was also joined by resident Elizabeth Greg and others in thanking the Swan Lake Fire Department, who have been stewards and proprietors of the lake for many decades.

“We readily understand the gain that the owner will realize pursuing and implementing his proposal to donate the dam to the Town of Liberty or even the county of Sullivan,” resident Avrom R. Vann said. “From the perspective of the Town or the County, which would be required to repair and maintain the dam at considerable expense, accepting the proposal would only make sense if the owner included 100 feet of land around the lake so that the first 50 feet could be kept in its natural undeveloped state maintaining the beauty of the lake and the remaining 50 feet could be used for parking, recreational facilities and park facilities to benefit the community.”

Supervisor DeMayo noted that should the town approach the State with the idea of creating a State Park, they would ask local environmental agencies to pitch the idea alongside them, such as Friends of the Upper Delaware River (FUDR) and Catskill Mountain Keeper.

“For many years, Swan Lake has been maintained by Catskill Clean Water Fund, founded by Paul Edelstein, a longtime Swan Lake homeowner, along with the Swan Lake Fire Department and local residents. Now the owner, an LLC, wants to “donate” the lake and dam to the town, while while keeping the profitable portion, the land that is adjacent to the lake,” Levine said. “In other words, the owner wants to be rid of the liability while keeping the profitability.”

Levine goes on to claim that the town does not posses the resources to repair the dam and manage the lake, and said that the owner of the lake should either donate to the state or county, or repair the dam himself.

In recent memory, the lake had a Water Chestnut Weed infestation. According to Michael Edwards, the issue rallied the community, raising over $150,000 to protect the lake. There were worries from the public if the town did not accept ownership and responsibility of the lake, leaving its ownership up to chance.

Despite its nurtured history, there are worries of what the future of the lake my look like. Resident Cora Edwards, who expressed concern for not just the present, but for the lake’s distant future as well, asked “what will the lake look like in 100 years?”

Without clear answers on financials or the fate of the ownership of the lake, some residents noted their feelings of uncertainty if they should acquire the lake or not – as said by resident Erin Smith “we are damned if we do, damned if we don’t.”


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