Village parcel takeover denied in ongoing Binnekill dispute

By Julia Green
An attempt by the Village of Margaretville to take ownership of a 1.738-acre parcel of property owned by village resident Lauren Davis, that includes the Binnekill stream bulkhead, was denied by the New York State Appellate Court on Oct. 23. Also denied was the village’s attempt to take an easement on the entire parcel.
In its decision, the court stated that it agreed with Davis’ assertion that “the taking of the parcel in fee is excessive” and that “the power of eminent domain cannot be used to take land in excess of that needed for the particular public purpose involved.”
The court also said in its decision that the sole stated purpose for the taking in fee of Davis’ land is to assure immediate access to the Binnekill and bulkhead and to allow for sufficient construction equipment to reach the site; therefore, the court determined, the village “can satisfy the public purpose of access with a simple easement.”
The court thereby limited the village’s use of the power of eminent domain to the condemnation of the aforementioned easement, which applies to the unpaved access road stretching from Route 30 across Davis’ property to the bulkhead.
“It was the best thing that could possibly have happened,” Davis said of the court’s decision, “because it keeps us engaged but puts us back to a point where we can start over again and do it correctly.”
The village’s desire to gain access to the bulkhead structure located at the intersection of the East Branch of the Delaware River and the Binnekill stream that flows through the village has been an ongoing struggle. In recent years, the village has regularly received access to the area for purposes of maintenance and repair, due to low water levels in the Binnekill and damage to the bulkhead; however, resistance from Davis in regard to access to the site led to the village’s seeking a determination that it held an easement over the property. The village had plans in place to dredge the Binnekill as well as to dig in the East Branch of the Delaware River for the installation of dry hydrants.
Davis’ hesitation, he said, was borne of the fact that despite communication to the village board that dredging of the Binnekill would be a dangerous thing to do, those concerns were not addressed and plans to dredge continued to progress. The plans, he added, were attempts to solve the issue based on the single fact of a lack of water in the Binnekill rather than the culmination of issues that contributed to the waterlessness.
“It would be treating a symptom rather than treating the disease,” Davis said. “The disease is in the main river.”
While the easement was pending, the village opted to seek eminent domain to acquire fee title to the property.
The issue came to the forefront in 2006, after the village secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Manage-ment Agency (FEMA) to implement repairs to the bulkhead. Davis requested that the village share the details of the easement, and at the time said that if repairs to the bulkhead were done correctly, the majority of the east end of the village would be spared significant flood damage in the event of a bad storm.
Also addressed in the court’s decision was its verdict that a public hearing held by the village fulfilled its obligation of the procedural requirements outlined in the state’s Eminent Domain Procedure Law (EDPL), and that the taking of the property by eminent domain was not prevented by the fact that separate litigation was pending regarding ownership of the property, as Davis had initially contended.
Davis added that there should be a permanent easement between the village and landowners acknowledging the relationship, but that the project should be handled on a case-by-case basis.
“What I really want,” Davis said, “is something that needs to be done long term. There needs to be a form of easement which does not interfere with any of the landowner’s rights that he would normally have if he were in full ownership of the property, but at the same time that would establish a working relationship with the agencies that are empowered to do the work. And that’s not a farfetched thing at all.”
Repeated calls to Margaretville Mayor Bill Stanton seeking comment were not returned Tuesday.