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Residents Aim To Save An Ulster County Lake

Courtesy of Sabina Kurz

Area residents are trying to stop a plan to pull the plug on an Ulster County lake. The commission set to drain the lake says a dam it wants to remove does not meet safety requirements and restoration work would be too costly.

Executive Director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission James Hall sent a letter dated March 28 to homeowners near Tillson Lake. The letter says the Tillson Lake Dam no longer meets dam safety requirements for Class C dams. So the Commission is taking steps to design and seek approval for the dam’s removal with plans to restore the lake back to a natural stream corridor. This doesn’t sit well with Annie O’Neill, founding member of Save Tillson Lake.

“It is an asset and an amenity for Ulster County. There are countless people who fish there, who boat there, who picnic there,” O’Neill says. “And it’s been a lake since 1929, and there is a very valuable ecosystem that’s developed.”

But Hall says it could cost up to $9 million to bring the dam into compliance and after exploring options and seeking funds to do that, the Commission has come up empty-handed.

“As the letter indicates, it’s not like we just want to drain the lake or remove the dam. We’re only doing it to comply with safety requirements,” Hall says. “So, if there was funding sufficient to repair the dam to meet the standards, we would be more than happy to do that.”

O’Neill believes the estimated cost of restoration work is too high.

“We would like to have some independent engineer look at it. It has stood up to Irene, to Sandy, to all the Nor’easters we had this year,” O’Neill says. “The dam has never been breached.”

Hall says that in the coming months, the Commission will be revising the Minnewaska State Preserve Master Plan pertaining to Tillson Lake. Marybeth Majestic is town supervisor of Gardiner, home to Tillson Lake.

“I don’t think there’s any member of the town board that would like to see Tillson Lake drained," Majestic says. "We consider Tillson Lake to be a valuable asset to our town, for our residents and our visitors.”

She says draining the lake would affect the town economically.

“So if assessments go down as a result of this action, we will lose real estate tax revenues, which is the primary source of where we get our revenue to run the town,” says Majestic.

In an effort to raise awareness and prevent the lake from being drained, another member of Save Tillson Lake has started a petition on change.org.  O’Neill again underscores the lake as a regional asset.

“There are very few lakes that people can use in southeastern Ulster County,” O’Neill says.

Majestic and O’Neill say they have been reaching out to state-level officials. Again, Majestic:

“The town board will consider passing a resolution supporting the local residents in any way that we can,” Majestic says.

Save Tillson Lake is holding an “I Love Tillson Lake Day” on Saturday from 2-5 p.m., at the Tillson Lake parking lot on Lake Road.

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