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Ulster County Residents Hope New Study With Lower Dam Repair Costs Will Save A Lake

Tillson Lake
Andrew Hague

Area residents who have been pushing to save a lake in Ulster County are encouraged by a new engineering report. They hope the report’s findings will convince state officials to repair rather than remove a dam at the lake. And a New York state Senator supports the group’s efforts.

Initial estimates of up to $9 million to repair the dam at Tillson Lake in Gardiner were considered too much for the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. In early 2018, the Commission’s executive director said if there were sufficient funding to repair the dam to bring it into compliance, he’d be more than happy to move forward with repairs and upgrades. But the funding wasn’t there and the Commission was taking steps to design and seek approval for the dam’s removal with plans to restore the lake back to a natural stream corridor. Fast forward to today. Morey Gottesman is president of Friends of Tillson Lake.

“The Palisades Interstate Park Commission, in conjunction with New York State Office of Parks, commissioned a new engineering study to determine the current condition of the dam and the cost to updgrade the dam to meet the new DEC safety regulations regarding high hazard dams,” Gottesman says. “Prior, dams had to meet a 100-year flood event, which this dam apparently does, but the new regulation called for a 500-year flood event, which it doesn’t.”

The Tillson Lake Dam is a Class C dam. Executive Director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission James Hall referred a request for comment to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation. Spokesman Dan Keefe says officials are reviewing the report and there have been no decisions. Again, Gottesman:

“Should the DEC sign off on this report, it’s still not a done deal because Parks and Palisades Interstate Park Commission have to request the funding in the budget and decide they want to seek the funding in the budget,” says Gottesman.

Democratic state Senator Jen Metzger says repairing the dam and saving the lake is a worthwhile investment, and she’d push to secure funding.

“The next step is to make sure the funding is there to do the improvements,” says Metzger.

Gottesman says the report contains four alternatives.

“We’re hoping it’s one of the first three, which is upgrading the dam alternative number four is breaching the dam,” Gottesman says.

A New York state Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman says, “DEC conducted a rigorous review of four design concepts to repair the Tillson Lake Dam and advised State Parks that all four concepts would be protective of public safety and the environment. Once a design is selected, DEC will conduct an in-depth, technical review of the selected design proposal to ensure the proposed repairs meet state dam safety standards.”

Metzger’s 42nd District includes Tillson Lake, which is part of Minnewaska State Park.

“The case for improving the dam is much stronger than decommissioning, at this point, especially when you consider the enormous recreational value it has to the communities. It, people use it… It’s a beautiful lake. It’s an absolutely beautiful lake,” Metzger says. “I live in this area. There are very few publicly accessible lakes in our area. That’s just the facts.”

Tillson Lake is a manmade lake that’s been around since 1929.

“Minnewaska is an incredible state park but, for many, you have to, it’s a huge and rigorous hike to get to Lake Awosting, even getting to Minnewaska Lake,” Metzger says. “If you are disabled, if you’re elderly, if you have very young kids, that’s not necessarily accessible. Tillson Lake is accessible.”

“First and primary is once that lake goes away, it’s gone forever,” says Gottesman.

Gottesman adds the lake is an environmental asset.

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