Landowner Letter to Town of Caroline Board, April 12, 2017

According to trail web sites, there are already 73 trails existing in Tompkins County. These amount to 240 miles, 150 waterfalls, and access to 28,000 acres to explore. This is from their own data.

Obviously, there is no shortage of trails here in Tompkins County.

That pretty much takes care of tourists and their want and need for trails.

So, let us drop the notion that this very small portion is needed to expand tourism. This section will neither make or break tourists from coming to Tompkins County.

The next argument is convenience….the statement that someone or someone’s child, teenager etc (those were the examples stated at a recent Board meeting) can get to downtown Ithaca via a so-called safer avenue.

Let us look at the numbers…there are approximately 3500 people, plus or minus depending on the day, that live in the Town of Caroline.

Now, imagine that 100 people use this particular portion of the trail everyday all year around, that is less than 3% of the population.

We know that a 100 people are not going to use this …..more than likely it would be less than 20 and more likely 10 if not less…making it just less than a 100th of one percent and it won’t be everyday or year around.

Are we going to spend money on an MOU that requires detailed designs, plans and a budget for this project where at the MOST 3 % (and it is an exaggerated number of 100 people) that would use this fictitiously on a daily and on a year around basis and then expect to put 100% of the financial burden on 100% of the taxpayers?

The whole project should be dropped and not up for discussion as it was in 2008.

This is a major expense and tax burden on all the people of the Town of Caroline for a small percentage less than 3% at the most…more realistically less.

 

Rebecca S Phillips & Samuel W Phillips

 

Landowner Letter to the Town of Caroline Board, April 12, 2017

To the Caroline Town Board April 12, 2017

Since there seem to still be misunderstandings about the ownership of the right-of-way, and since our attorneys are already in discussion with NYSEG, at this point we can share some of the legal nitty-gritty behind ownership of the abandoned railbed. This is some of what the lawyers are looking at; we are not expecting you to be lawyers, but hopefully it will give the Board a more complete understanding of what we are talking about when we say we own the land.

Briefly, the Ithaca and Owego RR was incorporated in 1828, built circa 1831, bankrupt in 1842, reconstituted as the Cayuga and Susquehanna RR with a new route on the Ithaca end, sold to what became the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, and abandoned in 1956 after proper ICC proceedings. Many deeds are referenced below, which can be found at the County Clerk. To own “in fee” means to own title to the land itself, an “easement” is permission to use someone else’s land for a specified purpose under certain conditions, like powerlines, an access road, etc.

In 1960 NYSEG purchased both the right-of-way and a few parcels of land owned in fee from the railroad, reputedly paying $500 for the right-of-way. (Tompkins County Deeds 429/215). Their quit-claim deed states “All that portion of the right-of-way and lands of the former Ithaca Branch of the railroad…” At least one of these parcels (161/42) lies entirely within the bounds of the right-of-way, proving that the author of the deed intended a separate conveyance for the right-of-way, presumably some form of easement. The railroad, however, was officially abandoned in 1956, and all easements reverted by law to the estate from which they had been taken.

The only preceding deed for the original right-of-way was from the president of the Ithaca & Owego RR to Archibald McIntyre, dated 6/22/1842, recorded Tompkins County deeds RR/157 (McIntyre, the former State Comptroller, purchased the bankrupt railroad from the current State Comptroller for $13,500)

After enumerating the equipment and chattel, and “other old stuff” the land rights are conveyed, with the following language, which would make it appear the owners of the I&O RR, incorporated just 14 years previous, believe they do not have any proof of title to convey, but might have “promises and leases

….And the said parties of the first part in consideration aforesaid hereby do further covanent bargain with the party of the second part & by these mentions do sell, transfer assign & quit claim unto the` part of the second part and to his assigns forever all singular the residuary rights, interest, & claims whatsoever which the said party of the first part may have in & to any land, tenement, fixtures, fences, or any & all the appurtenances to or about the said Ithaca & Owego Rail Road & to assign all title whatsoever they be, either by with deeds, promises or as leases which the said parties of the first part may have in or about the premises and the said parties of the first part further covenent and agree to aid & assist the said party of the second part in procuring such information in relation to the title of lands, surveys estimates, & maps of said Rail Road as may be in the possession of the said party of the first part granting full access to all books & papers necessary for such purposes”

Circa 1849, McIntyre’s new company, the Cayuga and Susquehanna Railroad, closed the “inclined plane” system to winch trains up the hill near Morse Chain, and built a new switchbacked route, including the northern part of the right-of-way in question. At this time the old route, defined in Z/239 reverted to the adjacent landowners and no longer exists as an easement. (Likewise, the rest of the original right-of-way was abandoned in 1956 and reverted). Influenced perhaps by the lousy deed McIntyre received from the I&O RR, the C&S RR diligently went to landowners and got easements for the new route, many of which have strong reversionary clauses such as “the premises hereby conveyed are to be used for no other purpose than a Rail Road…and when the premises are no longer used for railroad purposes they are to revert to the parties of the first part with the appurtenances and all the estate title and interest of the said parties of the first part” (55/9) and “The premises hereby conveyed to be used for rail Road purposes only and when no longer so used to revert to the parties of the first part with the appurtenances and all the estate title & interest of the said parties of the first part therein.” (55/6) and “to be used for Rail Road purposes & no other & when no longer so used to revert to the parties of the first part with all the appurtenances & all the estate title & interest of the said party of the first part therein” (55/5). See also 55/13, 54/521.

Clearly, 61 years after the abandonment of the railroad, no easement exists. NYSEG bought the Brooklyn Bridge, and 3 small parcels of land. Because NYSEG provides a service we all enjoy, no one questioned NYSEG’s desire to route utilities on the former right-of-way, and no one protested. Through the years farmers and homeowners have used the land as their own, and NYSEG has neither complained nor made any effort to maintain or post the land, except where a gas pipeline crosses it. Since the late 1990’s, NYSEG has listed the right-of-way with the NY PSC as “non-utility property formerly held for future use” with a value of $10,824 for the entire right-of-way from Ithaca to Owego, clearly a value for an easement.

There were two 19th century Court cases in which the Courts made a determination of the railroad’s property interests. The first was in 1855, Brown v. C&S RR, in which the C&S RR claimed it was not responsible for the flooding of an adjacent landowner’s land due to the undersized culvert on a stream crossing of its right-of-way. The Judge found that even though they had only an easement, they were still liable: “the corporation, not being owners, required legislative authority to cross [watercourses] with their road. This the Act gives them… They were bound, in crossing the stream with their road, by the same obligation which would have bound a private owner of the land and stream had he bridged it.” In the second case, People ex Rel. City of Ithaca v. Delaware, Lackawanna and Western RR and C&S RR (11 App. Div. 280, 1896), the Court required the railroad allow a new city road to cross their line, on the grounds that the railroad had deeds which described mere easements, due to the reversionary clauses, and not fee simple title to the right-of-way.

The deeds to the farm currently owned by the Van Gaasbecks, going back to before the railroad existed, show no fee ownership by the railroad, but merely a reversionary easement. On the south part of the farm, no mention of the railroad is made at all until 1842, at which point “excepting the right of the Ithaca and Owego Railroad (if any they have) of running their rail road through said premises” was added in a deed from and authored by Cyrus Beers to Abram Bates (QQ/226). Cyrus Beers was perhaps better acquainted with the ownership of the right of way than anyone, as he was appointed Commissioner of Deeds for Ithaca in 1837, and he served as a delegate to the New York and Erie Railroad convention in 1839. The north portion of the farm did not mention the railroad until 1836, from that date on the centerline of the railroad was used as the west boundary of the farm, and the clause additionally including “all the privileges that the party of the first part would have in and to that portion of the railroad lying west of said farm if it should cease to be a road” was included in every deed written until 1998. see HH/4, NN/52-, XX/97, 64/376, 179/195, 354/222, 446/1064. Virginia Miller and Mary Beth O’Conner’s land came from the same Bates farm as the Van Gaasbeck’s and has the same title history.

In 2008, Sandra Kenne’s attorney Scott Miller (now a Judge) had title research done, contacted NYSEG, and determined NYSEG had no more than an easement on the Middaugh homestead. All up and down the line, we find many landowners with deeds showing ownership.

The issue has been raised that NYSEG has paid taxes on the right-of-way. It was typical for railroads to pay an additional property tax on the value of their tracks, and it is not uncommon for easements to be shown on tax maps for this reason. NYSEG has been paying about $30/yr for the ¼ mile of easement through our 46 acre farm, we pay close to $6,000. The Courts have shown paying property tax does not create ownership.

The attorneys for the land owners are currently in discussion with NYSEG with the goal of further clarifying the nature, if any, of NYSEG’s right-of-way. We do not anticipate litigation. Obviously, due to the complexity, age and large number of deeds, this process will take time to sort out.

Any action by the Town at this point is not only premature, it causes harm by imposing great expense on landowners to defend their property rights, and by falsely leading members of the larger community to believe the land is not private property, and it will somehow be made available for their recreation. The Town’s actions have already damaged the market value of every property on this 3 mile stretch, and caused untold stress and financial strain. To continue pushing this project forward at this point constitutes spending the Town’s resources and our sense of community to destroy 70 people’s peace and property. The Supervisor is obviously personally attached to this project no matter how much damage it causes. We ask the rest of the Town Board, elected to represent us all, to move to closure, and move on to providing these people with internet access and other work the entire Town can come together on.

Scott and Crystal Van Gaasbeck

58 Middaugh Rd

Landowner Letter to Town of Caroline Board, April 12, 2017

To the Caroline Town Board 4/12/2017

As you probably know, Crystal and I recently sued the County over failure to follow the FOIL law in our attempt to find out what is going on with the County’s plans for our farm. The Judge ruled in our favor, and compelled the County to provide us with the drafts of the license agreement Planning Commissioner Ed Marx had negotiated with NYSEG and with his emails during the 6 month gap in emails provided during the period of negotiations in 2016. They did provide us with some drafts of license agreements, although they are incomplete, and they appear to still be refusing to acknowledge any communication took place during this period when so many decisions were made.

From the beginning, Mr Marx acted towards us as if he is above the law, so I am not really surprised. I assume he has unsavory activity to hide by concealing the emails, I can see no other reason for a public servant to treat the public and the Court with such contempt. We are in dialog with NYSEG ourselves at this point.

What we can see from the various drafts of the agreement is:

  • NYSEG grants without warranty of any kind to Licensee a revokable, non-exclusive license….subject to the rights granted to others for use of the right-of-way and subject to any prior fee conveyances as shown on the sketch attached hereto and made a part hereof”The sketch was NOT provided, of course. This clause calls the ownership a “right-of-way,” it is conditional on all of the existing landowner uses, and it is non exclusive, meaning those existing uses cannot be infringed on by the licensee.
  • Reviewing the various drafts, it appears the County tried to water down paragraph 24:“Licensee recognizes that NYSEG may have previously granted rights to other parties above, on or below the premises…Should any conflict arise with existing licenses, Licensee shall use their best efforts to resolve the same, If questions remain unresolved, NYSEG shall be the sole arbiter.” but NYSEG would not remove this clause. The Hilkers have a longstanding license agreement with NYSEG for their driveway, and the County has done nothing to resolve this conflict. This alone would void the License Agreement.
  • Paragraph 8: “Licensee shall not cause…a nuisance to persons adjacent to premises, to other licensees…” Clearly, the persons adjacent to the right-of-way would experience a nuisance.
  • The final clause added by NYSEG is telling. “Licensee shall not record this License in the County Clerk’s Office or any other place designated for recording or filing without the express written approval of NYSEG.” The boldface is NYSEG’s. Clearly they do not trust Mr Marx any more than we do.

Every one of these clauses points to an understanding that the County has and will continue to work this out with the landowners on a case by case basis, respecting all existing uses and developing a recreation way in a way that neighbors to not find a nuisance. From our point of view, this is laughable to ever expect given the outright hostility of Mr. Marx, Mr Witmer, and others towards each and every landowner over the years. But we do not know how Mr Marx characterized landowner negotiations to NYSEG in the missing emails, perhaps NYSEG was led to believe we all liked the idea.

I think anyone reading the license agreement can see how the Recreation Way as planned would never meet NYSEG’s terms.

On Monday, at the Danby Town Board meeting, Supervisor Deitrich wanted the Board to approve the MOU with the County (they did not) to force landowners to sue the Town and resolve the issue that way (he actually said that). We think this is absurd, we do not want litigation, we want our lives back, we want this nightmare to end, we want unity and a sense of community in the Town, we want the dialog we are engaged in with NYSEG to lead to clarity on ownership without the damage of yet another lawsuit. We think the best next step is for the Town to reject the MOU, to stop following Mr. Marx’s plan, and take time to consider what is best for the people of Caroline.

Sincerely,

Scott Van Gaasbeck

Landowner Letter to Caroline Board, April 4, 2017

April 4, 2017

Town of Caroline Board:

At the February 22, 2017 Town Board Business Meeting, at the request of many constituents, the Board agreed to schedule a meeting specifically to discuss issues related to the proposed South Hill Recreation Way Extension. On March 21, in response to an inquiry about the status of the meeting, Town Supervisor Mark Whitmer stated in an email that he was “working with Danby to schedule an informational meeting.” Today, a full six weeks since February 22, Mark informed the Coddington Land Stewards listserve that a meeting has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday, April 23 (time to be determined), at the Brooktondale Community Center.

Presuming that “working with Danby” refers to officials of the Town of Danby, I am puzzled as to why officials of another town are being included in this meeting. We (the constituents) requested to meet with our Caroline Town Board, not officials of other towns. We did request that affected RESIDENTS from the other towns be notified of the meeting; but to my recollection, this meeting was to be an opportunity for affected residents to review the proposed trail extension and the Caroline Natural Areas and Trails Committee Report (2008 Trail Report) with our elected Town Board members.

That Mark is considering this meeting to be an “informational” meeting is simply astounding. The concerned residents have seen the proposal. We’ve seen the websites. We’ve attended public meetings. We’ve perused the 2008 Trail Report. An “informational” meeting was already held by the County. I repeat, this meeting was to be an opportunity for affected residents to review the proposed trail extension and the 2008 Trail Report with our elected Town Board members.

Since this meeting should be a working meeting, not an informational meeting, it should be held at the Town Hall, not a community center.

In conclusion, I respectively request that the meeting agreed to on February 22 be promptly confirmed, that it be a thorough review of the issues with the Town Board members and affected residents, that affected residents of other towns be notified, and that it be held at the Caroline Town Hall.

Respectfully submitted by fax

Kathleen Boyd

149 Middaugh Rd, Brooktondale

Respectfully submitted by fax, to be distributed to all five Board members, read out load during the Privilege of the Floor, and entered into the record of this meeting that I submitted this statement.

Landowner Letter to Caroline Board, April 4, 2017

4/4/17

To the Caroline Town Board

Crystal and I have won our case against Tompkins County, as of yesterday Judge Rumsey found in our favor on all counts and ordered the County to release all drafts of the proposed NYSEG license agreement as well as some other documents by this coming Monday. The Judge appears to share our concern that Ed Marx deleted emails because he ordered an independent, certified search of all of his email accounts and the County’s backup system as well to look for deleted emails. That will take 3 weeks.

Landowners negotiations with NYSEG over overship of the right of way is progressing, with several developments in the last week that significantly strenthen our argument that the railroad sold NYSEG at most an easement, not ownership. NYSEG has yet to dispute our ownership claim, and we hope to be able to correct any deeds to reflect this once we have agreed on the nature of any easements. This will take some time, months most likely because of the enormously complicated titles.

Assuming the County complies with the Judge’s order, we will soon know what Ed Marx was so intent on keeping secret. Obviously it is likely to be in the landowners’ favor, and it is likely this Recreation Way project will not happen.

This would be a good time to begin to come together as a community around things we can agree on, and heal the distrust and dissapointment created over the last 9 years. Why then, are petitioners aggressively trying to get signatures by misleading people that it is the County that needs to be convinced to build a trail? Why was a parent and occasional teacher approaching people in the lobby of my daughter’s elementary school trying to get them to sign, and being not-so-nice if they refused? Why was the new owner of Brookton’s market misled that this was not a controversial issue when he was asked to place a petition there? A friend who teaches at the high school was giving an exam when he was interrupted by a petitioner, and when he said he did not support the trail, he had a hard time getting the petitioner to go away? The behavior by the people pushing for this recreation trail has been consistent from the beginning: dishonesty, disrespect for the residents of our valley who would be affected, and a disregard for the good of our community.

I want the members of the Town Board to know how much we appreciate the way you have listened and held off from any action while the facts come to light. This would be a good time to put an end to the whole thing to send a clear message to the public, to avoid further damage to our community.

Sincerely,

Scott Van Gaasbeck

Landowner Letter, February 22, 2017

To the Town of Caroline Board February 22, 2017

Now that some of our FOIL requests have been filled, I can offer some new facts and a more clear picture of what has been going on with NYSEG regarding the trail for the last 9 years.

While landowners maintain our actual ownership of the land, and are negotiating the extent of any easements with NYSEG at this time, one thing is clear: the land upon which a recreation way would be built is private property and the list of possible owners can only include the adjacent landowners and NYSEG.

In January, 2008, NYSEG’s property manager wrote the Town of Caroline Board “With respect to the issue of adjoining landowners, NYSEG is sensitive to the concerns of property owners adjoining the proposed trail, particularly farmers. NYSEG respectfully requests that the Town obtain written approval from all adjoining landowners, including farmers leasing land from NYSEG, in advance of NYSEG providing the Town with the … easement” (note NYSEG told the County in communication we FOIL requested that the only farmer currently leasing land from NYSEG is Bill Hilker, so his approval would be required, as well as each and every landowner along the route)

After being told this, the Caroline Trails Committee spent most of 2008 first unsuccessfully trying to get landowner support, and then scaling back the project, cancelling the third public meeting, and lying to the Town Board that they had received 15 of 17 landowners’ support. The fact was, the 17 landowners had not even been contacted, and anyway there are 27 parcels adjoining the proposed trail between Burns and Middaugh Road.

When the above two facts came to light, after untold stress and countless hours wasted by landowners and by Board members, the Board withdrew Caroline’s support in October 2008.

In 2016, we once again have the Town of Caroline planning a trail without asking for permission, or even input of any kind, from these landowners. Several owners finally were notified for the first time in 9 years this very month of February 2017. (Richard Tenney and others) Why would this be? Why the secrecy?

Our FOIL requests have shown us that Tompkins County Planning began pressuring NYSEG for a new License Agreement for a trail again in 2015. NYSEG provided a draft, but the County didn’t like it and proposed changes. Last February, NYSEG provided the County with a final draft for the Towns to sign, but there still seems to have been a problem…

Is the wording the same as in 2008, requiring “written approval from all adjacent landowners”? We don’t know, just like we didn’t know in 2008, because the County is violating the FOIL law and refusing to provide the draft or final agreement in order to stall for time, or perhaps to avoid emarrassment (or worse) when the truth comes out. It will come out, because Crystal and I have brought an article 78 action against the County in NY Supreme Court to force them to fully comply with the FOIL law.

If the License Agreement requires our written approval and yet this is being intentionally hidden from us, I consider it a criminal matter and I intend to hold every official who participated in the cover-up fully responsible for the hundreds of hours of work and thousands of dollars of legal fees landowners have endured, as well as for the $2,600 in taxpayer money spent by the Town of Caroline in legal fees fighting the landowners.

I would ask each and every member of the Town Board to ask to see this Proposed License Agreement with NYSEG. Ed Marx, Tompkins County Planner, is in possession of it, as is Jonathan Wood, County Attorney. It was emailed as an attachment to Mr Marx from Martha Mauro at NYSEG on Feb 8, 2016. If they will not show it to the elected members of the Caroline Town Board, I respectfully suggest something is amiss and the Town of Caroline should not participate in this charade any longer.

For 9 years now, our local governments have worked in secret on this recreation way, and the more we investigate the more clear it becomes that this secrecy is not due to some monumental incompetence but has been intentional in order to dupe the two potential owners of the land, NYSEG and the landowners along the route. Government representatives are telling both NYSEG and us that the other gives permission, when in fact no one has given permission. When a kid does this to his parents, it’s irritating. When government officials do this to citizens, it is corruption. It is time to drop this once and for all and focus on bringing Caroline together around projects everyone wants.

Sincerely,

Scott Van Gaasbeck

Supporting documents can be found on the Coddington Landstewards’ website:

southhillrecreationway.org

Landowner Letter, February 22, 2017

To: Caroline Town Board February 22, 2017

From: Crystal Van Gaasbeck

Re: Privilege of the Floor Policy, Proposed Extension of the South Hill Recreation Way

I want to briefly discuss the Privilege of the Floor Policy and how it relates to Caroline residents who spend part of the year out of town, the “up to three minutes” time limit on Privilige of the Floor comments, and then how this relates to landowner input about the proposed “Extension of the South Hill Recreation Way”.

At the beginning of February, Sandra Kenne, of 151 Middaugh Road, sent a letter via email to the Caroline Town Board, and asked to have the letter read at the next town board meeting. Supervisor Whitmer responded, and declined to read the letter, giving the reason, “Written documents are placed in the correspondence folder and reviewed by board members. They are not read aloud as the purpose of Privilege of the Floor is communication with the town council.” I believe, understandably, that this would make anyone feel like their voice was not heard or not valued by local government.

While privilege of the floor is an opportunity for citizens to communicate with the town council, it is also an opportunity for citizens to have their their voices heard by other members of the public, and to be documented in publicly available town meeting minutes.

If the Town board is considering policy decisions which involve taking residents’ land, privacy, and safety away, the Town Board can only expect input from people who would be directly affected by these policies. On issues like the proposed “Extension of the South Hill Recreation Way”, which threatens our livelihood, the “up to 3 minutes” time limit to address the board is extremely limiting. I feel insulted to only be given a total of 6 minutes each month, given that I speak for 3 minutes each at the Agenda Planning Meeting and the Town Board Business Meeting. For me and my family, the stakes are very high, and government officials have provided us with no other route to communicate our concerns in a way that assures us we have been heard.

It is not unfounded that we feel like our voices are not heard and are not valued. Recent letters to town officials written by my husband Scott, and the Coddington Land Stewards have gone unanswered. Landowners who live past Middaugh Road feel like their valid concerns are discounted, having been told not to worry because the plan under consideration does not extend to Belle School Road” (letter from Mark Whitmer to Joe Scaglione, January 26, 2017) or “as your property is not adjacent to the proposed extension, you were not on my list” (letter from Mark Whitmer to Mary Beth O’Connor, January 26, 2017).

It is publicly known and acknowledged by government officials such as Ed Marx and Ric Dietric that the ultimate goal is to build a recreational road the entire length of the abandoned rail bed, not just to end it at my driveway and Ginny Miller & Mary Beth O’Connor’s front yard.

To make it clear to the Town Board, Mary Beth & Ginny do own land that would be directly affected by the current plans for a recreational road; they have used the abandoned rail corridor as their yard and parking area for over 15 years, and their home is closer to the railbed than any other house in the currently proposed 3 mile extension.

To discount the concerns of landowners along the future route of the recreational road, because the road isn’t planned there this year of next, while simultaneously considering the viewpoints of people who live nowhere near it, yet are in favor of it, is the height of hypocricy. We are all in this otgether.

If the Town of Caroline can not find time to listen and respond to the valid concerns of its constituents, then the Town does not have time to engage in highly controversial projects.

Thank you,

Crystal Van Gaasbeck

Landowner Letter to R. Dietric, Town of Ithaca Supervisor

Dear R. Dietric,

My first question is “what’s in this for you”?   Besides the self-proclaimed, glory vain reason of “I started it and want to see it go through all the way to Newark Valley” – why is this so important to you?    

Before I go further, please take out a map and check on the location of the proposed trail.   From what I’ve seen – Ithaca to Owego was the original proposal.  Newark Valley is in quite a different direction. However, if Newark Valley does factor into this proposal then please confirm – that’s a whole new set of landowners we’d like to contact.    

 So aside from the issue of where exactly the trail is supposed to go (and the arrogance of having your name associated with this proposal), I’m guessing your other benefit might be the chance to occasionally ride your bike and/or walk through our valley to view the scenery and experience the rural setting, for which you do not pay taxes.  

Which by the way – is not for the “greater good”, it’s personal for you.

Just as it’s personal for the landowners – only more so.   For us, the proposed trail is not a benefit, it’s not fun, it’s not recreation.  It won’t be an occasional enjoyment – it’ll be a constant, daily irritant.  Quite simply –

it’s a blatant invasion of our privacy, our security, and an unjustified land grab to repurpose a right of way that has served no purpose for over 60 years.    The rail bed was abandoned, never maintained, and should have reverted back to the original land owners years ago.   My property abstract actually refers to it as the “former” right of way.  To avoid confusion, the definition of former means, past, ex, previous, no longer.     In fact, NYSEG gave the previous owner of my house, verbal approval to do whatever he wished with the rail bed.  And so it became a part of the lawn – maintained now by 3 owners for 54 years.   Quite simply – you do not have my approval to now put a trail through my lawn next to my house!

And please drop the railroad argument – it is invalid and has no relevance to this situation.   I guarantee that those of us who are the newest landowners would never have purchased our properties if in fact, the railroad were still active.  Furthermore, most of us (if not all) would never have purchased the land if the rail trail proposal had been made public at the time of purchase.  Who in their right mind would buy property that will clearly be devalued by the implementation of a trail that goes smack through the middle or alongside your entire property line eliminating ALL privacy.  To clarify your analogy, a train moves along and doesn’t stop.  But a trail that goes right next to your home and business or literally divides it down the middle, offers a wonderful opportunity for all kinds of mischief; criminal or otherwise.  For instance, breaking and entering, or driving 4 wheelers and snow mobiles all night long.   Far more intrusive – trust me.  I’ve had the experience of two break ins, and 4 wheelers actually driving on my property thinking they could get through to the old rail bed.  

But clearly it doesn’t affect you so I don’t expect you to understand the impact or the pain of this proposed trail for those of us who will live with it daily.

We purchased our land or have remained living in our locations, purposefully because it offered a specific setting and/or agri-business and/or proximity to hunting, fishing, photography, nature study, etc.  We landowners came to live where we are for different reasons, but I guarantee we all have a specific and personal purpose for living where we do – in a quiet rural setting away from the noise, lights, and population of villages and neighborhoods.   I don’t need or want additional strangers traveling into my isolated location.    I picked this location specifically to avoid people and traffic.  And I paid for it – therefore, you have no right to stomp all over my rights!

And you villagers and neighborhood/city dwellers, choose to live where you are for specific, personal reasons.  Which makes it even less appropriate for you to now want to destroy what we have, for your personal benefit! 

If you wanted to enjoy our valley so much – why didn’t you buy land out there?   My property was for sale for over a year – no one looked at it or bid on it except for me.  And I choose it specifically because of the rural setting, with the abundance of nature, the quiet, the lack of traffic (cars and people) and the beauty of my surroundings.  I worked long hard hours and saved my money for 25 years in order to find and buy my first house in the perfect location.  Which you now propose to destroy for personal gain and clearly little consideration,  empathy or understanding of the impact on me or any of the other landowners.

And, let me emphasize landowner.  Tax payer.  Care taker.  Your personal interest should not trump my right to continue to live in the specific location I worked so long and hard to purchase. Why is it o.k. for you take that away from me?  

 Again – your benefit at the expense of my detriment is not for the greater good.   I can’t help but ask – why are you more important than me?  Why is the desire of the non-land owners, more valuable than that of the tax-paying landowners who will be negatively impacted?

 You’ve heard the objections and “non has come true”.   Honestly, I don’t think you’ve listened very closely or carefully.  Certainly not with any consideration.

 Aside from all that’s been said – I’ll leave you with this, which I guarantee you won’t care about but it needs to be stated.  That in addition to the negative impact on the landowners, the proposed trail with its unavoidable carbon footprint and tax increases for maintenance, will also destroy the habitat for countless migrating and nesting ducks, raptors, birds, and mammals.  It will directly impact the nesting site of countless snapping turtles, painted turtles, and other amphibians, not to mention the deer, bobcat, fishers, coyotes, raccoons, mink, weasels, turkeys, otters, possums, fox, and bear – which all live, nest, and roam throughout the area.  

 Only the landowners should have the final say on whether or not this proposed trail is approved and developed – and unless you are one of us, you have no rights and no entitlement.  Please find a new hobby that truly benefits the greater good.  

 Sincerely,

B. Foster

An Open Letter to the Towns of Ithaca, Dryden, Danby, and Caroline February 7, 2017

An Open Letter to the Towns of Ithaca, Dryden, Danby, and Caroline February 7, 2017

I would like to address the issue of “The Greater Good” so often raised by Town and County officials to justify a trail for public recreation on our farms and near our homes. The phrase has come up often, used by many officials. I will use as a typical example this email exchange between Sandra Kenne, whose family (the Middaughs) has owned a farm on Middaugh Road since before the Civil War and which is diagonally bisected by the proposed trail, and Mr. Ric Dietrich, Town of Danby Supervisor. Sandra voiced concerns, like the rest of us, and received this response:

On Jan 30, 2017, at 4:47 PM, Ric Dietrich <rdietric@twcny.rr.com> wrote:

I believe most of the questions you asked

Have already been answered to my satisfaction

On Jan 30, 2017, at 7:03 PM, Sandra Kenne <acskenne@hotmail.com> wrote:

Would you please respond to my questions that you feel have been met to your satisfaction.

Sandra Kenne

On Jan 30, 2017, at 7:30 PM, Ric Dietrich <rdietric@twcny.rr.com> wrote:

All of them

I am pre disposed to endorse this project

Because I started it, and want it to go all the way through to Newark valley.

I have heard all the objections before

And non of them has come true

It is a question of the public good

And since the trail follows the railroad right of way

Which all landowners knew to be a pre existing condition adjacent to their land

At some point their were trains running by your house

A trail seems much less intrusive

Setting aside the arrogance, and the factual points (all the way to Newark Valley, “adjacent” to their land (in Sandra‘s and other cases it is through, not adjacent), and the ridiculous assertion that people wandering through at all times would be less invasive than a scheduled train where people stay on the train and do not set foot on our land), we see Mr. Dietrich’s core argument is that “the public good” is an acceptable justification for causing harm to individuals or a class of people.

When we are young we are all taught that “the ends don’t justify the means” as a basic moral principle, and yet this moral principle is not always considered to apply to government. In fact, it is always the argument used to justify what would otherwise be considered the worst crimes or heinous acts by government – common examples are: dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ostensibly to prevent even more death and destruction in an invasion, torturing terror suspects ostensibly to prevent some future attack, or banning Muslims from our country to ostensibly protect the non-Muslim majority. Killing innocent people or depriving them of liberty is certainly a greater harm than destroying their privacy and sense of security, but the argument is exactly the same, and it is flawed.

The greater good argument is always flawed because it always reduces the freedom and morality of all people when a large group uses a small group as a means to their ends, no matter how noble the ends (The moral taint on our nation is clear in each of the examples above, no matter what your opinion on whether our country should have done them). The true greater good in any nation is inextricably linked to the degree of freedom and rights given to each and every citizen in equal measure.

The resort to the greater good argument is in fact evidence of a failure of government to plan appropriately and work things out among the parties. I think in hindsight, any thinking, moral person could think of alternate paths of government policy that would have avoided the need to propose a “greater good” solution to the war with Japan or to terrorism. The challenge before you, as our local government, is to find solutions to the conflicting desires of some citizens to recreate on our property and landowners’ right to live in peace and privacy. The only rational measure of whether a plan meets these needs is if the parties affected feel it meets these needs. The “greater good” argument, to throw us under the bus because more people would enjoy what we have, is unnacceptable.

This is nothing new, and in fact organizations like Rails to Trails stress the importance of working with, not against, landowners. The Fingerlakes Trail is an example of a trail created while respecting landowner rights. The reason this particular trail is failing is because of the 9 year history of planners with an attitude like Mr Dietrich’s that have convinced landowners we are dealing with a tyrannical and undemocratic government determined to take away our rights for the benefit of their friends who want to recreate on our nice land. At this point, so much bad faith and damage has been created, the negatives for the community far outweighing any “greater good” to recreate.

Unfortunately, just as we see nationally, “greater good” arguments do a tremenous amount of damage to the civic health of our community. People who once valued local government now resent it. People who were promised use of their neighbors’ land harbor resentment, and landowners are dismayed to see how quickly neighbors will discount their rights when egged-on by the government. The wounds to our townships will take years to heal.

I realize, after being forced to file FOIL requests to find out what is planned for my farm, that much of the push to take from the 70 of us who signed the petition in 2008 and give to the (supposedly) many has come from the Tompkins County Planning Depatment, not the towns, but the negative consequences will be felt most srongly in the towns for years to come. This is the time for our Town Boards to step up to the plate and do better. No war or terrorism is imminent, there is all the time in the world to go back to the plans and find a better solution than “greater good”

Scott Van Gaasbeck

Brooktondale, NY