Scenic Hudson, the parent organization of Scenic Hudson Land Trust, Inc., launched a virulent public campaign against the expansion of Jay Montfort's Fishkill gravel mine, even though the planned project met unprecedented environmental and visual standards and a project across the road which creates a higher, more unsightly scar on the mountain proceeds apparently unopposed by the environmental group.
Scenic Hudson also sued the town zoning board to try to force Fishkill to rescind the industrial zoning Montfort enjoyed. The property would have had a lower selling price if Scenic Hudson had won.
When Montfort's application was under consideration by DEC,
the agency and Scenic Hudson met secretly and DEC accepted a list
of Scenic Hudson requirements for Montfort's application. The
application is now in its eighth year, having cost Montfort over
$2 million so far.
(Source: Interviews, legal documents. For additional information, see: Wealthy Land Trusts and DEC Squeeze Fishkill Business Owner)
According to investigative reporter Eric Francis Coppolino, the couple who own the land, Michael Fink and Karen Pardini, fought in court against Friends of the Shawangunks for three years to keep their forested 200-acre tract, which is surrounded on three sides by permanently protected lands. Coppolino wrote, "A four month investigation by Woodstock Times has found that the land-grab scheme by Friends of the Shawangunks did not occur in a vacuum, but was set, instead, against the backdrop of a much larger effort being spearheaded by the Open Space Institute (OSI), which is based in Manhattan and which works closely with Mohonk Preserve and Friends of the Shawangunks."
"To make its claim to the Fink-Pardini land, Friends of the Shawangunks first purchased what the court determined were worthless deeds from people who had no real claim to the property, then sued the couple, claiming to hold title based on these deeds," Coppolino recounted ("By Any Means," Woodstock Times, December 4, 1997). The couple feel that the plan was to get their land by wearing them out financially in court.
The tactic failed. State Supreme Court Judge Vincent G. Bradley dismissed the lawsuit and also held that the couple "clearly have standing to assert a fraud claim" against the land trust.
In his address to the Third Annual New York Conference on Private Property Rights, Mr. Coppolino observed that Open Space Institute is in the process of acquiring land from the Palisades on the New Jersey border north to Albany.
The New York Times later covered the ordeal of Pardini and Fink. Joseph Berger wrote that, "Even some other land preservationists have accused the conservancy of overzealous tactics."
" 'Land conservation for many people is a crusade,' said
David Church, executive director of the New York Planning Federation,
which advocates sound land use. 'And well-meaning or not, what
you discover on a crusade is that the means are justified by the
ends.' " ("Buying Land, Crying Foul," The New
York Times June 2, 1998)
According to Insight journalist Sean Paige, producer Ellen Sugarman believes that top ABC management blocked from broadcast the completed segment she produced for the news magazine 20/20. The segment "suggested that a conspiracy had existed between government officials and private groups to target and harass owners of properties on the state's Conservation and Recreation Lands, or CARL, acquisition list." ("The Greatest Story Never Told," Insight, April 6, 1998)
Insight revealed that 20/20 discovered that "many of the decisions concerning when and how to take action against landowners were made by an unofficial, unauthorized body of private and government environmentalists called the Environmental Task Force." The segment which was pirated and shown on public access cable TV in 1997, reported that one targeted landowner was charged with environmental crimes. After being jailed, the property owner, James Jones, received an offer from the State Attorney General's Office to drop or reduce the charge if he would sell or donate his land to The Nature Conservancy.
The State Attorney General Kirk Zuelch, prominent ABC reporter Barbara Walters' friend retired Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, and ABC TV Network Group president John Sias were then all either state or national board members of The Nature Conservancy. Insight also reported that, during the intense controversy over the establishment of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, The Nature Conservancy's employee actively lobbied the county commissioners against holding a referendum about the unpopular issue.
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