PRFA Freedom of Information Law Quest
THREAT TO ACCESS TO PRIVATE PROPERTY ACROSS NY CITY WATER SUPPLY LANDS
Are Permanent Easements being converted to Revocable Access Permits?
The Property Rights Foundation of America has been attempting since March 2002 to acquire information from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about the magnitude of the issue of the City's imposition of revocable access permits to landowners who reach their landlocked parcels across the City water supply lands.
We have reason to believe that some landowners who possess the legal right to the access across the City's lands may have consented to applying for revocable access permits because of the City's coercion and harassment.
We are attempting to obtain the names of the landowners currently involved and copies of the revocable access permits. Officials at the DEP headquarters in the City have been stonewalling the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request that we brought under Sections 84 through 90 of the New York State Public Officers Law. In violation of our original request dated March 26, 2002, we have received no written response except an April 11, 2002 letter from Marie A. Dooley, Assistant Counsel, stating that our request "will be granted or denied in approximately two weeks." After repeated requests, we have not been told that we were denied the information we requested, but no information has been sent.
The imposition of revocable access permits may be an important property rights issue to City watershed landowners, because some may be unwittingly signing a contract-like document that might diminish their rights to enter their property. The concern from a point of property rights is that over the years, landowners may become intimidated and, when the revocable access permit is revoked or not renewed, perhaps because of some hardening of political thinking in the future, they may not have the financial resources to engage in a court battle to restore the rights of access that were already theirs when they unwittingly executed an application for the revocable access permit.
Furthermore, as years pass, these instruments may bar access by the statute of limitations, or they may actually have the force and effect immediately to transfer power over access to the City.
Over the years, the title to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of privately owned properties within the City watershed may become encumbered with a cloud on the right of access. One can easily speculate that the City would gain by a systematic devaluation of private land in this situation within the City watershed. Such reduction of private land value would suit the City's stated purpose of expanding its holdings, which it has been pursuing aggressively during recent years.
This fall, a source who wishes to remain anonymous informed PRFA that DEP officials in the Office of Water Supply Lands in Valhalla in Westchester County informed him that 3,000 landowners have executed revocable access permits. PRFA was told that another official in that office said that the number was 2,000.
In a telephone interview on October 21, Marilyn Shanahan, an official at the bureau of the Water Supply Lands office in Valhalla, told PRFA that the total number of revocable permits issued by DEP for all purposes was between 1,100 and 1,200. She said that she could not say the approximate number of revocable access permits that have been issued because it would take "an encyclopedic mind" to know this number.
PRFA recently sent a freedom of information request to the upstate office when Ms Shanahan informed us that she would not consider a telephone request for any information, even approximate numbers. She said that she would not furnish copies of all of the revocable access permits. When asked whether she could transmit a copy of a typical revocable access permit, she criticized the request as "too broad." In any case, she said that a written freedom of information request had to be submitted, and that she would convey it to the DEP attorney.
PRFA then sent Ms. Shanahan a request for the total approximate number of revocable access permits issued since January 1, 1997, and a copy of every revocable access permit issued since that date. In the alternate, we have requested copies of only their typical revocable access permits, where the terms are similar, assuming that any meets and bounds description would vary with each property.
PRFA would be interested in hearing from property owners who have been asked by DEP to apply for revocable access permits or who have executed such permits. Sources of information will remain confidential where this is the landowner's preference.
- Carol W. LaGrasse
Property Rights Foundation of America
P. O. Box 75
Stony Creek, NY 12878