For many Gardiner residents and surrounding communities, Tillson Lake has been considered a haven. The 13-acre lake in the Minnewaska State Park Preserve has been the site of boating trips, fishing, swimming, picnicking – and now is on track to be drained because of an unsafe dam.
In March, a letter was sent to homeowners near Tillson Lake by Palisades Interstate Park Commission Executive Director James Hall. A portion of that letter says:
“Given the dam’s current design and condition, it no longer meets the dam safety requirements that have been established for Class C dams. Because these requirements are so stringent, the projected costs to bring this dam into compliance could be as high as seven to nine million dollars. The Commission has been unable to secure funding for the required renovation that would bring the dam into compliance. As a result, and in order the ensure the long-term safety of the downstream properties and improvements that could be threatened by a potential failure of the dam, the Commission is taking steps to design and seek approval for the removal of the dam and restoration of the lake back to a natural stream corridor.”
Now, local residents are taking a stand against draining the lake, which was dammed in 1929.
“When a letter was sent to nearby Tillson Lake residents informing them that the lake would be ‘de-watered’ since the [Palisades Interstate Park Commission] did not have funding to repair the dam, locals went into high gear organizing resistance to his unimaginable action,” says Annie O’Neill, organizer of grassroots organization “Save Tillson Lake.”
If the lake is indeed drained, it would not be the first time. That happened over the 4th of July weekend in 1983 to the alarm of many of the nearly 100 lakefront property owners. Lake owner Joseph Unanue Sr., who had purchased the property in 1976, said it was for safety reasons. Neighbors believed it was in retaliation against the Town of Gardiner for turning down his proposal to develop most of the shoreline on the lake with a 500-unit trailer park. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) ordered Unanue to make repairs on the damn and to clean up the dead fish killed by the draining, and the silt below the dam and to construct settling basins and to place bales of hay below the spillway to filter silt.
Tillson Lake was acquired by Minnewaska State Park in 2006 as a part of the Awosting Reserve, a 2,500-acre property bought by Open Space Institute and Trust for Public Land and then turned over to the state.
“Some of us feel that the park no longer wants to manage the area since it is miles from the main entrance to Minnewaska,” says O’Neill. “They say the dam is unsafe but have never warned downstream homeowners of any threat!”
“Save Tillson Lake” is holding a meeting on Saturday, April 14 at 3 p.m. at the Gardiner Town Hall for input from the community the Shawangunk Kill Watershed Alliance and other interest groups. The meeting is open to the public.
By Jaspreet Gill