Oorah Workers Rally Upstate NY as Township Board Seeks to Hinder Construction Efforts of their New Camp


jefferson-oorahA special meeting of the Jefferson Town Board last Thursday saw an overflow crowd turnout to support jobs at Camp Oorah. An estimated 150 people attended the meeting. The crowd, many of whom are employees, spilled out of the town hall and into the parking lot outside. They were present to rally the town board to allow Oorah to proceed with its intended building plans at the former Scotch Valley site where a”BoyZone” a summer camp will be located for underprivileged Jewish boys, from all over the state.

The special meeting was called because Oorah attorney Kevin Young had faxed paperwork allegedly indicating a law suit will ensue if the town board does not stop hindering the project.

Oorah is the not-for-profit which purchased the former resort property in the town of Jefferson last year. It houses and provides camps for underprivileged Jewish children and is financed through charity. Oorah already operates a summer camp facility (formerly Golden Acres Resort Ranch) in the town of Gilboa and schedules a four-week program for boys and girls in July and August. The girls camp, known as “GirlZone,” will remain at the Gilboa site.

During a special meeting March 25 the town board approved the hiring of Bray Engineering, of Bovina Center. The move was made to assist the town building inspector in overseeing the building projects underway at Oorah.

Due to “set backs” in the process, Oorah is feeling construction pressure to complete the projects in time for this year’s summer camps. They are looking to get through the approval process as far as building is concerned. However, representatives believe the town board is creating unnecessary obstacles which is stalling the process. They are concerned camp may not take place at the GirlZone site, which would leave the employees who turned out for last Thursday’s meeting, jobless.

At the town board’s April meeting, Supervisor Dan Singletary said the purpose of the town retaining an engineer was because “Oorah has not been forthcoming” and the town had not received necessary paperwork from the Jewish organization.

Singletary said issues with the size of the rooms and the number of children who will sleep in the rooms was not addressed.

Cliff Meth, a spokesperson for Oorah, alleges the town board, particularly Singletary, has stalled the work and construction progress because of unnecessary requests and specifications. According to Oorah supporters, the issue is that there is no issue.

“We’ve done all we can do. The issues you’ve brought to us have been addressed and we worked through all the site plan concerns,” Young said. “You need to identify the issues we need to work on to proceed.”

“This will end up in a court room. This is a business and you have been sandbagging us. What is your concern with the job,” Meth asked the board. ” We’ve never been non-compliant. We’re getting stalled. Just work with us.”

Singletary held up the multiple pages of the fax he received from Young’s office.

“You want us to work with you,” Singletary countered. “This is a lawsuit. Who is working with us?”

“I didn’t threaten a lawsuit. But we are going to have damages if this doesn’t move forward,” Young said.

Young said the pages indicating lawsuit were for effect, to ensure action by the town board.

The board then moved into executive session.

In the parking lot, Oorah supporters and Jefferson Building Inspector Michael Schwarzkopf voiced their thoughts about the project, alleging discrepancies and lack of communication. Some of the 78 local, full-time employees went on record to say why it is important for the camp to stay in session for the coming summer.

Oorah Project Manager John Gillespie said “all the employees and their families need this job. If camp doesn’t take place they will be out of jobs. Singletary wants to do what’s best for the taxpayers. Well, these are taxpayers. We don’t know why we’re being stalled, but we’re willing to do anything.”

Hobart resident Fred Black, who is employed by Oorah, said local jobs are scarce and he is thankful to have the job at the camp.

“You can’t get jobs throwing hay anymore. The farms have been taken away from us as well as the mom and pop construction businesses. People should appreciate what Oorah has done,” he said.

Employee Mike Buonaiuto said, “We’re compliant. The DEC and DEP agree and approved us, why can’t the town of Jefferson?”

Herschel Brisk, manager at the GirlZone site, said he believes the construction which has already take place is of “good quality.”

Joe Bame and Louis All are the primary carpenters at Oorah. Both are local residents and agree everything at the camp is up to code.

“Everything has been passed and approved. We have no idea why we’re in this situation and can’t go forward and if they want us to change things, we will of course,” All said.

According to Brisk, certain projects were given permits and approved under the direction of former town supervisor Richard Kuhn.

“Singletary pulled them. He doesn’t want to work with us. We keep going back to the engineer and then back to the architect. Our engineers, Lamont Engineering, said we could continue and the only guy stopping us is the town supervisor. For 12 years the resort sat dormant. We pay taxes on the property and we are not even required to.”

Meth said he believes Singletary, who was officially sworn into office in January 2010, wanted to take a stand for something simply to make a name for himself.

“We’re the biggest project in town. We’re being targeted so he can prove himself as supervisor,” contended Brisk.

There are 78 local employees working at the Jefferson site, he said. Another 25 individuals are employed at the Gilboa site. He said if there is an issue over the number of campers per room, Oorah will cut back on the number of girls set to attend.

Meth held a stack of petitions, “Dan Singletary’s Witch Hunt Might Seriously Hurt Our Business”, that were signed by local businesses. The petition stated Oorah has been a valuable customer. Among those who signed were NAPA, ACE Hardware, Stamford Farmers Cooperative and Albano Farms in Stamford.

Brian Walsh, of GNH Lumber Inc. in Windham, said supplying the camp with lumber for more than a year has been a positive experience for his company.

“They have bought about $300,000 worth of materials from me. They are a nice company and they are an excellent business to work with.”

“We try to get as many of the supplies we need locally, but this is not always easy because some things are not available around here,” Brisk said.

Other than alleged housing issues, an issue which has been brought up is the camp’s septic system will not be able to manage the many campers and employees at the Jefferson site.

Young said the septic system currently in place can hold 33,870 gallons and the camp will have no more than 500 people on site at any point in time.

He used the Boys Zone in Gilboa as an example. “We’re permitted 590 individuals for a septic system of 25,000 gallons. We added to the existing septic system at Deer Run which was about 20,000 gallons. We had to get new permits for the old system which we did, and everything was updated. This is not controversial, the septic system is approved and big enough.”

Doug VanDeusen of Lamont Engineers, has been the engineer on the project since last August.

“We’ve submitted everything on wastewater to the DEC (the state Department of Environmental Conservation) and it’s in the approval process. I don’t foresee any problems, or we would have addressed them,” said VanDusen.

Jefferson Building Inspector Schwarzkopf, said he has been over the building specifics multiple times.

“In my opinion, they have met the codes,” he said.

However, Schwarzkopf said the fire lanes are an issue and Oorah should have a meeting with their servicing fire department.

“If it’s the fire lanes or if it’s meeting with services, we can fix it and maybe be prepared for the season,” Meth said.

Young said at this point, the organization has published a 30-day SPEDIES permit allowing the public to comment on the septic system approved by the DEC.

Following the executive session according to Town Clerk Helene Lawrence, a motion was made by Singletary and approved to send a letter to the DEC for a complete review of the situation presented, involving Oorah.

Deer Run Village closed its doors in April 2008, due to a decision made by its board of directors. Operating funds were lost when vacation organization Royal Holiday Vacation Club, announced they would no longer be paying fees for the property’s units. The resort will now serve as the housing for the majority of the Oorah campers.

Scotch Valley ski slope was constructed in the 1960’s by R. Avery Robinson. The Kryger family purchased the slope in 1981 and expanded. When it closed due to bankruptcy, it had 21 ski trails, three chair lifts, tennis courts, a motel, an Olympic size swimming pool, a lodge, dining rooms, kitchen, cafeteria, offices and game rooms. All of these features may be utilized by the soon-to-be camp.

At the height of Scotch Valley’s operation it contributed greatly to the community economically, employing as many as 350 people during the ski season. It sold to Oorah for $1.1 million.

Oorah funds the tuition for Jewish children to go to private schools and assigns mentors to keep up with the kids during the year.

{Daily Mail/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}