WLT: Wolf Center Expansion Plan Was Intrusive

LEWISBORO – The executive director of the Westchester Land Trust (WLT) disputes Lewisboro Town Supervisor Charlie Duffy’s contention that the Wolf Conservation Center’s proposed expansion onto the Leon Levy Preserve would have involved merely putting up “a few chain-link fences.”

The WLT sued the town and the Wolf Center to prevent the construction of wolf enclosures on eight acres of the property, which the town had leased to the WCC. A state Supreme Court judge ruled in its favor last week.

The town purchased the 370-acre preserve in 2005 for $8.3 million. The WLT provided $5.5 million of the money via grant in exchange for a conservation easement that would prevent development of the property.

Duffy told the town would likely appeal the decision and said he couldn’t understand why the WLT objected to the project, which he felt amounted only to putting up “a few chain-link fences.”

“Actually, it would involve a considerable amount of construction and development,” said Candace Schafer, the Westchester Land Trust’s executive director. “In the judge’s ruling, he refers to fencing in an eight-square-mile area that includes two layers of 12-foot-high fence with two-foot-deep footings – excavating and pouring concrete and cutting trees on 10 feet of each side [of the fence]. There was also to be waterlines put in to provide a pond and electrical lines to heat the water. They were going to build caves, which would mean bringing in the rock.”

In his ruling, Supreme Court Justice Emmett Murphy said construction of the wolf enclosures would involve “the installation of carefully constructed containment fencing with supports reaching deep into the soil, as well as the creation of trenches, culverts, and man-made ponds…a contravention of the conservation easement.”

Deborah Heineman, executive director for the WCC, said that while she was disappointed with the decision, she understood why the judge ruled the way he did.

“Who is a judge to tell the Westchester Land Trust they don’t know their own business?” she said.

However, Heineman said the Wolf Conservation Center is considering its options, including filing an appeal of the court’s decision – which she says they will pursue – as well as finding uses for property along Route 35 and 123 that has been donated to it.

“There are three houses on the property, which are great for classrooms, but not very good for wolf enclosures,” she said. “It’s a $1.4 million piece of property – maybe there is something we can do with it [such as] build an enclosure or two without encroaching on the preserve.”

Schafer said that the WLT reached out to the town and Wolf Center on two occasions offering eight different optional sites that “would not be intrusive,” all within 20 minutes of the current Lewisboro location, but that it never received a reply.

Meanwhile, the WLT is seeking reimbursement of court costs from the town, something Schafer said both parties were well aware could happen should they lose the case.

“The judge has to make a ruling who is responsible for fees and court costs, and that is still pending,” she said. “The town was well aware that would happen. It’s in a document that was submitted [at the beginning of the hearing].” She added that she wasn’t sure how much money was involved.

Heineman said she is upset that these issues weren’t raised at the beginning the process and felt that the WLT was initially favorable to the project, but changed its mind at the last minute.

“Who are the winners and losers here?” she asked. “The winner is the Land Trust, at least on paper. The preserve can remain in its present state. But the losers are the people of Lewisboro, the Wolf Center and the seniors of the town. There are a lot of losers.”

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