July 10, 2009, Times Herald Record: Charges follow hotel oil spill: DEC cites owners of Hasidic-run resort after neighbor's tip



Members of the Summitville and Wurtsboro fire departments work at the scene of a fuel spill Thursday at the former Homowack Hotel in Spring Glen.For the Times Herald-Record/MIKE RICE

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Mamakating — A former resort hotel that has been under intense scrutiny since it was taken over by a Hasidic sect from New City has been charged with three counts of violating the state environmental conservation law after an oil spill Thursday at the site.

State DEC police Officer Scott Steingart said his officers, as well as DEC spill response units, answered a call at the former Homowack Hotel, now known as Machne Bnos Square, for an oil spill reported by a neighbor around 3:30 p.m. Upon arriving at the site, Steingart learned that the owners of the hotel, a Hasidic group known as Congregation Bais Trana, had released a quantity of heating oil while trying to transfer it from one tank on the property to another.

The oil escaped into drains that eventually empty into a nearby stream. A pump found near a hole by Phillipsport Road might have been used in an attempt to pump water out of the drainage culvert, possibly to stop the oil from escaping the property through another pipe that runs under the road, Steingart said.

Thursday evening, firefighters and members of a hazmat team tried to stanch the flow with pads of absorbent material.

No oil seems to have left the property, Steingart said.

However, charges were filed against the congregation for failing to report the spill, which occurred at 7:45 a.m., Steingart said. In addition, the group was charged with failing to register bulk storage tanks and producing an "unwholesome" material on or near a public road, all misdemeanors that carry heavy fines under the state environmental law.

The Skver sect of Hasidim from New City purchased the hotel, a former resort for non-Hasidic Jews, along with 450 acres of land in 2006, apparently intent on creating a new Hasidic village akin to the Satmar village of Kiryas Joel in Monroe. It was not known last night if there was a connection between the sect and Congregation Bais Trana.

Mamakating town officials, however, have lately been critical of the operation of the hotel, a summer getaway for Hasidim from all over the state, largely because the proprietors have failed to observe building, health and safety codes.

Town officials, including Supervisor Robert Fiore, were at the site last night, meeting with members of the congregation.

Town resident Andy Weil, who reported the spill, charged that the town leaders were failing to stay vigilant on the Hasidic group's activities. "There's a lot of problems at this end of Mamakating that the town's not dealing with," he said.

At the property, members of the congregation refused to speak to a reporter.

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