By DANIEL OFFNER
With the final hearings on the Beaver Swamp Brook property expected to convene in November, Harrison Town Attorney Frank Allegretti appears to have hired outside legal counsel to assist in the discovery demands that have been requested by the City of Rye and residents in both communities.
But it remains unclear if the town attorney had the authority to do so.
In an advisory e-mail to Daniel P. O’Connell, the administrative law judge overseeing the case, Allegretti said he’s retained the outside counsel of Thomas J. Fucillo, an environmental lawyer with the Syracuse-based law firm Menter, Rudin & Trivelpiece, P.C., to represent Harrison going forward.
“I have provided Mr. Fucillo with the discovery demands that have been served on the town,” Allegretti said in his email to O’Connell. “The town is in the process of getting the relevant portions of the file to Mr. Fucillo and we are trying to arrange a conference call with our engineer and our outside consultant.”
The hiring of the additional counsel comes a few months after officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued an interim decision, finding in favor of Harrison’s plans to construct a scaled-down version of the long debated Project Homerun. The plan was first conceived in the early 2000s to include the construction of an elaborate baseball diamond within the Beaver Swamp Brook floodplain, near the Rye border.
And the town’s various attorneys have been involved with the case since the outset, leaving some in Rye City to question the need for an outside lawyer so late in the game.
The discovery demands, which stem from the DEC’s July 2013 interim decision, states Harrison must demonstrate that the project will minimize any adverse impacts on flood control.
According to minutes of recent Town Council meetings, the members of the Harrison board never authorized hiring Fucillo in any official capacity.
According to Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, the letter from Allegretti does not mean that the members of the Town Council have approved hiring any outside counsel to address any of the DEC’s discovery demands.
“[Fucillo] has not been hired yet,” Belmont said.
Since the town’s governing body has yet to authenticate the hiring of any outside counsel, any contract agreement or costs for Fucillo’s services remain unknown as of press time.
Village Attorney Jonathan Kraut explained that, in many other neighboring communities, elected officials only meet every so often.
“Depending on methods of service, some lawsuits need to be responded to within 20 days or less sometimes,” Kraut said.
He added that, in a time sensitive situation, where there are no municipal meetings until a certain date, the authority to retain additional counsel can sometimes be used to facilitate the town’s legal needs. And oftentimes municipal boards meet even less during the summer months.
Although the agenda for the Town Council meeting on Aug. 29, after press time, does not indicate any upcoming discussion on the hiring of Mr. Fucillo or the ongoing DEC administrative proceedings, officials in the City of Rye are already aware of Harrison’s decision to retain outside counsel, according to city officials.
The project in question has seen much opposition from Rye City and residents in both communities, many of whom firmly believe dirt fill already carted onto the site is increasing flooding in the area.
For the two Harrison residents—Michael LaDore and Douglas Shaper—who have joined in Rye City’s efforts after experiencing an increase in flooding in recent years and are eagerly awaiting the final hearings with the DEC and Harrison’s legal team, it seems they will have to continue to wait as the more than five-year-old fight continues to drag on. Accoring to Park Avenue resident Mike LaDore, he does not plan to settle with the state DEC until the department acknowledges that additional fill was brought into the area.
“We’re not settling,” LaDore said. “Not until they dig it out.”
For now, the discovery period will remain ongoing as the adjudication has been postponed until November.
Calls to Councilman Steve Malfitano and Councilwoman Marlene Amelio were not returned as of press time.