In a swift, under-the-radar move, Tivoli officials capped their legal fight with Captain Jerome Hollick by demolishing his riverfront dock April 17.
By noon that day, only the wooden bulkhead that supported the small wooden dock remained at the site, just south of the Friendship Street railroad crossing. Traces of sawdust showed where village workers had used a chainsaw to cut the dock from its base before they hauled it away.
The demolition followed a village board meeting the night before where the topic of legal access to the Hudson River from Tivoli was addressed without mention of the dock.
But Jim Simmons, Superintendent of the DPW, told the Observer that he received a call from Deputy Mayor Joel Griffith the night of April 16, directing his department to take the dock down the next day.
In a terse statement issued April 17, Mayor Bryan Cranna’s office said, “The Village of Tivoli government has a responsibility to protect the village and its residents from any/all possible liabilities. Therefore, Mayor Cranna and the Board of Trustees put the village’s best interest forward when deciding to remove the structure from village property. ”
Hollick, who repaired the dock in 2007 but had used the site for his Tivoli Sailing Company services since 1999, was stunned at its removal.
He said he was told of the village’s action by a friend who lives near the dock site and got there just as the work was ending. He also said he thought the village was supposed to notify him in writing before they tore down the dock.
“I’m really disappointed,” he told the Observer. “I went to court with them and that’s where it should have been settled….They’re trying to scare people and it’s bullying. It’s not how a democracy should run.”
Hollick said he will consult his attorney to determine what he can do next.
“Regardless of whether I ultimately establish a prescriptive easement to use the dock, certainly the village was very much aware of my use of it and my claim of right, and owed me legal notice and a chance to be heard before taking such drastic action,” he said.
Zoning Enforcement Officer Steve Cole, who inspected the dock site just after the demolition, told the Observer he knew ahead of time about the planned action, although he would not say when.
“I was informed by one of the village board members that it was on Tivoli property and that it would be removed because of liability issues,” Cole said.
The village purchased 1.8 acres of property by the river in 2010 from the railroad, CSX Corporation, and intends to build a park eventually. For more than a year, they have maintained that the dock was illegal and an insurance liability and demanded that it be removed.
Hollick had consistently refused to do so, citing his ongoing use of the site for so many years.
So last summer Cole issued him a court appearance ticket for repairing the dock without a building permit. But on the day the trial was to start last fall, the village justice recused himself. The case then moved to Town of Red Hook Court.
The next court date for the dock fight had been set for June 5, according to Hollick.
The timing of the dock’s removal appeared to coincide with confusion over legal access to the river.
Dutchess County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill McKay was at the village’s board meeting April 16 at the request of the board. He said village officials had been concerned about irate residents turning up at the meeting because of recent rumors that police were ticketing fishermen for crossing the railroad tracks to get to the waterfront.
“From what I know four people were ticketed, but it wasn’t for fishing,” Cranna told the small group of residents at the meeting. “The issue is that people were crossing unsafely over those tracks.”
Pedestrian access to the river is legal through the railroad crossing at the end of Broadway. There is also an access road that runs on the western side of the tracks for about a mile southwards, and all the way north to Albany.
McKay said people can legally use the road as long as they stay at least 20 feet away from the tracks.
“There’s a whole parking lot down there. When I give warnings to people, I tell them to park there,” he added.