04/06/13 7:00am
04/06/2013 7:00 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Bob Oleksiak of Baiting Hollow stands at the edge of his Silver Beech Lane property, about 90 feet from where Baiting Hollow Scout Camp officials are proposing to build a rope climbing course for youths.

Bob and Mary Oleksiak imagine that in the near future, the quiet and comfortable moments they’ve come to enjoy together in their backyard, which Ms. Oleksiak calls her “little piece of heaven,” will be interrupted by the constant noise of screaming kids.

Boy Scouts, to be exact.

The Oleksiaks and their immediate neighbors in Baiting Hollow are up in arms over plans to install a COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) course at the adjacent Baiting Hollow Scout Camp off Sound Avenue, owned by the Suffolk County Boy Scouts. The neighbors insist the course structures should be placed somewhere else on the 90-acre camp property — not immediately behind their yards.

A COPE course is a series of rope and high-wire climbing challenges designed to meet Boy Scouts of American standards, according to the COPE Course website. The site says COPE programs are based on attaining seven goals outlined by the Boy Scouts of America: teamwork, communication, trust, leadership, decision making, problem solving and self-esteem.

At a recent Riverhead Town Planning Board meeting, Baiting Hollow camp director Jim Grimaldi described the proposed course as requiring the installation of twelve 35-foot-high telephone poles on property east of a pond called Fresh Pond. He said the location is in “the farthest east part of our property.”

He later told the News-Review it’s the only viable spot on the property for the course, considering the land is flat in that area.

But that puts it within sight of the neighbors, making for some contentious exchanges before an auger has even hit the ground.

“I tried to make an attempt at explaining to the neighbors what a COPE course was, but I don’t take well to being threatened and cursed at, so we stopped the conversation,” Mr. Grimaldi told the Planning Board.

For his part, Mr. Oleksiak denied that he ever cursed at Mr. Grimaldi, though he said in an interview that Mr. Grimaldi had called the police on him for trespassing during one of his regular strolls through the neighboring camp.

According to tax maps, six properties abut the camp land. Mr. Oleksiak said there are markers in place indicating where the course would go and that the markers are only about 99 feet from his backyard. The land is currently woods and some trees will have to be cut down to build the course.

“Why are they putting it here when they have so much land elsewhere that they could put it?” Mr. Oleksiak asked Friday. “This is going to affect 25 homes on Silver Beech Lane. All you’re going to hear is noise.”

“They’re taking away my little piece of heaven,” lamented Ms. Oleksiak, who is battling cancer.

“I can’t sell my home now because the taxes are too high; I’m paying $19,000 in taxes,” said Annmarie Schreiber, who would also have the course running along her backyard. “Now they are going to put a thing like this up and make it a commercial area? I’ll never be able to sell my house. Are they going to charge only $1,000 in taxes? Because that’s what the house is going to be worth.”

Other neighbors also complained to the News-Review.

“The Oleksiaks are going to be exposed to this in their backyard,” said George Bartunek, a former town councilman who lives in the area. “The opinion here is that this is something that could be placed elsewhere to keep it more distant from everybody in the neighborhood.”

The Planning Board has scheduled a hearing on the proposal, which also calls for construction of an archery pavilion farther east on the scout property, on Thursday, April 18, at 3 p.m.

Mr. Oleksiak said he is asking the town to change the hearing to a night meeting because many people can’t attend in the daytime.

The camp director said the land’s terrain is what’s dictating the proposed placement of the course.

“It’s a large piece of property and we’ve been there for a long time, this is our 87th year, but we don’t have a lot of flat property,” Mr. Grimaldi said in an interview Tuesday. “To do the course and to do it safely, you have to have some flat property. There is no other place for it.”

He said the state Department of Environmental Conservation is allowing the group to cut down up to six trees but is requiring them to plant four new trees for every one they cut down.

As for the neighbors’ concerns about noise, Mr. Grimaldi said the COPE course will generally be used by only about a dozen scouts, and maybe two instructors, at a time.

“It’s meant for small groups,” he said. “It’s not like you’re building a football field or something like that.”

Mr. Grimaldi said the tallest pole is 35 feet and no poles are taller than the trees, so the course will blend in with its surroundings.

“You will have to look for it and know that it’s there in order to find it,” he said. “It’s in the middle of the trees and it’s a dozen telephone poles with wires hanging in between them and challenges hanging on those wires.”

He also promised there would be at least a 100-foot buffer between anything the camp builds and the nearest property line, not the 90 feet Mr. Oleksiak counted.

Mr. Oleksiak and his neighbors are also concerned about how the course would be secured when it’s not in use, and whether camp officials plan to build a fence or have lights or surveillance around the course.

Mr. Grimaldi explained to the News-Review that ladders are used to get to the elements of the course and that when the course is not in use, the ladders are not there and there is no way to access the various climbing elements, as they are called.

“There is nothing you can climb on from the ground,” he said.

The Boy Scouts also plan to bring local schools or youth groups to the site, Mr. Grimaldi said, though in those cases a Boy Scouts representative will always be on hand to supervise activity.

“We will always be running the course,” he said. “When we are not there and we’re not running the course, there is no way to access it.”

An archery pavilion is also planned for the property, which involves building an open-air roof over an existing archery range toward the west part of the scout property.

“The fact that the camp has existed for 87 years and we’ve really been free of complaints from our neighbors for 87 years … that record, in itself, should stand for something,” Mr. Grimaldi said. “I think we’ve been pretty good neighbors for 87 years and we’ll continue to be good neighbors for the next 87 years.”

tgannon@timesreview.com