TRURO — The Truro Conservation Trust filed suit on July 1 against a local resident for allegedly clearing trees and creating an illegal dump on two acres of conservation land abutting his Depot Road property. The trust is seeking $70,000 to $80,000 in damages.
Ron Singer, a plumber, is accused of cutting the trees beginning last November. According to Alfred Gaechter, president of the conservation trust, Singer admitted in January that he had cleared some of the land next to his lawn in order to “beautify” the area.
Gaechter called the police on Jan. 31 to report the violation. According to a police report, Singer was questioned and said he did not know he had been cutting on conservation land and would stop.
It is not clear why the trust took no further action at that point.
A surveyor hired by the trust in June found a second area of more than an acre that had been cleared and contained a dump for brush, lumber, rusted equipment, cars, and large barrels containing a liquid with a pungent odor, perhaps oil or antifreeze, though the exact contents are unknown, Gaechter said.
“It’s really egregious and blatant,” said Karen Tosh, an attorney who is also a trustee.
Singer did not return calls from the Independent for comment.
On May 22, a neighbor had reported to the police that a man with a backpack and a gun had disappeared onto the conservation land next to Singer’s property and minutes later a brush fire began to burn, according to the Truro police. That same neighbor had noticed the clear-cutting of trees in January.
On the day of the May fire, the police confronted a white man with a backpack who was uncooperative and told the officers the fire was set by “the niggers who lived downstairs,” according to the police report written by Officer Tom Roda. The man was identified as Tyler Holmes of Chatham. Holmes was combative enough that Roda pulled out his Taser, but did not use it.
Holmes later confessed that he came to the property that day to help Singer burn brush. While waiting for Singer to arrive, Holmes planned to shoot his BB gun on the cleared land, but then decided instead to burn some brush.
Holmes told police that he knew Singer because Singer and Holmes’s mother were dating.
“He took a tire, that he found in the area, and put some accelerant in it, then ignited it,” wrote Truro Sgt. Steven Raneo in his report. “The fire began to spread out of control, and … that is when the police arrived.”
The police found an acetylene torch and two lighters, a handmade machete, food products including raw meat, and about one gram of marijuana in Holmes’s backpack.
After an investigation, the police determined they lacked probable cause to arrest Holmes.
The conservation land includes 5.2 acres deeded by the estate of philanthropist Dexter Keezer to the trust in 1998.
Gaechter said that he had tried to resolve the issue with the help of Robin Reid, a Provincetown mediator. Gaechter said the trust hoped Singer would agree to restore the land. But the mediation broke down after just two sessions.
Singer’s main objection was “he does not want to pay for it,” Gaechter said. “He said it will all grow back eventually.”
The suit states that on about Nov. 1, 2019, Singer “knowingly, unlawfully and intentionally” went onto the conservation trust’s land and “destroyed trees, underwood and vegetation and has since that time continued to unlawfully enter and remain on the property.”
The trustees are seeking restoration costs for about two acres, estimated at $70,000 to $80,000. Restoration would replace the trees with native vegetation, mostly grasses, to create a landscape of “what it should be, not what it was,” Gaechter said.
The land had been covered in dense woods, with 100-foot trees. The trust received advice from landscape design firm BlueFlax of Harwich Port.
On Monday, Truro Health and Conservation Agent Emily Beebe said she had ordered Singer to clean up the area and remove all the dumped materials a week ago. As of Tuesday, the barrels of liquid had been moved and emptied, said Gaechter, adding that the trust must now have the soil tested for hazardous chemicals.
“We have not heard from Mr. Singer, but it does appear that he is working on cleaning it up,” Beebe stated by email on Aug. 17.
“It’s been time-consuming and very aggravating for all the trustees,” said Gaechter.
According to assessors’ records, Singer bought his property in 1996. It includes a farmhouse built in 1885 and valued at $874,700. The conservation land and Singer’s property were all once owned by the heirs of Joseph “Tweet” Francis of Wellfleet, whose family had owned it for generations. The heirs divided it up and Keezer’s daughter, Berthe Ladd, bought a piece for $500,0000 and sold a piece for $220,000 to the trust. She also donated a portion of what the trust owns today there, according to Truro Assessor Jon Nahas.
The Truro Conservation Trust owns 360 acres of land. This particular piece would have been buildable and had been proposed as a subdivision when it came under the protection of the trust.
In an attempt to resolve the matter, Singer offered to buy the land from the trust. But Gaechter said the trust has guaranteed it will never sell its properties.