Editor's Note: This story has been edited. Patti Campbell fought with Hovey and Balsano over their basement improvements two years ago, then over a scarecrow on a toilet — not Lisa Gangnath. Gangnath filed the Inland Wetlands complaint and Campbell attended Wednesday night's meeting to support her fight against Hovey and Balsano.
State Rep. DebraLee Hovey (R-112th) and her husband have been fighting with their Fan Hill Road neighbors for years. Two years ago, Patti Campbell filed a complaint claiming Hovey had finished her basement with a full bathroom at her ranch-style house without the proper permits. Hovey was running for reelection at the time and town Democrats jumped on it.
After Hovey won easily, she and her husband Paul Balsano placed a large sign on their front lawn thanking voters for their support — with a scarecrow wearing a mask from the slasher movie "Scream" sitting on a toilet beside it. Campbell, who said she felt threatened, filed a police report. Hovey countered that Campbell had bullied her for years.
Now Hovey and her neighbors are at it again. This time, Lisa Gangnath, whose mother lives next door to them, lodged an Inland Wetlands complaint against Hovey and Balsano, who also filed a complaint against her.
Hovey was in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, so Balsano and Gangnath squared off at an Inland Wetlands Commission meeting that night.
Balsano accused Gangnath of ripping out grass in a one-foot-by-six-foot area around his pond, making it unstable. He wants her to restore the grass buffer.
Gangnath contends the grass was actually on her property. Her husband, Phil, said Gangnath is allergic to the ornamental grass Hovey had planted.
"She gets hives near that," Phil Gangnath said. "We replaced it with wood chips and did the same amount of plantings."
Lisa Gangnath filed a complaint against Hovey and Balsano, accusing the couple of using pipes to drain the pond into the wetlands to protect their basement from flooding and building a fence and a shed close to the wetlands without permits.
Balsano admitted to having installed the pipes and said he built the shed 14 years ago. Balsano also contends that the shed and a decorative fence on his property are not close to the wetlands.
Buffer Around the Pond
Inland Wetlands Chairman Jeremy Hayden had asked Lisa Gangnath if she would agree to replant the ornamental grass buffer in the small area around the pond.
"Absolutely not," Gangnath replied. "I have a buffer. I'm not trying to be unreasonable. There's no runoff and I'm constantly being hassled and hassled and hassled."
Hayden wondered about the willingness of the neighbors to work together toward a mutual agreement.
Gangnath said, "That would be nice. But no."
Town Engineer Scott Schatzlein said it's up to the Inland Wetlands Commission to decide if what Gangnath did constitutes gardening or if it is a wetlands violation.
Schatzlein said, "The question is whether the area is a buffer that shouldn't be disturbed."
Hayden said the commission doesn't want wood chips going into the pond.
Commissioners visited the property before Hurricane Sandy, but had different conclusions. Cathy Kohut said the disturbed buffer area did not look stable, while Hayden and Michael Muttitt thought it did look stable.
Because a hurricane had hit the region since the inspections, Dan Hunsberger suggested that he and fellow commissioners walk the property again with the owners' permission to see how the buffer is now.
Nobody had a problem with another site visit.
Draining the Pond
Gangnath said the number one issue is the pipes draining water from the pond. She said Balsano told her he had no idea where the pipes were, adding she eventually found plastic pipes draining water onto her property.
"I do not want him draining any water on my property," she said. "I was never asked. My mother was never asked. He just secretly drained it to keep his basement dry."
Gangnath also accused Hovey and Balsano of building a fence without a permit.
"She's a state rep. She should know the rules," Gangnath said of Hovey.
Balsano said, "The pipes have always been at the top of the pond, so it wouldn't overflow. Someone filled it with rocks and sticks. I called the police when that happened."
When the water reaches a certain level, Balsano said the pipes take it back to the wetlands. "You're welcome to see it," he added.
Gangnath said, "He put the drains in. I saw it. And he changed the property. It used to be wet, now my mother's property is dry."
Hunsberger noted that even without the pipes, the water would continue to flow into the wetlands because of the slope of the property. But Gangnath did not care. She said she would rather the water flow naturally than by piping on her property.
The commission decided to revisit the pipe issue at its next meeting and it unanimously decided that Balsano should file agent applications for permit approvals for his shed and decorative fence.
An agent application is decided administratively, rather than by a commission hearing. Once there is an approval, Schatzlein said the applicant must publish the decision in the newspaper so anyone who opposes it would have the opportunity to petition it to a public hearing — though he said that's rare.