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Roethels, Fort la Presentation at odds over Lighthouse Point land

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OGDENSBURG — It has been a year of many trials for the Roethel family.

Fresh off a six-figure settlement to be paid by matriarch Laurel B. Roethel in a state oil-spill case, the family faces another legal battle, this time with the Fort La Présentation Association.

In May, the association filed a $150,000 suit against Rhonda and Blair Roethel, charging them with trespassing and storing boating and snowmobile equipment on its property. The association claims ownership of a swath of Lighthouse Point to the south and west of the Roethels’ home.

Mr. Roethel, who lives on the property, said the dispute covers a small portion of land near the lighthouse.

“It couldn’t come to much more than a third of an acre,” he said. “I can’t figure out what they would want it for.”

Despite an attempt to bring the case to mediation, the Fort Association chose to continue with its lawsuit.

“We want to solve this amicably,” Mr. Roethel said. “Lawyers cost $200 an hour — but mediation is free, and mediators are unbiased. We’re peaceable people. We don’t like fighting and all that stuff.”

Fort Association board members James E. Reagen and William D. Hosmer resigned their seats after the mediation proposal was rejected.

Barbara J. O’Keefe, president of the Fort La Présentation Association, said she was still open to mediation.

“Fort La Présentation Association is and has always been open to a cost-efficient and neighborly resolution of our differences with the Roethel family, including the potential to proceed with alternative dispute resolution,” she said.

Mrs. O’Keefe said the association has tried to settle the land dispute with the Roethel family for two years.

“Because we have been forced to pursue litigation in an effort to resolve this, the parties are now represented by legal counsel and therefore, all communications between the parties have to go through counsel,” she said. “This does not mean we are not pursuing alternatives to resolving the dispute outside the courts.”

In hopes of forging a compromise settlement, Mr. Roethel’s sister, Laurel Lee Roethel, has offered the association the services of River Rat Designs, her printing company.

“I offered the fort a proposal for settlement purposes,” said Ms. Roethel. “I offered to produce up to 2,500 pieces with a total retail value of $50,000 in exchange for the fort boundary as we have been using it. I gave them the proposal a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t heard back yet.”

Though the Roethel family does not have a deed to the land, an informal agreement with the Fort Association allowed it to continue to care for the property and keep a stand of brush as a buffer between the properties.

Mr. Roethel claims his family has kept up the land for more than 50 years.

“We moved here in 1964,” he said. “Originally, the lighthouse was almost on an island. We used to be able to go around it in a boat.”

At the end of the decade, Mr. Roethel’s father bought fill from the city to create the disputed land during a period of urban renewal. When many of downtown Ogdensburg’s buildings were demolished, the rubble was taken to the Roethel property and used as fill.

“When you are walking over there, you are walking on what used to be downtown Ogdensburg,” said Mr. Roethel. “I grew up watching my father build this land. This is my family’s legacy.”

The Fort Association is a good neighbor, said Mr. Roethel, who expressed a desire to reach an amicable compromise over the property.

“We see the fort as a good thing and want to help them any way we can,” he said. “The fort could help bring tourism and economy back to Ogdensburg. We want to see them do well. I would like to keep my property, though. If we could sit down and talk, I’m sure we can reach an agreement.”

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