Scouting properties such as the Cutler reservation in South Bristol could be at risk for sale
With the Boy Scouts of America filing for bankruptcy protection Tuesday, dozens of camps and reservations owned by local Scouting councils throughout New York may soon face an uncertain future.
The organization is expected to liquidate its assets to settle thousands of lawsuits claiming sexual abuse that have been filed in recent months.
That puts 32 Scouting reservations — which account for over 35,000 acres — throughout the state at risk for sale, even though they are owned and operated separately from the national group.
Most of the properties sit on scenic lakefront properties, including Camp Bullowa, located in Stony Point, Rockland County.
But reservations can be found scattered throughout the state from Long Island, up through the Southern Tier and into the Finger Lakes region, which is home to the 1,100-acre J. Warren Cutler Scout Reservation located in South Bristol, Ontario County.
The stakes are high: Combined, the properties in New York have a value of more than $101 million, according to local tax records reviewed by the USA TODAY Network New York.
The properties are owned and operated by 15 independently incorporated nonprofit councils in New York chartered by the BSA national organization.
Council leaders across the state insisted a bankruptcy by the national organization will have no impact on their day-to-day operations — including those of the local camps.
"We are not declaring bankruptcy. We're still going to be able to operate; we're still going to be able to operate Scouting and do the things that we do for our kids," said Richard Stockton, the Scout executive for the Westchester-Putnam Council, located in the Hudson Valley.
The council owns the Durand Scout Reservation in Putnam Valley, about two hours north of New York City, as well as the Curtis S. Read Reservation in the Adirondacks.
While the councils claim they expect to be safe, that is not the viewpoint of lawyers suing the national organization.
Timothy Kosnoff, the lead attorney for Abused in Scouting, an organization that has filed nearly 2,000 lawsuits against the BSA, said local councils would not be out of the woods in legal cases.
A provision in the organization's bylaws allows the national organization to terminate the charter of any council at any time, putting the properties at risk as the organization looks to liquidate its assets, Kosnoff contended.
And each council may face similar lawsuits, which could force them to sell their property in their own restructuring bids, he said.
"Anybody who says they've got nothing to worry about is totally clueless," he said.
In a statement Tuesday, BSA said it cares "deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologizes to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting."
“While we know nothing can undo the tragic abuse that victims suffered, we believe the Chapter 11 process — with the proposed Trust structure — will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA’s important mission," Roger Mosby, president and chief executive officer of the Boy Scouts, said in a statement.
The organization is facing thousands of lawsuits pertaining to accusations of sexual abuse, including at least three in New York, filed under the state's Child Victims Act.
Approved last year, the law extended the statute of limitations on crimes relating to sexual abuse and created a one year look-back window allowing victims to file civil suits against their abusers even if the statute has expired.
Similar measures have been adopted in California, New Jersey and Arizona. A proposal to extend the look-back period another year has also been introduced in New York.
A look at the Boy Scouts properties
The state's 15 councils own and operate 28 camps and reservations throughout New York. The camps make up a bulk of each council's total assets. The four remaining properties in the state are owned by councils that operate outside of New York.
Combined, the councils had more than $92 million in total assets as of fiscal year 2017, according to federal tax documents.
Of that, $35.8 million, or about 40%, is invested in land, records show.
The property is valued after depreciation as estimated by each council. Local tax records value the properties at $90.7 million.
The Northern Jersey Council owns two camps, Camp Turrell and Floodwood Mountain Reservation, located in Sullivan and Franklin counties, respectively. The camps have a combined value of $5 million and make up more than 900 acres, according to local records.
And the 1,122-acre Forestburg Scout Reservation, also in Sullivan County, is owned by New Jersey's Monmouth Council and has a value of $3.7 million, records show.
The $1.7 million Sabattis Adventure Camp that accounts for just over 1,000 acres in Hamilton County is owned by Patriot's Path Council out of Massachusetts.
What's at risk in NY?
While the local councils are independently incorporated nonprofits, they are technically controlled by the national association, Kosnoff argued.
A congressional charter granted to the BSA in 1916 gave the organization full control over Scouting in the United States, including trademark rights and the ability to form an executive council, adopt bylaws and extend Scouting privileges to affiliates or councils.
But a charter can be revoked at anytime by the national organization if doing so is believed to be in the best interest of the Scouts, according to the organization's bylaws.
"The Executive Committee may revoke or modify the charter of a local council at any time in its sole discretion when it is believed to be in the best interest of the Scouting movement," the bylaws read.
Without a charter, the local council can't operate and its assets — including any camps or reservations — would become the property of the national organization, Kosnoff said.
In a bankruptcy, the national Boy Scouts may claim each council as an asset in order to shield them from separate lawsuits and begin selling off camps and reservations to pay off mounting legal expenses, he predicted.
"All these assets are going to be needed to resolve this bankruptcy and to allow the BSA to reorganize," Kosonoff said.
If BSA doesn't claim the councils as assets, then councils may face similar lawsuits.
"We have clients who were victimized in every council in America and some overseas," he said. "So yeah, we can sue those councils."
Business as usual for now
Local councils, however, are continuing to operate despite the circumstances.
In the Utica area, the Leatherstocking Council is moving ahead with plans to operate a summer camp at its two properties, Camp Kingsley in Ava for Cub Scouts and Camp Henderson in Milford for Boy Scouts.
“We’re hiring staff right now. Our program is doing well,” Ray Eschenbach, the council's Scout executive, said.
But when asked how the council will deal with a bankruptcy on the national level, Eschenbach didn't have a concrete answer.
“I don’t have the answer to that question,” he said. “It depends on what the lawyers do. We don’t know.”
The 130-acre Camp Barton on Seneca Lake in "probably the best spot of land" in the town, said Covert supervisor Mike Reynolds.
If the land were to be sold out, it would be lucrative and potentially put the land back on the tax rolls. But Reynolds said he would like it to stay as the camp. It had a value of about $3.4 million, records showed.
If the land were up for sale, "There are going to be a lot of people looking to scoop that up for lake property," he said. "It will be very interesting."
NY leaders react
Local leaders had varying views to the idea of the Boy Scouts having to sell off their property in a restructuring bid.
Some declined comment until more information was made available, while others expressed concerns about the organization's plight.
"I don't like the sound of the Boy Scouts filing bankruptcy; I don't like the sound of it at all," said Dewey Decker, the supervisor of Sanford, a small town in the Southern Tier that's home to the Tuscarora Scout Reservation.
The property is 602 acres and has a value of $873,097, according to property tax records.
In Putnam Valley, the thought of losing the Durand Scout Reservation, a vast camp of more than 1,300 acres owned by the Westchester-Putnam Council, doesn't sit well with Sam Oliverio, the town's supervisor.
"I would hate to see a bankruptcy declared and that sold off as an asset," he said.
The property abuts Fahnestock State Park and creates desirable green space that's utilized by the community and is a boon for the local economy, bringing hundreds of people into the town each year who stop a local gas stations and at restaurants, Oliverio said.
He fears any potential sale could mean the property ending up in the hands of a developer looking to use the land for commercial purposes.
"It would be just a horror show to see that liquidated by the Scouts in order to come out of bankruptcy," Oliverio said.
But the property is well funded, and the Westchester-Putnam Council plans to continue carrying out Scouting activity, Stockton, the council's Scout executive, said.
"We're solid as an organization," he said.
When asked if he feared the council could face potential lawsuits and face similar circumstance as the national organization, Stockton declined to comment.
"I don't really have a comment on that," he said. "I'm not a lawyer."