SENNETT — Each year, Ernie and Okie Stahl, owners of the Sleepy Hollow Country Inn Motel on East Genesee Street Road in Sennett, close up shop around the end of October and travel for the winter months. When they came back this spring to the place they've owned since 1999, they found their old, approximately 60-foot willow tree in the backyard gone, a large waterlogged hole in its place.
The tree had been hauled to the other side of the adjoining property's field at the edge of the woods. They also saw trees slashed in half and left around the edge of the field.
"It looked like a tornado did it," Stahl said. "They snapped them off midway and dropped them off where they fell."
Besides the trees, Stahl also found flooding in his lawn and in the parking lot of the motel from a ditch between the two properties.
"It's depressing, really, because we live there with relative tranquility in the environment and now to come back to this — it was depressing," Stahl said.
About a month before their arrival home, the adjacent property behind the motel and to the east side had been sold Feb. 1 to Twin Birch Dairy, a large farm based in Skaneateles, for $160,000, Cayuga County real estate records show.
The farm bought the 71 acres of land, of which 55 is listed as tillable according to the county property description, to plant crops for the cows.
Stahl has one stake, which marks the northeast side of motel's property line, but there are no other stakes or markers showing the official border. A line of trees in the back of the motel appears to be a property line barrier, but there is no official survey record to be sure.
Stahl talked with Todd Evans, a partner at Twin Birch Dairy with Dirk Young, and found that Young had been working on prepping the land for planting.
"We're just trying to make it viable farmland, and we're not trying to be intrusive to anybody, and certainly not the environment," Evans said. "We need to be making sure we are fully utilizing the asset."
He mentioned that Young had thought the willow tree was on the farm's newly acquired property, or at least on the line, and took it down. As far as the flooding, Evans said they are working to divert that water and make the drainage plan mutually beneficial.
Neither the Stahls nor Twin Birch Dairy plan to have a survey done of their properties. Stahl thinks it's the farm's responsibility to survey its property, and Evans thinks its Stahl's responsibility because he is the one questioning the line.
Stahl took the matter to the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office, claiming trespassing and damage of property. The sheriff's office investigated, but soon determined no crime had been committed.
Lt. Michael J. Wellauer, who worked on the investigation, said it is not the sheriff office's responsibility to become involved in property line disputes. He said that is a civil matter that Stahl could take to court.
"We don't find any criminal nature to this," Wellauer said.
In an email, Wellauer went on to say that the investigating officer has to believe and be able to prove that a subject "knowingly acted in the case of trespass or with some criminal intent in the case of criminal mischief." The sheriff's office did not find that was the case.
Stahl pointed out that the willow tree was about 20 feet beyond the line of trees where Young was cutting, and it was toward his property. He feels that shows some culpability on Young's part.
"We're very disappointed, obviously," he said. "I thought I would get a better result from the local authorities and the county.
"I've been advised by local people who've been in Skaneateles that the Young family enterprise, they've been a somewhat significant influence in the area. Just to stop at the investigation level, I think there's certainly enough information to bring it in front of a judge or the district attorney's office. We're the little guys on the outside, and they're the big guys who've been out here."
Evans said they will continue to take care of the water between the farm land and the motel, work the ground and improve the land and the environment.
Stahl said he will be working with an attorney to see what his options are for pursuing a civil case.
Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.