Property owner Michael Waldenmeier surveys the damage. Diego Cagara / Spotlight News
#SelkirkNY #Farms #Vandalism #DiegoCagara #SpotlightNews
SELKIRK — On Sunday, Dec. 2 at 4:30 p.m., someone drove a Jeep Wrangler across privately-owned farm fields along Rupert Road in Selkirk, leaving noticeable ruts measuring around 400 yards, and causing property damage and loss of crops.
As the overall soil was still wet from recent rain prior to the incident, the quasi-frozen brown ruts looked conspicuous and were a stark contrast to the untouched remainder of the farm fields. “When you look at that,” said property owner Michael Waldenmeier as he gestured to the latter. “It looks so pristine and pretty but then when you see these ruts here, it just disgusts you.”
This private parcel of land measures 227 acres and the fields are used for productive agriculture and to feed cattle, with the help of using bunker silos. “It’s been in the family for 65 years,” he added. The area is marked by posted private property notices by its entrances.
According to Waldenmeier, a neighbor—one of his friends who happened to be driving by the farm fields that Sunday—noticed that a Jeep Wrangler was about to leave the property, and he stopped it and asked the driver what he was doing.
“The Jeep was covered all in mud and all the guy could say was, ‘I didn’t think the ground was that soft,’” he said, adding that the Jeep Wrangler was grey with a black top and carried Colorado license plates. “That’s all he said, nothing else. He didn’t say that he noticed the private property signs or that he should not have been driving there. No ‘I’m sorry’ at all.”
The neighbor also took down the license plate number after he threatened to call the police on the spot.
He brought up that every farmer has trouble with trespassers “because when people see such an open field like [mine], they think it’s open space and it’s not. It’s somebody’s land, it’s not vacant land. I say it’s agriculture property or undeveloped land. Someone’s trying to make a living off it and somebody here was hotdogging around with their Jeep.”
He has since filed a report with Bethlehem police and even spoken with several local officials including Town Board members and the Town Supervisor about his situation.
Cmdr. Adam Hornick of the Bethlehem Police Department said that an officer went down to Waldenmeier’s property to take a report. He could not disclose the identity of any suspects whom they are looking into yet though since it “is still an active investigation.”
This incident appeared similar to the recent damage done to Berkley Park, Lansing Park, and the Holy Trinity Parish Center at Cohoes on the evening of Friday, Nov. 30, where a grey Jeep Grand Cherokee—note that it is coincidentally the same weekend timeframe and car brand but a different model—was driven onto those properties and left muddy ruts too between 5 and 6 p.m.
Waldenmeier said he’d initially called Cohoes police after noticing those similarities but was told it was indeed a different Jeep. Regarding the Cohoes incidents, a 24-year-old Waterford man named Michael Brady had already been arrested on the evening of Nov. 30 and charged with criminal mischief.
When asked if the Cohoes incidents are connected to Waldenmeier’s, Hornick said that the Bethlehem PD is discussing that with other agencies including the Cohoes PD. He added that incidents like this happen “six to 10 times in the Town of Bethlehem on average every year, including at the Henry Hudson Park and South Bethlehem Park. It’s historically younger individuals who are doing it.”
Bethlehem Town Board member Maureen Cunningham said she was dismayed about the incident and that “people need to have a basic respect for private property. What makes this especially terrible was that in this case, it’s not just private property, it’s someone’s livelihood.”
She said that she has personally known the Waldenmeiers for several years now, seeing them as “a wonderful Bethlehem family.” She continued that “as a town, we need to say that we do not condone what happened. I’ve also heard of many instances that are bigger than this through the town. It’s tragic.”
Town Supervisor David VanLuven also expressed disapproval over what happened and “it was a lack of respect for private property. I think it’s ridiculous, and people should respect other people’s properties. It’s not an appropriate thing to do.”
He noted that Waldenmeier did have his private property posted “so whoever did it probably knew darn well what they were doing. We have to be respectful of our neighbors.”
As of the week of Dec. 2, Waldenmeier said that he is working on determining how much repairs could be and how long that process would take.
“Farming is not an easy business and farms are going out left and right because of the fact that milk prices are so low and costs are so high,” he concluded. “So, you know what? Farmers don’t need this. They don’t need to have to deal with things like this.”
Anyone with any information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact Bethlehem police at 518-439-9973.