Dustup over DEP's driftwood

*Note: This post's been updated (and the headline changed as well). Read the whole thing to hear the DEP's response to accusations that they're a Kafkaesque bureaucracy of driftwood-hoarders. Maybe there's a happy ending to this sad little story after all?

In the Daily Freeman yesterday: Local sculptor Rita Dee, whose oeuvre consists mainly of large horses made of Hudson River driftwood, would dearly love to be able to collect wood from the shores of the Ashokan Reservoir. But to get to it, says the DEP, she'll have to slog through a forest of red tape:

“I asked if I could get a fishing permit and take wood as I was fishing and they said ‘you can fish but you can’t take wood,’” she said.

“I investigated several years ago and I ran into a dead end,” Dee said. “They said unless I’m going to get a $2 million insurance policy to protect them from lawsuits, then it would have to go out to bid, and I have to pay umpteen amount of dollars even though they let a farmer in there to cut the hay every year, they said for them it would be a logistical nightmare to allow me to take any wood and I would be arrested if I set foot on the property.”

Currently, the Freeman reports, the DEP burns the driftwood to dispose of it.

*Update: We just talked with DEP spokesman Michael Saucier, who wasn't quoted in the Freeman's article. He says the agency often saves driftwood for locals who can put it to good use, and they'd gladly put Dee on the list.

"We're happy to give it away if somebody wants to take it," he said. "It's not weekly, it's not monthly -- it's whenever we get to it. But people can leave their information, and when we have enough of it, we'll let them know."

Here's a statement Saucier emailed us:

We have given out driftwood in the past — to supervised school groups for projects, to individuals — and we will continue to do so. As part of our reservoir maintenance operations, we take wood that has accumulated in the Ashokan from time to time. If anyone is interested in collecting it, they can call 1-800-575-LAND. When we have some to give away, those who have called will be contacted.

For more on the artist, check out this long profile of her from a 2002 issue of Dutchess County About Town. An excerpt:

The wood that arrives at the river's edge seems to become hardened in the process, whether because its softer portions are washed away or something in the water hardens and preserves it. It is very strong and burns with a blue flame. She tries to use the wood in its natural form, without cutting or shaping it, only giving it a coat of stain to protect it from weather. The stain imparts a subtle coloration. Her tools consist of an old cross cut saw, two cordless drills, and lots of stainless steel screws and toggle bolts--a modest arsenal indeed for any sculptor. She speaks of a tension between her respect for the skeletal anatomy of the horse and the structural demands of an architectural invention; and the way drawing from the human figure has helped her to see horses more perceptively. She venerates the ancient tradition and culture of the horse, and being part of an unchanging tradition. One senses these resonances in the work, the theatrical uplift she imbues it with.

Photo of sculpture from Rita Dee's website; taken by Andy Wainwright.