Lawsuit Filed Challenging Changes To Adirondack Land Management

Jan 12, 2016

Two Adirondack environmental advocacy groups are suing New York state, seeking to block implementation of revisions to the land management plan for the Essex Chain Lakes in the central Adirondacks currently under consideration by the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency.

The 19,600-acre Essex Chain Lakes tract is part of a state land acquisition in 2012 that includes the eight lakes of the Essex Chain and numerous other rivers lakes and ponds, including the Hudson and Cedar Rivers.  The Adirondack Park Agency is taking comments on proposed revisions to the State Land Master Plan that would allow some use of all-terrain bicycles in the Essex Chain and Pine Lake Primitive areas and also allow use of non-natural materials for bridge construction over the Cedar River.  Revisions also would allow snowmobile use in some areas.

On Monday Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and Protect the Adirondacks filed suit against the state in Albany County Supreme Court.  Protect’s  Executive Director Peter Bauer says it is the only available move left to prevent any damage to the Park.  “The two main issues with the lawsuit have to do with protection of the wild and scenic rivers. It’s really up to the legislature to change the Wild and Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act or for the DEC to officially go through the process of changing its regulations.  Because right now the way the Essex Chain UMP  (Unit Management Plan) has been approved it violates both the legislative act as well as the regulations.”

The litigants claim numerous violations of the Unit Management Plan. The most egregious, they say, include construction of a new bridge over the Cedar River, the opening of a logging bridge over the Hudson River, construction of snowmobile corridors and allowing bicycle use in Primitive Areas.

Adirondack Wild partner David Gibson feels they have exhausted all remedies administratively and had no other choice but to turn to the courts.  “It’s not just an action at the Cedar River or the Polaris Bridge or a bike route that goes on for 8 or 9 miles.  The insult will be if that is replicated across the Park. And that’s what I’m, and what we are, primarily concerned about and that’s what raises it to such a serious level that we resort to the judicial system for a remedy here.”

While not happy, municipal officials in the Adirondacks expected the legal action by advocacy groups.   Long Lake is one of the towns within the Essex Chain Lakes tract.  Supervisor Clark Seaman is optimistic that the state will prevail.   “We’ve been having discussions about the Essex Chain with DEC, APA and all the stakeholders for 2 years now.  I just attended the public hearing on the SLMP (State Land Master Plan)changes last week and one of my constituents actually spoke at that public hearing and said you know this is the third time that I’ve made the same comments, referring to the classification hearings and the UMP hearing and now the SLMP change, let’s get it done.  And I think that he said it all. We would like to see, we being local governments the local folks here, we would like to see this plan implemented so we can start seeing the benefit from it.”

Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe blasts the two litigants, saying the lawsuit ignores facts and the groups never worked with other environmental groups, communities or agencies on the plan.   “They’re just trying to go in the back door with a lawsuit.  And I think part of it’s because they know that there’s court precedence that says the democratically elected representatives of the people can’t participate in that lawsuit. And so they try to get what they want through the court process without a critically important party.  It’s not carrying out the wishes of the public in the process that was agreed upon by most of the, what we would classify as the, rational environmental groups.”

Adirondack Park Agency Spokesman Keith McKeever told WAMC that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.