Monday, January 19, 2009

ADK Statement on Lows Lake Floatplane Amendment

A press release from Neil Woodworth, Executive Director of the Adirondack Mountain Club:

The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) is still reviewing the Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposed amendment to the Bog River Unit Management Plan to allow floatplane use on Lows Lake through 2012. The proposal does contain some positive elements, including a plan to regulate the western part of the lake as Wilderness. But ADK is deeply concerned about the length of this extension in light of the fact this is a Wilderness lake that should have been closed to motorized use years ago.

ADK is also concerned that this amendment would set a dangerous precedent, undermining the legal authority of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, which governors the management of 2.8 million acres of state-owned land in the Adirondacks, and encouraging DEC to delay removal of other non-conforming uses in wilderness areas.

In Adirondack Council vs. Adirondack Park Agency and DEC, (Supreme Court, Essex County, August 18, 1988), the court held that neither DEC nor APA has the authority to deviate from Master Plan guidelines requiring that non-conforming motorized uses be phased out within three years. Under the Master Plan, the three-year phase out requirement applies to both Primitive and Wilderness areas. Lows Lake was classified a Primitive Area in 1989, so this is not a four-year extension, as DEC contends, but a 20-year extension. Floatplanes are a non-conforming use on Lows Lake according to the Master Plan, which states that the “preservation of the wild character of this canoe route without motorboat or airplane usage … is the primary management goal for this primitive area.”

In January 2003, when it signed the Bog River Unit Management Plan, DEC agreed to phase out commercial floatplane use of Lows Lake within five years, but the agency never developed the regulation to implement the ban. In May 2008, ADK, the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the Sierra Club and the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks sued DEC. The lawsuit was adjourned while APA considered DEC’s proposed amendment to the Bog River UMP, which would have allowed floatplanes to use the lake under a permit system for 10 additional years. In October, APA commissioners rejected that amendment after being advised by APA staff that it was inconsistent with the Master Plan.

In court papers, DEC gave assurances that it would promulgate regulations to ban floatplanes if its earlier proposed amendment was rejected by the APA. “If the agency (APA) determines that the proposed amendment does not conform to the Master Plan, this proceeding will likely become moot because DEC will then begin to promulgate regulations eliminating public floatplane access to Lows Lake,” according to a motion by Lawrence Rappoport of the state Attorney General’s Office.

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