Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Phil Brown: The Moose River Plains Conspiracy

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is catching flak over its plan to close the roads in the Moose River Plains, and according to some conspiracy theorists, this is exactly what it wants.

The thinking goes like this: DEC must have known it would spark an outcry, so it must be hoping that the controversy will garner more money to keep the roads open.

However plausible this may be, it appears to be at odds with the other conspiracy theory to emerge since DEC announced its proposal last week. This one holds that DEC is using the state’s fiscal crisis as an excuse to shut the roads not just this year, but permanently—in deference to the wishes of environmental groups.

Both theories were raised in the public discussion that followed my posts last week (here and here) on the Adirondack Explorer website and on our publication’s Facebook page.

Of course, DEC says it’s closing the roads to save money—a necessity required this year by state budget cuts—but many people seem unwilling to take this explanation at face value.

That state officials always harbor ulterior motives seems to be embedded in the ideology among certain Adirondackers. Usually, they claim that DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency are in cahoots with environmental groups such as the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) and act against local interests.

I won’t dispute that officials sometimes do have hidden motives, but the idea that DEC and the APA merely do the bidding of the greenies is manifestly false.

For one thing, the Adirondack Council, ADK, and other environmental groups have taken DEC and APA to court on numerous occasions when they disagreed with the decisions of officialdom.

For another thing, both DEC and the APA have shown a willingness to bend the rules to give local residents what they want.

Take Lows Lake. DEC went to the mat to keep Lows Lake open for floatplanes even though the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan had for years called for banning planes from the lake.

Take snowmobile trails. The State Land Master Plan says snowmobile trails must have the character of a footpath. Yet the DEC and APA approved guidelines that allow some snowmobile trails to be up to twelve feet wide, with most of the rocks removed to create a smooth surface.

Take fire towers. The State Land Master Plan calls for removing the towers from Hurricane and St. Regis mountains, but the APA board recently directed its staff to find a way to allow them to remain.

In short, DEC and the APA do not always take the side of the environmentalists. And they do try to appease local interests.

As a journalist, I’ve learned that you sometimes have to take what officials say with a grain of salt. So it can be a good thing when the public questions the motives of its government. But when people accuse the state of engaging in dark conspiracies whenever things don’t go their way, they poison the political atmosphere.

What is the evidence that DEC wants to permanently close all the roads in the Moose River Plains? Those who are making this claim should set forth their case. We’d all like to see it.

Photo by Phil Brown: the main road in the Moose River Plains.

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Phil Brown

Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.




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