Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dave Gibson: Vote Yes on Prop 4

Raquette LakePerhaps I first heard of the Township 40 disputed land titles during the Adirondack Park Centennial year, 1992. It was probably that fall during a Raquette Lake cruise on the WW Durant with Capt. Dean Pohl. I recalled the issues when canoeing on the lake later that decade. My friend Dan and I paddled Raquette Lake, took the Marion River Carry en route through the Eckford Chain of Lakes. I was back paddling on Raquette Lake through some high winds and waves when our mentor Paul Schaefer died in July, 1996.

I felt terribly that I was not with Paul when he died, but consoled myself with the knowledge that he would have certainly approved of where I was at the time he died, paddling into the teeth of the wind to reach a quiet bay on this great Adirondack lake. Paul was fond of showing us an early 20th century map of Township 40 to make the point that before becoming the famous first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot had (in about 1900) proposed lumbering thousands of acres east and south of Raquette Lake, a threat which had energized the organization of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the citizen and advocacy organization Paul served for 50 years and which I had the privilege of working for.

However, the lake’s land disputes did not really penetrate my consciousness until about 2005. I think that was the spring that NYS Senator Betty Little, Assemblywoman Theresa Sayward and NYS DEC hosted an initial stakeholders meeting at the Hamilton County office in Indian Lake. There I met a remarkable individual, Carolyn Gerdin, who spent the next 40 minutes telling all of us the history of many of the 216 disputed parcels around Raquette Lake. She had certainly done her research, but that’s stating the obvious. She was also speaking personally and with first-hand knowledge about finding a solution to a legal morass which had caused her family and so many other families years of heartache and worry. Worrying about having clear title to shoreline that she and others had cared for all these years had taken an individual and community toll. Even the Raquette Lake fire company was on disputed land.

After she had finished, DEC legal staff confirmed that the state could not legally forgo its claim to these parcels regardless of whether those claims would ever stand up in court. Some of their claims were quite strong, but many others were correspondingly weak, the staff admitted. Therefore, DEC had been interested in a unique legislative and constitutional solution that would allow DEC to forever forgo the state’s claims on certain specified parcels, while compensating the public with meaningful lands to go into the Forest Preserve. DEC Lands and Forests attorney Ken Hamm had already drafted a potential solution. The stakeholders had been called together to dissect that draft and the problems it raised in hopes of gaining consensus on a proposal that could win approval not just in the State Senate but in the Attorney General’s office and in the NYS Assembly.

Since then, Ken Hamm has worked on many more drafts of the legislation. Many meetings have been held in Raquette Lake and in Albany, questions raised and doubts aired about the wisdom of aspects of the legislation. On the environmental side there was plenty of discomfort with the state’s forgoing any future claim on these disputed parcels and with the process for settling claims out of court. What would the state receive in exchange and would the public receive equal or greater value? How would it be paid for and would there be enough money? Would the lakeshore be better protected as a result of this grand bargain, or not? Ultimately, we felt it would be better protected. For the shoreowners, I am certain there was an initial lack of trust about the entire process, and some undoubtedly felt they should continue to take their chances in the courts.

In the end, the parties continued to come back to the table because of the energetic efforts of Carolyn Gerdin, Ken Hamm, Assemblywoman Sayward, and because we began to trust each other. We all knew we had a chance to lighten a heavy load of historic uncertainty and mistrust, and make things better along Raquette Lake. At the foundation of this constitutional and legislative untying of the gordion knot in Township 40 were genuine public benefits:

1. a clear, time-limited process by which private parties may gain title to their shoreline properties, and by which the state would relinquish all claims;

2. a local fund which would help pay for land to be acquired for the Forest Preserve nearby and for all administrative costs;

3. The parcel to be acquired for the state through this funding mechanism is likely to be a 200+ acre parcel along the historic Marion River Carry between Raquette Lake and the Eckford Chain of Lakes leading to Blue Mountain Lake. This is an important new acquisition for the forest preserve;

4. Private parties along the shoreline may reduce their monetary contribution to the fund by donating a portion of their shoreline as a conservation easement to the Town of Long Lake, or as Forest Preserve to the State of New York. Conservation-minded people will thus have an incentive to better protect the shores of Raquette Lake then they have today, lacking certainty about their ownership.

NYS Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Sweeney and his colleagues agreed to the constitutional amendment and to implementing legislation this past spring, which passed both chambers.

When she was interviewed recently on the lake by the WMHT-TV’s “New York Now,” Carolyn Gerdin said that her father had forbidden any family discussion of the historic problem of uncertain title along Raquette Lake. Discussing it never brought resolution, only more worry, so why bring it up? For me, that struck a chord. I reminded myself that due to redistricting I am part of the same State Senate District as Carolyn, District 49. I had participated in a seven or eight year dispute resolution process which had finally brought something hidden and unwelcome at Raquette Lake into the sunlight, and a negotiated solution was in sight. Carolyn reminded viewers that the solution would not cost the state’s taxpayers a dime.

Now, it is up to the voters as Proposition 4 on tomorrow’s ballot. Vote yes.

Photo: Raquette Lake by Dave Gibson.

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve

During Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history.

Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.




29 Responses

  1. Bill Ingersoll says:

    One of my most prized possessions is a lithographed map of Township 40 circa 1900, showing where logging activity might occur if Article 7 Section 7 was rescinded. It shows pretty much all of the lake as state land, with only a few of the peninsulas privately owned.

    I plan to vote yes on Prop 4.

  2. Paul says:

    What is wrong with logging? I support new-able energy.

    Doesn’t this prop benefit a private entity just like 5? Maybe one of the property owners might want to have a mine on the shore of the lake? Once this is cleared up it should make it easier to get the permits for that type of development or any other.

  3. Marlo Stanfield says:

    You’re right, maybe one of those families has been waiting for the past 100 years to get title to their land so they can turn it into a mine. Or maybe they want to turn the fire department into a casino! We should definitely keep the community in limbo until we can prove that’s not going to happen.

  4. Bob Meyer says:

    I totally agree with Dave and Bill Ingersoll.
    the above comparisons by Paul & Mario between Prop 4 & Prop 5 are incorrect.

    • Paul says:

      Bob, I simply said that both props have a benefit for a private entity(ies). That isn’t incorrect it is indisputable.

      Amendments to Article 14 have traditionally involved benefits to both public entities on both sides of the swap. I just don’t understand how a group could argue against one on the principal that it should not benefit a private entity but then support the other when it does. In the case of prop 5 one that benefits a private landowner that has a mine, and on 4 one that benefits a private landowner that can do whatever they want with their land once the title is clear. This issue has interfered with the title transfer of some of these parcels on many occasions in the past.

      • Bill Ingersoll says:

        Here are the public benefits on both half of the Prop 4 trade:

        Public Benefit on the Relinquishing Side: NYS is relieved of titles that are in dispute. Since each lot would have be litigated case by case, this bulk resolution avoids that legal cost. In the event that the state won some of those cases, the existing occupants would need to be evicted to satisfy Article XIV. No one wants to go that route.

        Public benefit on the Receiving Side: NYS gains land with a clear title that can be managed in full accordance with Article XIV.

        In summary, the public is relinquishing claims to land it can’t use for something that it can.

        • Paul says:

          Bill, I support this amendment. And yes, there are clear benefits for the state. No one is saying otherwise. But you can’t argue that it does not have substantial benefits to the private entities as well as to the state. If prop 5 sets a bad precedent by benefiting a private entity than this one does as well. If you don’t think this one benefits the private landowners involved maybe you should go and talk with a few of them or just read some of the stories they have told here and in other places.

          “the existing occupants would need to be evicted to satisfy Article XIV”

          They can’t be. Neither party holds clean title to the land. If the state did they would have been evicted a hundred years ago.

        • Bill Ingersoll says:

          The issue is NOT whether or not there is a private benefit. The issue is whether the state/public benefits by both giving AND getting land.

          With Prop 5, the state/public does not benefit by giving up Lot 8, only in the receiving of the exchange lands.

          If NYCO and NYS were disputing the title of Lot 8 — i.e. both sides thought they owned it — then Prop 5 might be justified. The state could get out of its claim and acquire and get something with a clear title.

          If NYCO was a utility that serviced a local town, and Lot 8 was the only feasible place for a power line/water source/whatever, then the public benefit would be the service provided by the utility AND the lands gained in exchange.

          But none of these things is true with Prop 5. The exchange is motivated exclusively by NYCO, and NYCO realizes the majority of the benefits. The state/public benefit is only the acquisition of new lands, which (in my opinion) is offset by the likely obliteration of Lot 8 and the intrusion of industrial mining operations within the Jay Mountain Wilderness.

          • Paul says:

            Bill, On prop 4 what benefit does the state get on “giving” the land? They abandon the necessity to fight for land that might be covered under article 14? We (as a state) also will give up our right to try and argue legally for the land. Like I said I am for the prop. But these are not real benefits. Do you have something more tangible?

          • Bill Ingersoll says:

            I’ve explained my views to my own satisfaction, and see no value in chasing this around in circles any further.

            Proposition 4 (Township 40) = Vote YES

            Proposition 5 (NYCO) = Vote EMPHATITCALLY NO

            • Paul says:

              In other words. No.

              I am voting the same way as you.

            • Paul says:

              Bill, Favor. How many acres are contained in these 216 parcels?

            • Will Doolittle says:

              Bill,
              You are ignoring the main argument for Prop. 5, which is the benefit to a major employer in an area desperate for jobs, especially good-paying manufacturing/industrial jobs. Most people — perhaps not you — see the addition or retention of jobs as a public benefit.

              • Pete Nelson says:

                Will:

                As a reporter who has covered political and economic issues for a long time, you know better than most people that the issue of jobs is always complicated, always contextual and heavily loaded. Here are two truisms in politics: 1. everyone is for jobs; 2. everyone uses the term “jobs” for political gain, regardless of whether the issue entails a public good or not.

                I’m sure Bill Ingersoll is for jobs. Who isn’t? But perhaps he’s not for the same kinds of jobs as you are, or as, say, Walmart is when they tout jobs, as they always do, even though communities often suffer net losses in jobs when Walmart comes to town. Or perhaps he doubts (as I do) that a “No” vote on Prop 5 will cost jobs, since NYCO has an important foothold in a narrow market (Wollastonite) and has plenty of resources other than Lot 8 with which to work.

                In short, “jobs” as a loaded term does not in and of itself entail a clear public benefit, lest we capitulate to Walmart and let them put stores in every town in the Adirondacks, or we open the still-undisturbed iron ore veins in the interior of the park to mining.

                Whatever the complexities or red herrings of the jobs issue as pertains to Prop 5, it is disingenuous and shallow to simply throw the word around as an accusation, as though to vote “No” proves you are anti-jobs (whatever than means). That’s a bush league political ploy. It ought to be beneath you as a journalist ought it not?

                • Paul says:

                  Political ploy? Even complicated issues can be taken into consideration. I think that he was simply saying that it is one consideration, he didn’t say or imply that a No vote means you are anti-jobs?? I certainly don’t know enough about wallstonite mining (nothing actually!) to have the same doubts as you.

                • Will Doolittle says:

                  Pete,
                  Thanks for spicing up the boring Election Night stretch before the polls close.
                  Well, to respond:
                  No. 1: I don’t think the issue of jobs is always complicated, any more than any issue is “always” complicated.
                  Sometimes, it may be complicated, sometimes not.
                  No. 2: Everyone is certainly not always for jobs in every situation. I am not for jobs in every situation. I am not for lots of Defense Department jobs, for example.
                  No. 3: Wal-Mart has nothing to do with this.
                  No. 4: Sure, you can argue about whether a no vote on Prop. 5 will cost jobs, and about whether a yes vote will create jobs. What I was saying is, that is the public benefit argument in favor of the proposal. You said there is no public benefit to the proposal, flatly, as if that were an accepted fact. It isn’t. As I said, lots of people would argue a yes vote will save jobs and perhaps even create new ones, and would argue that is a public benefit.
                  No. 6: It’s not a red herring nor disingenuous to talk about jobs, it is one of the main arguments being advanced in favor of the proposal, not only by politicians and other local people, but by mainstream environmental organizations.
                  No. 7: I never said nor do I feel that a no vote proves you are anti-jobs.
                  No. 8: “Bush league” and “beneath you”. Well, I’ve heard worse. And if using the word “jobs” as an argument is beneath me as a journalist, I shudder to think how far beneath me I have sunk at other times, using other words.

        • Avon says:

          Paul is wrong to say there’s no benefit to the state in Prop 4, for the same reason that he’s right to say the state has no chance to win clear title to the Township 40 lands. That reason? Because if the State doesn’t have a prayer of winning anything in court, then the proceeds of Prop 4 (the payments the present owners will make to obtain clear title) are a gain for the State.

          Bill is wrong to say costly litigation will have to address each lot, for the same reason he’s right to say the present landholders get a benefit that’s irrelevant to the Forever Wild principle. That reason? Because if no party is ever going to be able to get clear title in court (and God knows, they’ve tried for over a century, with the courts finding no winning argument on either side), then no one will go to court, and the lots will remain just as much Forever Wild after Prop 4 as they are now. (That is, still held by private owners, and still subject to local zoning, State laws and APA regulation.)

          No wonder Paul and Bill agree in supporting Prop 4.
          The rest of us all should, too.

          • Paul says:

            Avon, I did not say there was no benefit to the state in the swap. Our benefit comes only on the “get” end.

            I already voted yes on this one.

  5. Mike Prescott says:

    All.

    To clear-up some of the confusion (historic) that appears to be “out there” I refer you to my Adirondack Almanack article of Tuesday, October 8, 2013, If you read the article you will note that there is no one alive today, that had any involvement with the original land conflicts, These conflicts date back to the mid-to- late 1800’s. The land auctions, in those days, were often based on incorrect tax records, incorrect surveys, incorrect deed records etc. All of which the State of New York acknowledged back in early 1900’s. Please take the time to read my article “Commentary: Vote Yes on the Township 40 Amendment”. This issue has been around a long time and it is time to clean-it-up !!! This issue has far different roots than the NYCO issue.

    • Paul says:

      Mike, I read the article and it was very good. The roots of the issue may be different but the principle is the same. Also, it makes no difference that the folks that originally were involved are no longer alive. Ownership if properly deeded goes with their successors. Conflicts related to a deed also go with the current “owners”. Otherwise there would not be an issue to discuss. As I see it this is going to bring great benefits to the folks that will get a clean title, even if it was not legally their land. Anyone that has had a similar title conflict understands the gravity of this. You probably would have some problems even finding a bank that would finance a mortgage under a situation like this. The land certainly could not be developed commercially. Are there any commercial properties involved?

  6. Paul says:

    “The parcel to be acquired for the state through this funding mechanism is likely to be a 200+ acre parcel along the historic Marion River Carry between Raquette Lake and the Eckford Chain of Lakes leading to Blue Mountain Lake.”

    Likely! Dave, Isn’t this one of the exact same issues that you have with the other proposition?

    Nothing definitive here on what will be swapped and what value it might have.

    • Avon says:

      The likelihood of getting the Marion River Carry and adjoining acreage with Prop 4 proceeds is delightfully high, for both market reasons and legal reasons. The likelihood of getting all the Boquet River lands that have been quasi-promised is anywhere from somewhat dubious to pretty hard to believe, depending on your view of the facts. And those lands may make for a fun outdoor playground, but they’ll never become “Wilderness.”

      (The likelihood of “reclaiming” an open-pit or strip mine after NYCO gets done with it, such that it could make a credible plot to add to a “Forest Preserve,” is zero. If anyone doubts that, they should look at any other open-pit mine or mountaintop removal site from years ago. “Forever Wasteland” makes for an ugly motto.

  7. Paul says:

    The land there has been described as “old growth forest” by some. That appears to be incorrect, and apparently not the issue as described by the same folks. The state seems to have done a pretty good job in picking the land in the Forest Preserve for its value ecologically so far, I am sure they are doing the same here. The Nature Conservancy collaborates with the DEC on the issue. Their scientists make these determinations. This has been studied carefully. The decision based on the science is to approve the swap and increase the size of the Forest Preserve and require the company to reclaim the mining land and then add that (along with it’s views) back into the Forest Preserve.

  8. Bill Ingersoll says:

    For anyone who is looking for more info on Prop 4 and Township 40, try this link:

    http://twp40.com/

    Not sure who runs it, but it seems to have useful info.

    • Paul says:

      Thanks. That is a lot of valuable waterfront real estate. It has the kicker that most of it is surrounded by Forest Preserve. Perfect lands for a small version of the Adirondack Club and Resort, and being on the water it might even be successful!

  9. Squatter says:

    Shouldn’t the real solution be more along the lines of some sort of squatter rights? The Forest Preserve could retain the land but not be able to evict those who are there as long as they abide by the deforestation/development regulations of the Preserve (since we don’t already regulate in such a way culturally, which would be preferrable). For really in the end, no one should be able to “own” land in any permanent sense. Indigenous conceptions of land, for instance, have no such disputes… There is no real way to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ since the proposal doesn’t address the fundamental issue: the very concept of land ownership that the proposal further embeds us in. And does not even address it, let alone try to solve it.