Monday, December 16, 2013

Classifications Require Rule Changes

FULL SIZE - APA Essex Chain Lakes Recommendation MapFor three days, the Adirondack Park Agency deliberated on a set of classifications for Forest Preserve in Newcomb, Minerva and Indian Lake that were never in doubt. The decisions were the Governor’s. APA took its direction from him, as it did with the Adirondack Club and Resort two years ago.

APA staff labored mightily over the past week to put those State Land decisions, and the maps into a format that their members might understand. The convoluted resolution was adopted unanimously but requires changes in inconvenient regulations and policies before the classifications are finalized. That is the price this Governor exacts from his state agencies in order to settle a controversial policy matter for these magnificent new parts of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

I hasten to add that the Governor’s decisions were considerably influenced by various publics, including last summer’s hearings, and did achieve something very important. If Adirondack organizations had not remained united in their positions that the Essex Chain Lakes should be classified and managed as Wilderness, I have little doubt that the lakes would have been classified Wild Forest, as the DEC had recommended one year ago, and that severe motorized pressures and pollution on those lakes would result.

Thanks to that united position, which was tested but held, and without strong public agreement during the hearings last summer that this rare, vulnerable system of small, connected lakes at the center of the Park should remain non-motorized and a wilderness for future generations to enjoy, the Governor allowed the APA’s staff to take their responsibilities under the State Land Master Plan seriously in this vital instance.

In the case of the Chain of Lakes, the staff were permitted to abide by their Master Plan’s unifying theme, that the protection and preservation of the natural resources of the Forest Preserve must be“paramount” and that human use and enjoyment be allowed without degrading the biological, physical, social and psychological aspects of those natural resources.

A Primitive classification for the lakes region was selected based on a careful staff interpretation of their Master Plan, and pretty rigorous analysis and acknowledgement of the lakes’ sensitive shorelines and ecology. The Adirondack Nature Conservancy’s rigorous scientific assessment of these landscapes since 2007 was augmented by APA staff field research. One can support a Wilderness classification, as Adirondack Wild did, while still recognizing the integrity behind a decision to classify as Primitive given, for example, the reserved rights for bush pilots to fly in and out of First and Pine Lakes and the anticipated, but still uncertain impacts of those flights on the opportunities to experience a primitive and unconfined form of recreation on the Chain.

A Primitive classification for the lakes east of First Lake should ensure careful, conservative management of the shoreline, of the fishery, and of muscle-powered recreational uses. That is as it should be. The APA staff did a fine job in its analysis of the Chain Lakes, and its recommendations. Much work remains in the preparation of a unit management plan, of course.

Creation of the Hudson Gorge Wilderness area east of the Chain Lakes largely by reclassifying what heretofore has been the Hudson Gorge Primitive Area is a great achievement, but was an easy decision for the Governor and his agencies to reach. The towns of Indian Lake, Minerva and Newcomb were not objecting to this, and in general the management of the Upper Hudson would not be significantly altered. The reclassification was already called for by the Master Plan should the Finch, Pruyn lands ever become Forest Preserve.

I celebrate all of this. Yet, the price exacted for wilderness treatment of the lakes was compromising the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act, its Regulations, and the Snowmobile Guidance, all due to a separate classification of a long, 1/10th mile wide Wild Forest corridor along the old logging roads between the Hudson Wilderness and the Chain Lakes Primitive areas, reaching to and beyond the Cedar River to allow faster, more direct snowmobiling between Newcomb and Indian Lake. In private meetings sponsored by the Governor, to which few were invited, this demand for a better snowmobile trail was the linchpin behind a deal. The unity of the five affected towns desiring significant motorized access to these new public lands proved influential.

It made no difference that a snowmobile trail connecting Indian Lake and Newcomb already exists thanks to the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and the conservation easement placed on the former Finch lands west of the Chain Lakes. That trail was created with no small difficulty, but apparently proved unpopular. The Snowmobile Guidance encourages snowmobile connector trails to be placed on conservation easement lands whenever possible – and this one is.

It made no difference to the APA that the new wide snowmobile corridor within the remote interior of the Forest Preserve and many miles from any public highway violates that Guidance Document reached, after much controversy, just a few years ago. That Guidance makes it an extraordinary circumstance for a wide snowmobile connector trail on the Forest Preserve to fall more than a mile from a public highway. Here, it would fall many miles in the interior. It made no difference to the APA that the Guidance Document forbids duplicative, parallel trails – the existing trail that runs northwest from the western end of Indian Lake village may never be closed to snowmobiling.

The Snowmobile Guidance document, which state agencies sweated bullets to produce just a few years ago, is rendered pretty meaningless by the Governor’s and APA’s decisions. It probably already was.

In addition, the Resolution approved by the APA on Friday invites the DEC to push through a regulatory change that would authorize a 120-foot bridge over the Cedar River to connect the snowmobile trail. It invites an amendment to the Master Plan to authorize use of steel girders in the bridge. In fact, the Governor’s “deal” hinges on this long bridge. The Cedar River is designated Scenic at this location, and the last bridge at this location went out in 1968 prior to the Wild Rivers legislation. Wild, Scenic and Recreational River regulations approved decades ago permit limited road access to these rivers, requires vegetative screening of such access, contemplates bridges for foot traffic by permit, but do not allow bridges expressly for motorized traffic. The Cedar is a beautiful wild river, and land uses adjoining it are supposed to be consistent with a Primitive designation on one side of the former logging road, and Wilderness on the other, not a motorized corridor running down the middle. That corridor, and the bridge between its north and south segments along the old Chain Lakes road, will pose severe management and enforcement challenges and costs for the DEC.

Also, the deal would also authorize motor vehicles driving well within a half-mile of the Upper Hudson, a designated Wild River. This would be another violation of the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act regulations. It would, in addition, leave in place a large steel bridge over the Hudson which currently leads to some camps leased by the Polaris Club. It was built in the 1990s as a temporary bridge to allow Finch, Pruyn to log its lands west of the Hudson. The lease camps are to be removed by 2018, and the land around them to be included in the Hudson Gorge Wilderness, thus eventually making it a bridge to nowhere. The APA resolution places the bridge just north of the Wilderness boundary in a Wild Forest classification in order to keep it. It will become an attractive nuisance, attract illegal motorized uses, its piers have always obstructed the course of the river, and the Upper Hudson would be much wilder without it. It should be taken down.

While APA Commissioner Booth publicly mentioned some of these legal questions, most of them never appear in the final Resolution approved last Friday. APA members and staff spent most of their time attempting to get their minds around the complex classification boundaries made necessary by this Snowmobile Connector trail and the long bridge over the Cedar River. They left themselves an out with an alternative snowmobile route that curves west without crossing the river – if the regulations are not changed, and the bridge is deemed impermissible.

The final APA resolution was at pains to place ultimate decision-making on the legality of the bridge at the door of the DEC, but clearly anticipates creative interpretation of the regulations to authorize it, or a rule change to make it explicitly legal.

I applaud the wilderness management planned for the Chain Lakes, and Upper Hudson. I appreciate all the hard work that went into the classification alternatives, the challenging work ahead, and the need to get on with it. I also understand that placing a new snowmobile route along an existing dirt road minimizes tree-cutting and damage associated with clearing a new trail.

However, it’s important to acknowledge the costs imposed by the circumnavigation of existing regulations and policies in the process, costs to the resources affected, costs to the integrity of the process, and actual dollar costs, and how those could have been avoided. The APA could have authorized a new, shorter snowmobile loop on a portion of the road system without so severely compromising the Rivers regulations and its Snowmobile Guidance. It could have exercised some independence by advising the Governor that upholding the Master Plan and classifying State Land appropriately implies upholding other existing laws and regulations. If a longer snowmobile corridor and crossing of the Cedar River was deemed necessary, fine, the Governor could have sought to achieve this in a separate process later on, independent of this classification.

Instead, the APA classification decision and the regulatory changes and amendments sought are explicitly linked and inseparable, as the Governor demanded. Here is the language in the resolution:

“Be it further resolved, that the Agency respectfully requests the Department (Environmental Conservation) consider whether existing Part 666 authorizes the construction of a snowmobile bridge over the Scenic Cedar River and, if it does not, consider making appropriate revisions to 6 NYCRR Part 666 to allow such a bridge.”

“Be it further resolved, that the Agency staff are hereby directed to commence the process which will enable the Agency to determine whether to amend the Master Plan to allow the bridge over the Cedar River to be constructed with other than solely natural materials.”

Who in state government will have the temerity to question the wisdom of these rule changes? Will public comment matter?


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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 PreserveDuring 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.

26 Responses

  1. Phil Brown says:

    Dave, it will be interesting to see what must be done to allow the Cedar River bridge. One question: if the APA classified the land without the Wild Forest corridor, as you suggest, presumably making it Primitive or Wilderness, could it later downgrade the classification to Wild Forest? I suppose they could as something similar was done to allow the snowmobile trail in the 5 Ponds Wilderness. But that ran along the edge of the area, not through the interior.

  2. Running George says:

    Well there you have it.
    “In private meetings sponsored by the Governor, to which few were invited, this demand for a better snowmobile trail was the lynch pin behind a deal. The unity of the five affected towns desiring significant motorized access to these new public lands proved influential.”
    I still want the names of those that nodded in agreement to this snowmobile trail. This was an inside deal with those that would throw rose petals at Cuomo’s feet.

    • M.P.Heller says:

      Ohhhhh. Secrets and conspiracy. Spooky stuff.

      Was bigfoot at these meetings too?

      • Running George says:

        Give up your rights to open government i you want, but you’re not giving up mine.
        Conspiracy is your word… not mine. What we have here are political operatives dividing the pie to serve the agenda o the Cuomo Administration and in doing so have undermined the process. If they are proud of their involvement in “private meetings” they should have no problem owning up to their attendance and their input.
        Apologists are commonplace, M.P., you are not unique.

  3. Pete Klein says:

    Live with it.
    But on a slightly differ subject, how about no hiking trail to OK Slip Falls?
    Would a trail to the falls encourage an intentional or accidental slip over the falls?

    • Running George says:

      Nah, you live with it. I want some accountability. If those secret negotiators are confident that their actions were upright, then they’ve nothing to fear.
      While you’re living with it, ponder the demise of the inquisitive press.

  4. Little Buckaroo says:

    Leaving the Polaris bridge in place, when it clearly was built as a temporary structure to get logs over the Hudson, is just as bad a violation of the WSRR regs as a Cedar River Bridge will be.The Hudson in the area of the Polaris Bridge should become a Wild River and the bridge should be removed and the Wild Forest classification on the downstream side of it made Primitive.

    • ThisGuy says:

      Never heard it was temporary. Where did you hear that? It looks like a solid permenant structure. Large concrete abutments. I’d like to find out more.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    There was a choice.
    The bridge over the river or cutting a new trail heading west and around the primitive area which would result in cutting the Chain Lakes Primitive in half to create the the Pine Lake Primitive to the south.
    And oh by the way, cutting tens of thousands of trees to make the trail.

  6. Dave Gibson says:

    To Phil Brown,
    Your point, that the Master Plan would prevent a reclassification from Primitive to Wild Forest, is well taken. My point was that the Gov/APA could have classified a shorter Wild Forest corridor on the Camp Six/Chain Lakes Roads, with a loop in it to bring riders back north to Goodnow Flow/Newcomb and the existing Cornell Road route to the south – without a massive new bridge over the Cedar and needed rule changes to benefit a duplicative bridge (one also exists to the west), without those costs and impacts, and keeping the existing connecting trail on easement lands to Indian Lake which the Nature Conservancy put in place two years ago.

  7. Little Buckaroo says:

    In addition to opposing the proposed Cedar River bridge changes to the WSRR regs and opposing the changes in those regs that would allow the Polaris brige to be retained, the snowmobilers need to come a cropper in other ways.

    The corridor to the west is no good. It goes through major wetlands and has other problems. Of the two evils, building a new Cedar River bridge is the lesser but both option should be opposed.

    The Wild Forest snowmobile corridor is at the heart of all of the evil. It will also mean that the Primitive areas will be permanent and that should be opposed in the SLMP amendment process along with the Wild Forest Corridor.

    The float plane landings and the three gravel pits require TRPs. In fact the towns have minimal rights in these matters because of the nature of the easements.These uses should be opposed.

    • Paul says:

      You mention these gravel pits the towns use? Are they the ones that are maintaining these roads? Are they considered town highways by vehicle and traffic law?

      In an earlier story I read it sounded like the towns might be considering some type of legal action if a Wild Forest designation allowing roads to remain open was not the final outcome.

      Will this “compromise” satisfy those parties or are there factions opposed to this classification on both extremes?

  8. M.P.Heller says:

    What a nice new oppertunity that Mr. Cuomo, the APA, and TNC has worked hard to provide to the public. I can’t imagine the amount of hard work that all those folks and their designees accomplished in order to bring this package to fruition. It must have taken an enormous effort and countless hours and resources to accomplish this outcome. The public is definately richer as a result of their hard work.

    All of the nay-saying, and rubbishing of the adopted plan is ok also. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, no matter how protracted, obtuse, and self serving it is.

    I wonder how much it would cost me to get a decent snowmobile. The more I think about it, the more I want to give it a try. It would be awful childish of me to say there is something wrong with it before I gave it a shot.

  9. Paul says:

    I see no problem with people withing a representative government doing what they were elected to do, govern. These meetings and the other work that went into this decision were all part of governing, they were not a conspiracy. I say this as someone who disagrees with the final outcome here.

    Also, remember things evolve and classifications change. The same could happen here over time. Part of this deal included re-classification.

  10. Running George says:

    People “within a representative government” should do what they “were elected to do” in the light so day so those that elected them can see what’s going on. Rules get broken when power works in the dark. Again… conspiracy is someone else’s word… not mine.

    • Running George says:

      There’s a bigger picture here,too. It appears that not everyone making deals was a member of “representative government” and weren’t elected by anyone. Who were these people or groups that received their special Governor’s invitation, why were only they invited, and what part they played are legitimate questions.
      There is no need for secrecy.

      • Nature says:


        I would bet that environmental groups, as well as other special interest groups such as snowmobile associations, developers, or hiking clubs, have been at the table with governors past and present. These would all be the unelected, non-representative folks you are talking about. All while you and I were not at the same table.

        Is this all bad? or, is it only bad when the group you support is not invited? I do not have a problem with such groups informing a process. But, Like you, I do not think they should be part of brokering a government deal. Did they actually broker the deal, or did they (whoever they are) simply inform the process? I do not know, and likely never will. Maybe Dave Gibson can let us know who they were and what was said?

        Although I would have liked to see the final outcome of this classification go a little differently, I can live with it at face value. Therefore I am not too troubled by this particular process. Although I must admit I probably would be troubled by this exact same process if I really didn’t like the outcome.

        • Running George says:

          “I would bet that environmental groups, as well as other special interest groups such as snowmobile associations, developers, or hiking clubs, have been at the table with governors past and present.” That’s the problem, we’re left “betting”. I’m simply saying we should know who the players were and the onus for his is on the APA and Governor’s office to follow the sunshine laws. I’m not even saying that I object to the involvement of certain groups, but tell me who it was that was involved. Tell me why certain people were involved and others not. It is my opinion that this group was limited to those that would “play ball” with the Governor’s agenda and those that weren’t as disposed were not on the invite list. Let the sun shine in!

          • Paul says:

            RG, you have probably been involved in negotiations at some point. There always has to be some level of discussion that goes on without everyone looking in (and commenting on) otherwise nothing would ever be accomplished. Especially for a controversial topic. The organization managing these classifications (the APA) is one of the most transparent organizations I have ever seen.

            “I’m simply saying we should know who the players were”

            This was not a secret was it? We know who was having the discussions?

            • Running George says:

              I’ve been in plenty of negotiations regarding the public interest and nope, you can’t do public business in the dark. If the APA is so transparent then why is the view so bad?
              “This was not a secret was it? We know who was having the discussions?” Are you asking or telling? Since you know who was there, please tell me… and tell me where any of the participants have acknowledged their participation.

              • Paul says:

                RG, I was asking. Maybe we are talking about two different things. I thought that you were referring specifically to this meeting that took place on Follensby pond? It is well known who attended that meeting.

                There is a big difference between doing business in the dark and keeping some of your discussions behind closed doors and with certain people out from some parts of the negotiation.

                But it is clear we will have to agree to disagree on this. Happy holidays.

  11. Avon says:

    I think Phil’s reservations about the approved plan, which he eventually gets around to saying “it’s important to acknowledge” but ends up reluctantly accepting as fact, are pretty mildly stated. If the Master Plan and the sanctity of a Wild River are of real value, one could have written a far harsher assessment of the approved plan.

    In short, I don’t see any “nay-saying and rubbishing” in the article.

    But I do see a terribly unfortunate misuse of the word “lynch,” which I hope gets removed BEFORE this article is published elsewhere or archived here! The correct term is “linchpin” (or, if you insist, “linch pin”). It has nothing to do with lynchings, similar though they sound and look.

  12. Dave Gibson says:

    Thanks for “linchpin” reminder.

    I think it comes as no surprise that Gov Cuomo brokers his own deals, and some are in on those meetings and others are not. Bottom line: APA took orders, and punted the legal issues to DEC (showing a clear preference as to the outcomes) when in fact they were required to produce analysis of their own (as per their SEQRA duties) and tell all of us whether the snowmobile corridor and crossing of the Cedar River etc was legal or not, and showing us whether alternatives had been adequately offered and analyzed. An alternative snowmobile route could have been designed without the legal conundrums, but clearly that was not what the Governor had in mind.

    • Justin says:

      A Wild Forest classification would have elegantly eliminated all legal conundrums.

      I’ll take the conundrums and have faith that they’ll be figured out. Protecting the land and waters is more important than protecting the existing laws and regulations, which are intended to be changed as needed. If a bridge needs to go over the Cedar River to keep the Essex Chain motor free and to prevent a new snowmobile trail from being slashed through the forest, so be it.

      This isn’t to say you and the rest of us shouldn’t keep a watchful eye on all of this. Let’s just keep in mind that protecting as much of the Adirondacks as we can is the objective, and that the regulations should be viewed and treated as the means to that end.

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