Three green groups are taking the Adirondack Park Agency to task for failing to provide an analysis of the environmental impacts and legal ramifications of its classification of forty-two thousand acres of state land in December—including twenty-two thousand acres of former Finch, Pruyn land purchased from the Nature Conservancy.
At its monthly meeting, the APA board voted unanimously to create two motor-less tracts, the 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area and 9,940-acre Essex Chain Primitive Area, with a snowmobile corridor (classified Wild Forest) running between them. (You can read about the decision in the latest issue of the Adirondack Explorer.)
In a letter to the APA, Protect the Adirondacks, Adirondack Wild, and the Sierra Club praised the decisions to create the Hudson Gorge Wilderness and ban motorized recreation in the Essex Chain region, but they say the proposed snowmobile corridor raises a number of environmental and legal questions.The preferred snowmobile route—which would link the hamlets of Indian Lake and Newcomb—would necessitate building a hundred-foot bridge over the Cedar River. Because the Cedar is classified by the state as a Scenic River, the bridge may require a change in regulations. In addition, the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan would need to be amended to allow the use of non-natural materials (such as steel beams). Also, the route passes within a half-mile of a stretch of the Hudson River classified as a Wild River. Normally, motorized use is not permitted in the corridor of a Wild River.
Officials at the APA and state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have said they will do everything they can to make the trail happen.
The green groups contend that the APA appears to have violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) by failing to consider alternatives that would avoid changes to state regulations. They say the agency should have taken into consideration that a snowmobile trail between Indian Lake and Newcomb already exists. This trail was made possible a few years ago by the purchase of easements on former Finch, Pruyn timberlands bordering the Essex Chain tract. The groups also suggest that the proposed new trail violates DEC policy against establishing snowmobile routes in the interior of the Forest Preserve.
The environmentalists also criticized the APA board’s decision to retain a steel bridge that crosses the Hudson. Local officials hope the bridge will be used to establish a second snowmobile trail, which would link Newcomb and Indian Lake to Minerva. The green groups say the bridge was built in the 1990s as a temporary structure to allow Finch, Pruyn to access timber on the east side of the river. They say it should be removed.
The groups have asked the APA for a legal opinion as to whether the classification decision complied with SEQRA and the State Land Master Plan.
As of publication time, APA spokesman Keith McKeever had not replied to the Adirondack Almanack’s questions about the environmental groups’ letter.
Photo by Phil Brown: the Cedar River in the Essex Chain Primitive Area.