Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Green Groups Question Aspects Of Classification Decision

snowmobile-bridge-600x432Three 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.

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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.

32 Responses

  1. Running george says:

    Good on all three groups.

    • Smitty says:

      Let me start by saying that I really don’t like snowmobiles. But I think the APA reached a very thoughtful and reasonable decision that balances the needs of as many people as possible. Environmental groups run the risk of marginalizing themselves by avoiding consensus positions. Just like the tea party.

      • David says:

        What should they stand up against then? A mine in the wilderness? A classification deal that runs directly contradictory to a vision statement they have published? I think that they have already alienated a number of their core supporters this past year, might as well try to get them back.

      • Uncle Bob says:

        Nothing shocking here!

        Protect!, Adirondack Wild, and the Sierra Club, want what is in it for them (Praise!), but oh by the way.

        It is lucky the only responsibility that any of them have is to take donor money, pay advocates, and make noise! They clearly don’t understand that State Agencies have a responsibility to the People of the State of NY.

        • Alan Senbaugh says:

          What “is in it for them”? Do you mean because they are an organization of like minded people like a bicycle club?

          If the snowmobile trail was actually an acceptable use don’t you think the mgmt area containing it would be wider than 20 feet? Something is wrong here. Maybe it should all be wild forest? Either way this is a corruption of the process in the name of compromise that requires the re-writing of too many regs. It should make us all realize something is amiss.

  2. Solo Pete says:

    Just can’t come to grips with the fact State Land is owned by the people of the State of New york. That not all New Yorkers want to just hike or canoe.

    • dave says:

      Solo Pete,

      New Yorkers had a chance to express their opinion on this during the public comment period, and by a margin of 4 to 1 they said they wanted Wilderness.

      So no, not ALL New Yorkers want to just hike or canoe… but a good majority wanted these lands to be classified in such a way that restricted motorized use.

      • Don Dew Jr says:

        Dave, Any idea on how many New Yorkers did take the time to make a public comment? Thanks

        • David says:

          And a lot of people did not vote. Don’t think for a second that snowmobile organisations did not mobilize their members in the same way the conservation orginisations did. At the end of the day this is a similar ratio of snowmobilers to hikers/paddlers/snow shoers/cross country skiiers as seen in the APA’s economic presentation on the classification, and hikers et al probably do outnumber snowmobilers 4-1.

          This is not to diminish the value of snowmobilers I recognise they do come when they are most needed by he towns.

      • TiSentinel65 says:

        To clarify your comment you need to say the written comments were 4:1, and these were to the APA only. This speaks nothing about how many phone calls or letters our elected leaders received or the other ways people communicated how they felt. Figures lie and liars figure.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      The Forest Preserve was meant to be undeveloped land kept forever wild. Surely you can understand the long, sometimes contentious battle drawn over what is acceptable use. Especially since you are talking about loud, smelly anoxious machines. Developed state owned public land is called NYS Parks.

  3. zyxw says:

    Wilderness is simply not wilderness when there is a snowmobile superhighway built through the middle of it. In other words, this isn’t a “compromise.” The side that doesn’t care about wilderness won. In order to achieve this “compromise” the ruling had to elaborately circumvent existing precedent and it depends on future reinterpretations of existing law.

  4. Solo Pete says:

    Whether it’s a thousand hikers vs. five snowmobilers, it doesn’t change the fact they have a right to enjoy the Adirondacks too. I don’t like hiking the back country and seeing/hearing float planes coming and going. It’s not about what I like.

    • dave says:

      “It’s not about what I like.”


      Just because you are not allowed to do a certain activity somewhere does not mean that you are not allowed to enjoy the Adirondacks.

      Everyone has the same right to enjoy this land. The rules apply to everyone, equally.

      • Paul says:

        True. But it does mean that some people are not allowed to enjoy the land in the way they wish. Sure, they can enjoy it some other way that they might not prefer. There are no restrictions on hiking and canoeing in Wild Forest Areas.

        • John Warren says:

          I would like to enjoy the middle of the street by setting up a lawn chair.

          You can’t always have what you want, especially when it impedes on what other people with the same rights want.

          • Paul says:

            True. In this case you might have to pick up your chair and move once and a while but mostly you can sit in the road and enjoy it from your lawn chair.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    Fact of the matter is that most New York residents don’t give a damn about the Adirondacks. Many don’t even know it exists.
    Sad to say, I have heard people who come up or through here and remark something along these lines, “I don’t know why some people think the earth is being overpopulated. Just look at all this land that could be developed.”

  6. Matthew Rogers says:

    While I am not a snowmobiler, I do see the existing economic value that they bring to the Adirondacks and the potential for future benefits. The process for classifying state lands is not a democratic one. A balance must be struck and sometimes that means adjusting policy and past practices. In the field of land use regulation, policies and regulations are not permanent, they are always in flux and adjusting to current circumstances. Finally, it is much easier to make a compromise now instead of revisiting how to integrate snowmobiling at a later date.

    • David says:

      Did you know that when the state bought easements on 89,000 acres in 2010 they did it with the intention of moving motorized travel off of state land and onto easement land. This makes sense because as the law currently exists there is a finite amount of snowmobile trails that can exist on state land. With this in mind the DEC opened a new community connector snowmobile trail from Indian lake to Newcomb less than 3 years ago.

      I understand the value of snowmobiles, I do not however think that snowmobilers really gain anything by opening up the corridor in the middle of the parcel to snowmobiles.

  7. Charlie S says:

    Pete Klein says: I have heard people who come up or through here and remark something along these lines, “I don’t know why some people think the earth is being overpopulated. Just look at all this land that could be developed.”

    Good one Pete and so fitting for a mindless society.

  8. Dave says:

    You have to love Sandra’s ad on the right of the page depicting a snowmobile trail through the Adirondacks!

  9. Joe Henry says:

    APA and DEC are doing the right thing. Multiple use!!!!

  10. Walker says:

    It would be a Good Thing if someone would publish a comprehensible map. The one supplied by the APA and published by the Explorer is execrable!