The state attorney general is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the state Department of Environmental Conservation in a long-running feud over the status of Old Mountain Road in the towns of North Elba and Keene.
The state is also seeking to transfer the case from State Supreme Court in Essex County to the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Albany.
The Old Mountain Road is a dirt thoroughfare, often flooded by beavers, that runs through the Sentinel Range Wilderness. It is part of the Jackrabbit Ski Trail, which stretches from Keene to Saranac Lake.
Jim McCulley, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, has been battling DEC since 2003, contending that the trail remains a town road and is open to motor-vehicle use. DEC maintains that the road was abandoned and is now part of the Wilderness Area, where motorized use is prohibited.
McCulley has been ticketed twice for operating a motor vehicle on the trail—a snowmobile in March 2003 and a pickup truck in May 2005. A county judge threw out the first ticket. In the second case, a DEC administrative-law judge ruled in McCulley’s favor in 2009. This ruling was upheld by DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, who has since retired.
Last July, however, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens (who also has retired) reversed the Grannis decision. Martens did not reinstate the ticket against McCulley, but he ruled that the Old Mountain Road had in fact been abandoned and is now part of the Wilderness Area.
McCulley filed a lawsuit in November challenging Martens’s ruling and asking the court to declare that Old Mountain Road remains a town road. The town of North Elba has filed a similar suit.
McCulley argues that Martens had no authority to overturn the Grannis decision and that he ignored the evidence that Old Mountain Road remained a town road.
In its reply, dated January 14, the state attorney general’s office contends that the evidentiary question is one that must be heard by the Appellate Division. The state plans to make a motion in State Supreme Court in Essex County next month to transfer the case. If the judge denies the motion, the state will ask for 30 days to address the merits of McCulley’s complaint.
McCulley’s attorney, Matt Norfolk of Lake Placid, said he will oppose the motion.
The Appellate Division is a panel of five judges that sits in Albany. It hears appeals from a wide swath of northern New York as well as many cases involving state agencies.
Photo by Susan Bibeau: Jim McCulley on Old Mountain Road.