Wednesday, January 20, 2016

State Seeks Dismissal Of Old Mountain Road Lawsuit

mcculley-with-dogThe 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.



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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.

22 Responses

  1. Bill Ingersoll says:

    If Martens didn’t reinstate the ticket that triggered the original decision, then how does McCulley have standing to sue?

    • Phil Brown says:

      Perhaps the state will raise that issue. McCulley might argue that he has standing by virtue of his past involvement in these cases. He was victorious in the earlier decisions. Part of that victory has been taken away.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      Even if he doesn’t have standing North Elba certainly does.

  2. Justin Demers says:

    If it’s an existing road already… Then why can the state just take it from the town? It’s not like someone has cut a new trail thru the wilderness, it has existed for quite sometime

  3. Bruce says:

    The question seems to whether the town ceased maintenance on the road before the DEC took over jurisdiction. If so, and there was no objection from the town then the question is moot, regardless of any 6 year rule or use after maintenance ceased.

    Unless I’m mistaken, in a previous article, McCulley alluded to doing this for the town, standing up for the town’s rights, as it were. It’s interesting I read nothing which suggested the town is supporting him in this.

    I believe the ticket issue is entirely separate, but he’s trying to use it as some kind of leverage to get snowmobiles back on the trail (former road).

    • Paul says:

      Wow, this is really crazy how this case has played out. Especially the DEC flip flop. The state obviously isn’t sure on this case. Why would they expect the court to entertain a dismissal under those circumstances? Just trying to make it more expensive for McCully.

  4. ADKerDon says:

    This is just one more reason to abolish the forest preserve, and point out the environment, wildlife habitat destroyer it is. When some lackey in DEC can arbitrarily change a ruling on a whim, it is overdue time to remove decision making from the DEC. Old Mountain Road is a historically significant road in that it is the road our local hero and anti-slavery fighter, John Brown, traveled over to his final resting place. Our history demands this road stays open. As DEC personnel endorsed murdering all snowmobilers and Martens contempt for Adirondackers, our wildlife, our environment, and recreation for all on forest preserve lands and waters, provides just further proof od the need to abolish the forest preserve and remove DEC from all decision making.

    • Boreas says:

      “As DEC personnel endorsed murdering all snowmobilers…” ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………………….

      • Paul says:

        How much do you have to have snowmobiled to be murdered? I did it some when I was younger. Are we going to retroactively do this or just current sledders?

    • Pragmatist says:

      I would appreciate a link to the source where “DEC personnel endorsed murdering all snowmobilers….”

  5. Tom Payne says:

    Don is speaking of Clarence Petty. Former NYSDEC employee and Environmentalist who openly advocated and of killing snowmobilers in the Park.

    • Boreas says:

      Old Clarence had a pretty good head on his shoulders, but as he is no longer with us (or the DEC), his more extreme opinions probably shouldn’t enter into today’s arguments.

      • Boreas says:

        Oh, BTW, I forgot to mention that John Brown had a few extreme ideas of his own…

        • John Warren says:

          They weren’t extreme views to the people who were enslaved, separated from their families, watching their wives, mothers, and daughters raped and abused. People who were murdered without a second thought, publicly tortured, and living in hopeless slavery.

          In light of those facts, John Brown’s views weren’t that extreme. In fact, they were later adopted by the Nation.

          • M.P. Heller says:

            I’m pretty sure that those aren’t the particular views Boreas was talking about. We can leave that for another day though.

          • Boreas says:


            I was referring, perhaps a little too vaguely, to the Pottawatomie massacre in Kansas. I suppose I was commenting more on his tactics than his views.

            • Paul says:

              Absolutely, I knew what you meant as soon as I saw the comment. Hacking people to death with broadswords and even what they tried to do at Harper’s Ferry were pretty extreme. Besides extreme doesn’t mean bad or good just extreme.

  6. Charlie S says:

    Clarence Petty! I have,and read,his biography. A very interesting man who lived to be 104….all of that fresh Adirondack air and his participation in it can do wonders for some evidently. He loved the Adirondacks and if it had been up to him them great north woods would had gone right up to the steps of the NY State Capital. That’s what I call a real passion.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Take home is…

      … clearly say what you believe and work hard to make sure it stands up…

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Regardless of your perspective, Jim McCully is standing by by his convictions, and that is to be respected.

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