Monday, January 11, 2016

Adirondack Groups Sue NYS Over Essex Chain Plan

DEC’s Plan for the Essex Chain, Indian River, and OK Slip Falls tracts. The region shaded in blue north of Route 28 would become the Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. Two Adirondack groups have announced that they will file a lawsuit Monday challenging the State’s approval of a new management plan for the Essex Chain Lakes in the heart of the Adirondack Park

The suit claims that the plan violates state law by allowing motorized and mechanized recreational uses in remote, wild areas that the law declares shall be off limits to such activity.

The lawsuit is being filed in state court in Albany by Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and Protect the Adirondacks. The two groups are represented by Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm.

The Essex Chain Lakes tract was purchased by the State and added to the Adirondack Forest Preserve in 2012. The tract includes numerous remote lakes, ponds, and wetlands; secluded and undeveloped stretches of the Hudson, Cedar, Indian, and Rock Rivers; and thousands of acres of forest.

In November 2015, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), by an 8-2 vote, approved a controversial Unit Management Plan (UMP) for the Essex Chain lands prepared by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The two APA members who voted against approval of the UMP expressed concerns about the plan’s legality.

The lawsuit claims that the management plan violates the New York Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act, the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, and the State’s Snowmobile Guidance for siting of new snowmobile routes. Attorneys for Earthjustice in its Northeast Office are filing the lawsuit on behalf of the other parties

The following was sent to the media Sunday night:

The lawsuit claims that the approved UMP calls for a number of management actions that violate state law, including:

Construction of a massive new snowmobile bridge over the remote and scenic Cedar River, which is protected under State law from motorized recreation;

opening of a logging bridge that crosses the remote and scenic Hudson River to public snowmobiling within a River area that is similarly protected under State law from motorized recreation;

opening of a former logging road along a remote, Wild stretch of the Hudson River to motor vehicles in violation of state law;

construction of a new snowmobile corridor through a remote, roadless and trailless part of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest, which duplicates an existing snowmobile route; and;

opening of two large Primitive areas, which are required by law to be managed essentially as wilderness, to all terrain bicycle use, which is prohibited by the State Land Master Plan.

“The state’s actions are not only illegal, but set a dangerous precedent for other areas of our wild Adirondacks. By allowing itself to construct things in protected areas through self-issuing permits or by inventing fictitious legal theories, the state’s actions threaten the entire Forest Preserve,” Chris Amato, an attorney with Earthjustice, said.

“The State acquired this tract of land for the Forest Preserve—to be kept ‘forever wild’ under the state Constitution—precisely because of its spectacular natural resources,” said Hannah Chang, attorney with Earthjustice, the non-profit law firm representing the petitioners. “Yet, in a headlong rush to introduce mechanized and motorized recreational use, the State has turned its back on the very laws that are in effect to preserve these special, wild places. This illegal agency action threatens not only the Essex Chain Lakes Complex, but the integrity of the entire legal framework that is in place to protect the Adirondack Park Forest Preserve.”

“We encourage and support public recreation in the magnificent Essex Chain of Lakes and elsewhere,” said Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson. “But the law states that human use is secondary and must never degrade the wilderness resource. We challenge the state’s permitting of intensive mechanized recreation precisely where the law calls for high levels of protection.”

“The state is breaking state laws to allow motorized use and bikes in parts of the Forest Preserve and in protected river corridors where they are not allowed. This lawsuit seeks to uphold longstanding New York environmental laws that protect the ‘forever wild’ Forest Preserve and protect wild rivers that have been recognized by New Yorkers as deserving the state’s strongest protections,” said Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

“In their rush to approve this UMP, our state agencies dismissed laws protective of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve which have been in place since 1972 and which enjoy broad, bipartisan and public support,” said Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley. “The State Agencies entrusted to protect the Park are shirking their duties and leaving a tarnished legacy under Gov. Andrew Cuomo if this plan’s agenda is fully implemented. We had no choice but to go to court despite that being our last wish.”

The Adirondack Almanack will have more reporting on this story as it develops. The lawsuit can filings can be found here and here.

Map: DEC’s Plan for the Essex Chain, Indian River, and OK Slip Falls tracts.


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30 Responses

  1. Scott says:

    Please sue the state for allowing the roads in the wilderness areas.

  2. Boreasfisher says:

    Legal action as the last resort….the way it should be. Let’s hope the courts act on behalf of the majority who commented on these plans to push for more protection of the natural resources.

    • bill says:

      Boreasfisher –

      Are you really suggesting government should be run by counting the number of comments or form letters sent in on an issue by a few hundred, or even a few thousand people? In a state of many millions?

      Gee, that strikes me as a slippery slope.

      Sending in comments is always a good idea, but counting them to find a simple ‘majority’ would be unwise in the extreme. Especially in today’s political environment.

  3. Bruce says:

    I find it suspicious there were many assertions made with no references to the SLMP or Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, showing what the laws actually say and how they were broken. The intent seems clear, if the land is not classified as Wilderness with all applicable rules in force, this is going to be tied up in the courts until someone hollers “uncle”.

    Primitive, Wild Forest, and Wilderness all clearly have their own rules, they are not interchangeable although some obviously would like them to be.

    I believe this article gives a much clearer picture of what the proposed plan is actually about.

    Is Boreas Ponds next on the calendar?

  4. Paul says:

    The alternative here is to give these areas less protections (a Wild Forest designation) so that none of these things mentioned in the lawsuit are an issue. The state was trying to find a compromise where the land could be afforded more protections instead of just designating these areas as Wild Forest where no one disputes that these uses are legal under current environmental law.

    • smallwood says:

      Wild forest designation does not preclude Wild, Scenic, Recreational Rivers Act protections…
      Constructing a steel beam bridge over the Cedar River simply does not pass legal requirements of laws as they exist today.

  5. Tom Payne says:

    Gee, another lawsuit from Bauer and company! Who would have guessed. Business as usual in Albany.

    • Boreas says:

      Yes. It is a shame that government needs to be reminded of the law at all. But someone has to do it.

      • Tom Payne says:

        Oh I agree. When NYSDEC and the APA illegally collude with the Evironmental Lobby to take roads in the Park then a lawsuit is necessary.

  6. M.P. Heller says:

    Stop donating to PROTECT! There are much better organizations that actually want what is best for the Adirondacks not just their personal vision for a utopian hiking scheme. Sue PROTECT! for constantly wasting valuable taxpayer dollars on frivolous litigation.

  7. Tony Goodwin says:

    I agree with Paul and have said from the beginning that all of the new acquisition west of the Chain Lakes Road and north of the Polaris Bridge should have been classified as wild forest. That would still leave the new Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area at its current size but would have reduced all of the “needle-threading” required to “legalize” all the activities that seem desirable and perfectly appropriate in the Essex Chain – both on the lakes and the old roads.

    Just because it is wild forest where motorized use is permitted doesn’t mean that water skiing or even snowmobiling has to be permitted on the surface of Third Lake. The UMP can be very specific about what uses will be permitted and what won’t. Having paddled on the Essex Chain, I can say that it is a beautiful area but hardly “wilderness” or even “primitive”. A leisurely day of paddling allowed us to traverse all the lakes, so there is no real feeling of remoteness. That said, the lakes offer multiple opportunities for fishing, family camping, etc. and would not, in my opinion, suffer were the road access to come even closer than it does now.

    The wild forest classification wouldn’t solve the issue of the bridge over the Cedar River, but perhaps that stretch could be reduced to a “recreational” river. After a great deal of debate, there was finally agreement that the bridge over Johns Brook at the Interior Outpost could be replaced with a cable-deck bridge – a more subtle design than the previous suspension bridge, but still not of native materials.

    I’m glad that ADK and the Adirondack Council have not also filed suit on this issue. I think all interested parties should have looked at the unprecedented addition of 69,000 acres to the Forest Preserve and accepted that there were many different uses and desires that could be accommodated within this 69,000 acres. Wilderness advocates already have one new wilderness area (Hudson Gorge) and will presumably have many more acres classified as wilderness when the Boreas Tract is added to the Forest Preserve. By my calculations, 11,000 acres of the Essex Chain and related purchases became wilderness. Additionally, a good percentage of the 22,000 acre Boreas Tract will also become wilderness and all the High Peaks and Dix Mt. wilderness areas to be combined. So slightly less than half of the new acquisitions will be be wilderness or approximately the same ratio that now exists between wild forest and wilderness.

    • Boreas says:

      Good points. But without the lawsuit, wouldn’t the contradictory classification be implemented?

    • smallwood says:

      Would “reducing” a “stretch” of Cedar River to Recreational not be “needle-threading”?
      As it stands now, the UMP does not layout any legal plan or action for tackling the problem(s) with the proposed bridge. I could be wrong, but UMP also does not set any conditions which must be met before such a bridge is constructed.
      So if DEC wanted to build the bridge next spring, nothing short of this suit would stand in the way (since APA approved the UMP).

    • Bushwhack Jack says:

      Well said Tony

    • common sense says:

      well put Tony!

  8. Charlie S says:

    This society is chock full of crazed,alienated and broken egotists who are as rootless as a plant in barren soil.Oftentimes they are as lifeless too. What wild places remain on this planet Earth are threatened because of this,because of a base mentality.Because convenience and short term pleasures have more weight to some than does a wilderness in its pristine state…in this case the Adirondacks, which is unlike any other place on earth.

    We need more people with vision,people who have a range of view past their noses.Rachel Carson once said “As man proceeds toward his announced goal of the conquest of nature,he has written a depressing record of destruction,not only against the earth he inhabits but against the life that shares it with him.” She was a jump ahead of your average thinker I must say.There will never be enough wilderness contrary to what some shortsighted people might espouse. I don’t say that to be mean-spirited I say it because it is true. Generally we don’t think ahead we’re stuck in meaningless moments until death due us part…unfortunately.They don’t teach us to think never mind teach us to think ahead.A pea in a pod is oftentimes the same as a brain inside a cranium.

    Peter Bauer…please do keep up your good work.

    • Bruce says:

      Charlie S,

      69,000 acres of what was private land is being ADDED to the park. Roads and trails, both existing and proposed will take up the tiniest fraction of that. A 40′ wide, 10 mile long 2-lane highway ROW takes up about 49 acres. That would amount to .0007% of the total, which is not really significant. If you really are about preservation, then classifying the land as Wilderness, taking out all man-made structures and not putting in any others, including new hiking or ski trails is the way real preservation is done.

      The APA, through the SLMP, is doing about as good a job of combining forest preservation with recreational use, as is possible.

      • scottvanlaer says:

        The science is clear that the environmental impact is greater than the actual footprint.

        • Bruce says:


          That means 4′ wide hiking trails along with their associated bridges, boardwalks, lean-tos, campsites and pit toilets as envisioned by Bauer in a previous discussion also have a negative impact.

          Hikers, carry in boaters and skiers are people just like the rest of us, and as such are not as a class more sensitive to forest preservation. They just have a smaller footprint. All classes of users have irresponsible members (just consider the discussion on irresponsible lean to and campsite use from a previous article.)

          Making every new substantial piece of acquired land Wilderness (Essex Chain and Boreas Ponds) are not the “balance” the APA is trying to achieve, and the SLMP was written for. Let the APA and DEC do their jobs and enjoy the results, even if you don’t agree with them.

          • scottvanlaer says:

            Yes, commenting to your first paragraph, foot trails have an impact beyond their boundaries as well. There is research documenting that. Adding up up total acreage and classifying that as the total impact is far to simplistic. It would be nice if it were that easy.

            • Bruce says:


              So how do we determine the difference between reasonable and unreasonable impact on any given area; isn’t that what the APA and DEC are paid to do, using the guidelines in the SLMP?

              Have any Wilderness areas ever been closed to all human recreational use? If not, how do you think the groups fighting this would feel about “total preservation?”

              • scottvanlaer says:

                Bruce I was just commenting that your analysis was far too simplistic, despite it’s common sense approach. To your first question, I guess that what this law suit will determine that. To your second I can’t speak for others but I would welcome a UMP that said…”Park here, enjoy!”

  9. Marco says:

    I am not in favour of snowmobile trials in the wilds. Perhaps this is a compromise between winter use and otherwise primitive use. Most people do not do much hiking in winter. Generally, this is often confined to the High Peaks area. Woods and travel between wooded areas has always been difficult or nearly impossible in winter. I see no reason to stop a bridge and to stop snowmobile use (and bicycle use on the trail, there.) Damn the classifications, these seem to create more problems than they prevent, sometimes. They were meant to allow the most use for the most people, not to create problems between people that use the park.

  10. Tom Payne says:

    Compromise does not exist in Mr Bauer’s world.

  11. ADKerDon says:

    This action by these elitist greenie groups just shows why the forest preserve must be abolished. Their dream-world idiocy would deny all people access to and use of these lands. Only eco-freak fanatics would be allowed to use these lands. Abolish the forest preserve now! Open the entire Adirondacks to all types of outdoor recreation by all the people. End this discrimination against our wounded veterans and all others less than physically fit. Abolish the forest preserve!

    • Woody says:

      I’m an “eco-freak,” and damn proud of it.

      Thank you for the label. This discussion has been that much more enriched.

    • Taras says:

      “Abolish the forest preserve!”

      Ahah! You’ve tipped your hand, Don! You’re a real-estate developer!

      Just come clean and admit you simply want more condos, ski resorts, ziplines, and paved roads to summits. It’s unseemly to continually play the “disabled/wounded veterans” card.

  12. Charlie S says:

    Bruce says:Charlie S, 69,000 acres of what was private land is being ADDED to the park. Roads and trails, both existing and proposed will take up the tiniest fraction of that………..

    >> Wherever a road leadeth pollution generally follows Bruce. I’m not anti-roads in the woods as much as i’m wary of them,especially new ones. If it weren’t for roads I would’ve never got to know the Moose River Wilderness,but still. When I go into that wilderness I usually come out with more than I went in with.That’s because some people have no respect for the things I cherish.

    The Essex Chain Lakes is a very unique ecosystem that has been generally off limits to public use. Suddenly it opens up and there’s this strong desire by some to throw motors into it and before you know it the magic isn’t what it used to be. I am of the strong belief that some things ought to be just plain taboo.

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