Tuesday, July 19, 2016

DEC Sweetened Pot With Champlain, Lake George Lands To Close Raquette Lake Land Deal

Marion_RiverAs part of an effort to resolve a century-old dispute over the ownership of land near Raquette Lake, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has agreed to acquire not only the Marion River carry, but also more than 1,400 acres of land in other parts of the Adirondack Park.

In a letter to Assemblyman Steven Englebright, DEC chief Basil Seggos said the state is committed to buying from the Open State Institute 836 acres on Huckleberry Mountain in Warren County and 616 acres along Lake Champlain, including 4,000 feet of shoreline.

In addition, Seggos said DEC will be buying “some or all” of the following properties:

  • Four Brothers Islands on Lake Champlain, which are now owned by the Adirondack chapter of the Nature Conservancy.
  • Anthony’s Nose on Lake George, including 3,300 feet of shoreline. It is now owned by the Lake George Land Conservancy.
  • Hunt Lake, a 50-acre lake near Lake George also owned by the Lake George Land Conservancy.

Seggos sent the letter on June 15 to mollify lawmakers who questioned whether a land exchange meant to resolve the Raquette Lake dispute would, as required by law, result in a “net benefit” for the Forest Preserve. The Adirondack Almanack obtained the letter this week.

“We are confident that with the addition of these or other similar properties, the test will be met and the Legislature can be confident that the State is receiving a net benefit. The Open Space Institute, The Nature Conservancy and the Lake George Land Conservancy have agreed to sell these parcels to DEC,” Seggos wrote Englebright, who chairs the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee.

The Assembly passed the legislation two days later. The state Senate had passed it a week earlier.

For many decades, residents of Raquette Lake and New York State have battled in and out of court over the titles to some 200 parcels of land, totaling about a thousand acres. In 2013, voters approved a deal to settle the dispute: the state would cede title to the parcels if the landowners ponied up the money to purchase the Marion River Carry from the Open Space Institute.

The 500-yard carry trail has been used by paddlers since the 1800s to transport boats between Utowana Lake and the Marion River, usually while traveling between Blue Mountain Lake and Raquette Lake. OSI bought the carry from a private landowner in in 2013 for $2 million. The 295-acre parcel includes a mile and a half of the Marion and 4,800 feet of Utowana shoreline. OSI agreed to sell the parcel at a huge discount. The town of Long Lake collected $632,000 from the residents to purchase the property. No state money will be used in the transaction.

Near the end of the legislative session in June, however, questions arose as to whether the Forest Preserve would benefit by the deal. “Tens of millions of dollars of assessed value is being given clear title, and the Forest Preserve is being compensated with a couple of hundred acres, albeit a very important parcel,” Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, told North Country Public Radio last month. He added that the Assembly was right to press the issue “to make sure the equity is there.”

This morning, Bauer told Adirondack Almanack that he and others urged DEC to commit to buying other lands as part of the deal. “That was a sweetener at the end of the legislation session,” he said. “That was something I advocated for, and I thought it was a wise move by DEC.”

Stephen Liss, counsel for Assemblyman Englebright, said the Assembly had been struggling to determine whether the acquisition of the Marion River parcel alone would benefit the Preserve. “It’s hard to say what is a net benefit,” he said. “It was a case of first impression and undefined. We wanted to be certain.”

The legislation does not mention the properties cited in Seggos’s letter. However, Liss said the letter conveys a written promise to acquire these properties. “It’s morally binding,” he said.

DEC not return a phone call this morning.

In the past, backers of the swap argued that the Raquette Lake parcels have been off limits to the public and so are of little or no benefit to the Forest Preserve. They also said it would protect forever the public’s right to use the traditional carry.

The bill was sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday. It awaits his signature.

File photo of Marion River provided by Open Space Institute.

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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.

15 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Why are we buying all of this land that is already protected?

    • Ryan Finnigan says:

      Reread the article as it is very clearly explained.

      • Paul says:

        If your goal is to protect additional lands and have them open for public use then buying other private parcels that actually might some day be developed would make way more sense. Let some of these land trusts foot the bill for protection why should the state have to do it when they are already well protected?

  2. Phil Brown says:

    Just updated the article to clarify that no state money will be used to purchase the Marion River Carry.

  3. Justin Farrell says:

    I also applaud the report, click one for the good guys!

  4. Bill Ingersoll says:

    In a land exchange, aren’t the newly acquired lands supposed to be in the same general vicinity as the lands being ceded? I know that’s not a written rule, but it’s been the general aim with past exchanges.

    In this case the state is relinquishing its claim to Raquette Lake shoreline parcels, so I would expect the new tracts to also be in the Raquette Lake area. Marion River makes sense, but Lake George and Lake Champlain? Why not Mays Pond near Big Moose and Little Charley Pond near Lake Lila? Those are other TNC properties that are at least in the same county.

    • Hope says:

      Maybe they are not ready to let them go yet. Maybe NYS wouldn’t pay the price. Maybe they are still in active use for research and fundraising jaunts. Or, all of the above. Or, being these parcels are all around Lake George and Champlain, they are on Peter’s special acquisition list. Making him a hero in his neighborhood.

  5. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Best of Luck With Steve Engelbright and his “Do Nothing Committee” ! This last session, once again he and his cohorts on the Env. Cons. Committee stonewalled and basically held all kinds of vital legislation so that it never even got out on the floor for a vote. This has been a favorite tactic by the Assembly and Engelbright’s predecessor “Sweeney”.

    This past Legislative session goes down in history as one of the most inactive in terms of processed Legislation. No wonder the US Attorney General’s Office refers to our State as one of the most corrupt……….

  6. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Oops….I stand corrected. It’s a done deal already, albeit my comments regarding the Assembly’s EnCon Committee stand.

    Next time, I’ll read the entire article prior to blowing off steam!

  7. Mitch Edelstein, Raquette Lake Fire Dept. President says:

    The Township 40 (Raquette Lake) NYS Constitutional Amendment that was passed by a large vote of NY State citizens was not and never was considered to be a Land Exchange. The amendment authorized the DEC to resolve land disputes. Peter Bauer, is disingenuous at best, I won’t say what I really think, when he equates the deal to a land exchange. The landowners in Raquette Lake purchased the disputed lands and paid taxes on the lands for many years. For some over a 100 years. The DEC had the choice of litigating each piece of property and gaining land with homes, businesses and even the Raquette Lake School and Fire Dept. The fees involved were to pay the costs of individual surveys of each disputed property and other legal costs. Instead the NYS legislature unanimously passed the proposed constitutional amendment, then the voters approved it, the legislature then was asked to OK the final steps and the environmental groups supported that step and Peter Bauer saw an opportunity to use his lobbying skills to hold up the deal in the assembly to add another feather in his cap. It appears that his efforts worked. By the way. The final approval passed the NY Senate and Assembly unanimously.

    • Paul says:

      This was really fascinating. I am surprised that so many people would buy land that didn’t have a clear title? It sounds like many parcels were purchased knowing that there was an issue. I guess for those you have to pay cash – no bank in its right mind would give you a mortgage. I looked at some property on Raquette lake at one time and they said this was a problem with it and it still sold to somebody.

      • Mitch Edelstein says:

        Many of the older properties were deeds that simply said 500 acres on Indian Point, no survey or property description, then that person would sell 100 acres of that 500 and on and on. Then some unscrupulous persons, sold those lands to NY State, even though they didn’t own them.

        The deal had both a carrot AND a stick. Property owners were told that if they didn’t participate in this deal then NY State would initiate legal proceedings to exert their claim to the disputed parcels of land.

    • Peter Bauer says:

      Mr. Edelstein,

      There are two sides in Albany. While the Adirondacks may be a 1-party state, Albany is not. The way that Albany works is that both sides have to come away with something they value. One thing that a lobbyist can do is to help identify, by talking with both sides, what it will take for each side to get what they want so that they can get to “yes” and forge an agreement. With a heavy workload at the end of the legislative session the two sides don’t always have the opportunity to meet to fully identify their needs and explore options.

      While Township 40 passed widely at the polls, the amendment called for approval by the legislature of a bill to implement it. If this was not an important part of the process, it would not have been part of the original agreement. In fact, without this review the original agreement would not have been passed by the legislature in the first place. This legislative session both sides did their due diligence and brought different issues to the table in their review of the implementation bill, but things had clearly stalled. I think that the role that I played, and others played, to help both sides get to yes was a valuable part of the process.

      Passage this session was far from a sure thing, but it worked out because an agreement was reached. People can take all sorts of positions on all sorts of things but none of that matters if those who are elected to office cannot forge an agreement.

      In Albany an agreement needs to the Senate, Governor (and his agencies) and the Assembly. 2/3 doesn’t get you anything. It takes all 3 to get something done. Too often in the North Country we see leaders make agreements with the Governor or the Senate or a state agency and not make an effective effort to engage the Assembly. In my experience the Assembly has been the best friend of the Adirondack Park and the Forest Preserve and local leaders and residents and communities of the Adirondacks would be wise to consider their views.

      I hope that the remainder of the Township 40 process is smooth for all involved.

    • Phil Brown says:

      I want to clarify one point: In my conversation with him, Peter Bauer did not equate the Township 40 amendment with a land exchange. Certainly, it has elements of a swap. “That said, this is not really a land swap. This is a resolution to a legal dispute.”

  8. Mary says:

    I can’t understand this. The Raquette Lake landowners bought the Marion River parcel for the state, in exchange for the state to cede clear title to their land. That makes sense. But then the state bought two other parcels to sweeten the deal? Isn’t that like saying, “I’ll give you my car in exchange for your bike, and then buy myself a motorcycle to even the trade?”