As 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.