Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Gibson: State Rushing Process For High Peaks, Boreas Plans

I’d like to recognize the Adirondack Daily Enterprise for its recent editorial “APA, DEC Skimp on Public Meetings.” The newspaper wrote that two public meetings, both held on the same day (Wednesday, May 23) about numerous management amendments to the High Peaks Wilderness and Vanderwhacker Wild Forest:

“while important, are also severely wanting. These lands belong to the people of New York, and folks near New York City, in Syracuse and Buffalo, Watertown and Ithaca all deserve to have APA and DEC staff come explain what the plans mean and hear the public’s concerns. Together, the two UMP amendments run to more than 300 pages, and it would be beneficial to the public to have them explained by the people who wrote them.”

Now that the classifications are decided and amendments to the unit management plans (UMP) are underway, the process seems highly accelerated and rushed.

Furthermore, despite the complexity of these UMPs and controversies surrounding the extent and location of public motorized access, APA and DEC are holding joint public comment periods of 45-days. APA Member Chad Dawson raised appropriate questions at the APA this month about this simultaneous review.

It’s important background to know that the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP) has reserved long-range planning of the Forest Preserve and establishment of basic State Land policy to the APA, in consultation with the DEC. In contrast, DEC has basic day to day management and administrative responsibilities for the Forest Preserve in compliance with the Master Plan and in accordance with approved UMPs.

In fact, this so-called “two-tiered structure” (SLMP, page 12) has been vanishing for years, and is especially blurred today. APA has given up its independent backbone in planning and basic policy for State Lands. Here the two agencies appear to be in lock step.

Simultaneous public comment means that APA after 45 days might be expected to quickly decide Master Plan compliance of the hundreds of new management steps while lacking time to review what the public had to say about an initial DEC draft, and lacking time to review and thoughtfully consider how the DEC might amend their draft to react to public comment.

Because compliance with the Master Plan and other laws are so important, APA and DEC signed an agreement back in 2003 whereby large complex draft unit management plans go through a separate DEC public comment period, after which DEC would review comments, respond to them, and issue a revised draft. That revised draft would then go through a separate APA comment period to consider compliance with the Master Plan. The UMP would then reach the Agency for a final decision. The entire process was supposed to take 90-days.

The current process breaks with the spirit of that agreement. It seeks to make substantial amendments to the High Peaks and Vanderwhacker plans in half that time, or 45 days.

“I get all the pressures” on both the APA and DEC, Chad Dawson said. But, he asked his fellow APA members, and I paraphrase: Realizing that most people offer comments at the last minute, Chad Dawson asked how does the APA thoughtfully react to all the public comments and to any changes DEC may make to two such complex documents in 45 days? When would the APA be expected to make decisions, he asked?

It was explained that APA could decide about Master Plan compliance of these dozens of recommendations as early as July. But, emphasized APA Chair Sherman Craig, we might have to take more time (to decide) depending on what we get after 45 days.

I’m just trying to have a full conversation, Chad Dawson responded, about the pros and cons of a joint 45 day comment period. We’re trying something different, he said. Let’s acknowledge it.

It will come as no surprise that Governor Andrew Cuomo and his agencies don’t appear to want a full conversation. They want these UMP amendments approved quickly and work to begin this summer. Recreational access is all important to the Governor. Contrary to the order of priority in the State Land Master Plan (Executive Law), natural resource protection has become subordinate to public recreational access since the year he became Governor. And, most often, that means motorized access, or at least mechanized access (bikes).

The “pro” side of having a joint, simultaneous APA and DEC comment period was candidly admitted by APA member Karen Feldman at the May monthly meeting. “We’ve had an interim access plan (at Boreas Ponds) for two years now,” said APA member Feldman, “and I’ve heard from a lot of people who can’t walk in to the Ponds.”

Member Feldman and all APA members have also heard from thousands of New Yorkers during the classification hearings who would much prefer that all or much of that road be closed to motorized access in an effort to re-wild the old road and create a larger Wilderness. But those voices currently lack political influence, so Governor Cuomo and his agencies refused to even offer for consideration an all-Wilderness classification.

Even so, where warranted by natural resource considerations the DEC is specifically authorized by the Master Plan to manage the Boreas Ponds tract in ways more protective than the Wild Forest classification of the roads would authorize. That classification makes motorized access along the entire length of Gulf Brook Road a legal option. It does not require it if remarkable and fragile resources demand more protection.

Indeed, the Master Plan also states that “public use of motor vehicles will not be encouraged and there will not be any material increase in the mileage of roads…open to motorized use by the public in wild forest areas” than were present when the Master Plan was adopted in 1972. Other than snowmobile mileage, neither DEC nor APA staff have adopted standards by which to measure motorized use in Wild Forest areas. Public and administrative use of motor vehicles has definitely been encouraged and authorized in the Black River Wild Forest (1996 UMP and 2018 amendment), the Essex Chain of Lakes Primitive Area (2015 UMP), and on other units of Forest Preserve.

If APA’s staff words in February that “the ecological values of Boreas Ponds cannot be overstated” were taken seriously, DEC would seriously consider closing motorized access and use at the current parking lot three miles away from the Ponds in order to minimize the transport of invasive terrestrial and aquatic species there and to maximize the opportunities to experience solitude and naturalness closer to the Ponds. Only certified persons with disabilities should be allowed to get closer to the Ponds.

But that is clearly not what the Governor, his DEC and some APA members want.  They want motorized/mechanized access to the Ponds – just 500 feet away from their shores – open to everyone. So, if this UMP amendment is approved, contrary to the Commissioner’s policy (CP-3) certified persons with disabilities will have to compete with the able-bodied for parking at Boreas Ponds.

That’s just one of many important things that is concerning about these amendments and the rushed public process to review them.

The two public meetings to review these UMP amendments are:

May 23, 10 AM, at DEC headquarters, 625 Broadway in Albany, NY

May 23, 6 PM, at Newcomb Central School in Newcomb, NY


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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

24 Responses

  1. Mick Finn says:

    I guess everyone has heard enough from the one outspoken stakeholder group. Now it’s time for the Governor to keep his promises of increased tourism and increased economic activity.

    • Boreas says:

      Because we speak doesn’t make us outspoken. It is the numbers across the state that make us loud and difficult to ignore. Don’t forget, our taxes went into the purchase as well – not just local communities.

      With a proper management plan, all should be happy. The 2 meetings set for tomorrow for SLMP – the KEY to success or failure – is blatantly inadequate. ALL interested parties – FROM ALL OVER NYS – should be there to discuss the plan and participate, not just local residents.

      • Mick Finn says:

        The problem with your thinking is that 99.99% of New York residents could care less.

        • Boreas says:

          I think you are dead wrong. Perhaps taxpayers are ignorant of the Vanderwhacker (Boreas) issues, but these 2 meetings also incorporate the HPW management plan. A lot of stakeholders there, wouldn’t you agree? The meetings aren’t just about Boreas Pond access as you seem to suggest.

          • Mick Finn says:

            You think that people in Buffalo or NYC care? Yonkers? Brooklyn? C’mon. 20 people from Lake Placid show up and you think the entire state cares about Boreas Pond classification?

            • Boreas says:

              Again, it isn’t just Boreas Pond, which seems to be what you are fixated on. Ever hear of the High Peaks? Thousands of taxpayers visit there every year – many from the areas you mention. If you don’t believe me, a quick review of the 46r roster online will give you an idea of who may well care. They are from all over the state, not to mention North America. Parking, trails, and infrastructure certainly matter to anyone hiking or camping in the HPW.

      • Paul says:

        Boreas, these two meetings are not the only opportunity to comment on these things? Should there be additional meetings, maybe, but that doesn’t prevent NYS residents from commenting on these things. And I know that you think that comments are ignored (funny you want additional opportunities to be ignored?) but they are actually tallied and read/heard and considered as part of the process.

        • Boreas says:

          Please reread Mr. Gibson’s article – he explains it better than I do. These 2 meetings (~3-4 hours each?) are the only opportunity for the state to formally present and explain these complicated SLMPs to the public. Just presenting the changes will take a good chunk of meeting time (300+ pages!). Given the number of changes, amendments, and new practices proposed to be implemented with both SLMPs, do you feel a couple hours in Albany and Newcomb are sufficient for any meaningful statewide discourse? I sure don’t. I feel multiple meetings in different locations on different days would offer the public more opportunity to digest and comment on the proposals.

          It doesn’t make sense to rush this process. If this stuff gets glossed over, it will just get it thrown back in DEC’s face when the public DOES become aware of the changes and their consequences (think current Rail-Trail fiasco). Why not be clear and transparent when we have the chance?

  2. Charlie S says:

    “Now it’s time for…increased tourism and increased economic activity.”

    There’s that old worn, mainstream, capitalistic, short-sighted attitude again. Money first & foremost screw all things else! If history didn’t continually repeat itself…. we’d see change!

    • Mick Finn says:

      It’s precisely what Governor Cuomo promised.

      Remember, the towns were”sold” on the land acquisition based on this stipulation. Furthermore, ALL of the towns who are affected later adopted resolutions in opposition of the acquisition once the real deal became clear.

    • Paul says:

      It’s actually tourism and the evil capitalists that are behind the preservation of lots of these wild public lands up here.

      In this case, without it, you wouldn’t even have the classifications to fight over. The land would still be industrial timberland.

  3. Paul says:

    The problem you always run into is that the people who want to drive in to the ponds can’t w/o a road. That isn’t a problem for the ones who want to walk in. It’s the ones that want to walk in and not allow the ones to drive in where you hit the snag. You can keep the first and the second group happy with a dirt road to the ponds and trails into the Wilderness beyond.

    If Cumo is more interested in access over resource protection why has he governed over so much wilderness classification?

    • Scott says:

      Adding to your good point, the biggest fight is usually where there already is an existing improved road that some people want to close to vehicles and bicycles and the other group can’t understand why not use it if the road is already there.

  4. Tim says:

    Send your comments to info.r5@dec.ny.gov I don’t know how much influence they will have, but it can’t hurt.

  5. Dave Gibson says:

    Thanks for all the comments. I just learned at the Albany DEC public meeting that an additional public meeting (3 in all) is now scheduled – June 21, 6 PM, at the Lake Placid Conference Center. Glad DEC was responsive to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise editorial, among others to comment.

  6. Paul says:

    When they hold some of these meetings in places like Buffalo and Albany or close to NYC. How many people show up? Are they doing only the more local meeting because nobody shows up to the others? I would be curious to know. Friends of mine in places like NYC are usually totally clueless about Adirondack issues unless they have some sort of local connection. When they had the mining thing on the ballot I had friends asking me what the heck it was. Same for the water well in maquette lake and those were issues that were getting put directly in front of voters and supposedly were being spun all over the place.

    • Boreas says:

      Certainly a good point. Wouldn’t it be nice if legislators and representatives actually kept their constituents in touch with statewide issues. After all, they are spending the taxpayers’ money. If they don’t care, so be it, but at least inform them while they still have some input, rather than grumbling about it after the fact.

  7. Paul says:

    sorry raquette (auto correct)

  8. Neil Luckhurst says:

    If it becomes possible to drive all the way to Boreas Ponds and they develop the area for tourism then will they not have to make some serious improvements to the road itself? Widening it, grading it, paving it even?

    • Paul says:

      Why would they have to pave it? There are lots of unimproved DEC maintained roads used for access in the Adirondacks. This road has been used by semi-trailers hauling thousands of pounds of logs and logging equipment. Must be a pretty decent road. But it would require some routine maintenance. The town could probably grade it for the state a few times a year if there is something in it for them economically. The area includes some gravel pit areas so that is already there. The plan is to maintain the dam no matter what they do and this road would the handicapped access they describe right? So it has to be maintained for several reasons anyway.

      • Neil Luckhurst says:

        No, they wouldn’t have to pave it. I threw that in there because the roads to Upper Works and the HPIC are paved. When I drove it last time I found the road to be quite rough. I also thought it was pretty narrow if there was going to be much traffic going in and out.

    • Boreas says:


      Depends on the final SLMP. The road itself is pretty stable (at least to the current gate), but no real shoulders, quite rocky, and fairly narrow. Basically designed for use where two big vehicles would rarely meet (hauler’s CB radios likely minimized this). I foresee some people moving off onto what they think is a shoulder to let someone by and getting into trouble. I wouldn’t want to drive it in a McClaren…

  9. Mick Finn says:

    In Governor Cuomo’s own words. The intent can’t be much more clearer than this:

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