Sunday, January 27, 2019

Lawsuit Filed Against Snowmobile Bridge Over Protected River

Site of planned steel bridge over Scenic Cedar River Two Adirondack environmental groups have filed a lawsuit challenging a plan by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to construct a massive new snowmobile bridge over the protected Cedar River in a remote area of the Adirondack Park.

The Cedar River is designated as a “Scenic” river under New York’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act. The suit challenges DEC’s issuance of a permit to itself for the bridge construction as violating the Act’s prohibition of motorized recreation, including snowmobiling, in Scenic river areas. The lawsuit also claims that DEC failed to conduct the required environmental review prior to issuing the permit.

DEC’s proposed bridge would be constructed of concrete and steel and be nearly 140 feet in length and 12 feet wide. Opponents of the snowmobile bridge say the location is undeveloped, scenic, secluded, and tranquil, flanked by large hardwood and balsam fir trees, and miles from the nearest highway.

“The decision to go to court is always a decision of last resort, but the process here was deeply flawed,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks! in a statement sent to the press.  “The Department of Environmental Conservation issued itself a permit and variance to approve this bridge. In consideration of this new permit the state played the roles of both applicant and reviewer. The state is violating its own laws and regulations. The new bridge is also unnecessary and redundant. Upstream of the proposed bridge there is already an existing snowmobile trail bridge over the Cedar River. This bridge is part of the Cuomo Administrations plans to significantly expand motorized uses in the public Forest Preserve.”

“We encourage and support public recreation in the Forest Preserve,” said Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson. “However, the law states that human uses are secondary and must never degrade natural resources like the Cedar River. By the state’s own actions we are forced to challenge this intensive construction for motorized uses precisely where they are not allowed.”

“If state officials can evade the law at a majestic, protected, natural setting like the Cedar River, then more than 1200 miles of protected rivers across the entire state are at risk. We go to court in order to uphold longstanding New York environmental laws that protect the ‘forever wild’ Forest Preserve and wild and scenic rivers,” Gibson said.

The lawsuit was filed in State Supreme Court in Warren County by Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and Protect the Adirondacks! The groups are represented by Christopher Amato, Adirondack Wild’s Counsel.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here: Petition and Notice.

Photo of site of planned steel bridge over Scenic Cedar River by David Gibson.

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33 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    I guess “massive” depends on your perspective. How far across is the river at that spot? But it does sound like a big bridge.

  2. Tim-Brunswick says:

    “The decision to go to court is always a decision of last resort”…..You gotta be kidding, for crying out loud it seems like that’s all the “favorite sons” of the Adirondack Almanac/Explorer ever do….sue, sue and then appeal.

    If it isn’t Phil Brown burning up dollars in legal fees and advocating trespass it’s Peter Bauer or another frequent writer/contributor crusading against enjoyment of the ADKs by anyone other than “Hikers” “bikers” and “paddlers”…..

    Snowmobilers are major contributors to the winter-time economy of the ADK Communities, but Heaven forbid they should get a bridge in the same spot there’s been a bridge forever !

    • Paul says:

      On court cases… I may have missed it but I didn’t see a follow-up story here or at the Explorer when the court ruled against Brown and the DEC earlier this month on the navigability (in fact) of Shingle Shanty brook? There has been extensive coverage and then when the final ruling came down nothing?

    • john says:

      I agree wholeheartedly. If the Brandreth Park people had not sued Phil Brown, we all could have saved a lot of time and money.

      • Paul says:

        I was just noting the lack of a story on the final outcome here where it has seen so much (good) coverage. It is probably coming soon.

  3. mary C randall says:


  4. Frank K Krueger says:

    There were two very small natural wood bridges across an old ski trail from Adirondac Loj to Marcy Dam. Been there for 30 years, mostly used by skiers only in winter to bypass a heavily used hiking trail. But the trail is not in the UMP for the High Peaks. What does DEC in it’s wisdom do, it secretly takes out the bridges. And yet they are permitting these heavy duty bridges for motorized recreation.

  5. drdirt says:

    The ‘petition and notice’ mentions a map, then fails to provide one. Where exactly on the Cedar is this bridge supposed to be built?

  6. Paul says:

    The question is why would you sue in this case and yet allow a monstrosity of a “staircase” to be built up near Ore-bed Brook in the High Peaks Wilderness?

    See the first picture. That puppy must be 300 feet long? It appears to be on solid rock so it can’t be to protect the sensitive ground.

    • Ryan Finnigan says:

      Thus bridge is expanding MOTORIZED recreation in the Forest Preserve over a SCENIC river. Does your example have any relation to motorized recreation over a scenic river? No and no.

  7. Paul says:

    The law requires you to get a permit to build a structure like this in a designated “scenic” river segment.

    This is obviously a “stream improvement” structure. It keeps the snowmobiles off the ice. They are allowed with a permit.

    Is the DEC getting a permit? If they are then they can build the bridge. This lawsuit makes no sense? The bridge is protecting the river and the people crossing it.

    The AG has lots of lawyers I am sure they figured this out before moving forward. If it was a “wild” river then – no.

  8. Boreas says:

    We should keep in mind that some lawsuits can be looked at as “test” cases to elucidate the spirit and letter of existing law. If the suit fails, it may make it much easier for similar structures to be built in the future. Both “sides” stand to lose or gain from the outcome. If it forces the state to be more specific on what can and can’t be done near or on a Scenic river, what is the downside?

    • Paul says:

      True, but the organization better have pretty deep pockets. One potential downside is they won’t have those funds to spend on other programs or projects.

      Personally I think it was good that the plaintiff prevailed in the paddling case. A win by the defendant there could have potentially opened up a can of worms as far as paddlers being able to go on just about any private parcel of land as long as it had a stream that could float a small canoe across from one side to the other. Not something I imagine those who wrote the old common law had in mind as far as “trade and transport”! But the whole thing made it all the way to the top of the courts. In that case the DEC and the State were on the losing end. So their army of lawyers got it wrong. Maybe they got it wrong here too. We shall see.

  9. Justin Farrell says:

    I originally helped fight for a “Wilderness” classification for the Essex Chain region, but it just didn’t happen. Now I think a safe bridge to cross the river in the middle of the tract kind of makes sense. Not so much for snowmobiles (members of the Gooley Club have crossed the frozen surface of the Cedar River there for decades), but more so for hikers & cyclists venturing through the tract during the warmer months. Believe it or not we actually spend money at local establishments also!
    However, that by no means that we all should just sit back & keep making things easy for our government to just go ahead & do what ever they want regardless of public input & potential lawsuits.

  10. Joe Hansen says:

    I am not sure if my question would have any legal bearing on this case but was the Cedar designated a scenic river before or after the previous bridge’s demise?

  11. Jim Reagen says:

    The bridge will insure that snowmobilers stay on the designated trail so they do not cross the river at other, less desirable, locations. Lawsuits like this undermine public support for designating wild and scenic rivers. There is plenty of room in the Adirondacks for snowmobile users and those who do not want to be disturbed by motorized vehicles. By providing bridges at spots that have been okayed by the DEC, we can keep snowmobilers away from more wilderness areas.

    • Ryan Finnigan says:

      I hear your point but currently the DEC is expanding and building brand new snowmobile access and trails (roads) in wilderness areas as i type thus. So your point that this bride with prevent expanded snowmobile trails in other areas is not accuarate.

      • Hope says:

        Snowmobile trail mileage is capped, on State land, in the Adirondacks. If new trails are built then other trails will be abandoned. NYS is making an effort to use these trails to connect communities, remove trails from private land (which is subject to closure by owner) and provide safer recreational access to participants by keeping trails off of water bodies. All excellent reasons in my estimation. Good for the rider, good for the communities and good for the environment.

        • Ryan Finnigan says:

          How can any aspect of snowmobiling ever be considered good for the environment?

          • Hope says:

            It gets folks outside enjoying the environment and appreciating it. I know a few environmentalists who own and ride snowmobiles. Just because it’s not your cup of tea doesn’t make it wrong. Its a tool and for some it’s a fun family outing.
            It’s good for the environment to keep them from riding across the river which is unsafe for them and the river.
            If you had happen to be around Long Lake yesterday you would have witnessed Adirondack economics in action. Snowmobile activity is vital to these communities,in winter, and it’s people enjoying the outdoors. That’s good for the environment.

            • Ryan Finnigan says:

              I strongly disagree with your entire premise that snowmobiling is good for the environment. Burning fossil fuels to haul snowmobiles to the north country and then burning more fossil fuels to operate a snowmobile is in no way “good for the environment.”

              • geogymn says:

                I abhor snowmobiles on the whole but I agree that they may introduce some to appreciate and therefore protect the environment.

                • Ryan Finnigan says:

                  Snowmobiling may in fact introduce “some” to appreciate the environment and therefore protect it but I would argue that number is small. There are many other more meaningful ways to introduce people to the concept of environmental conservation.
                  I feel the same as it relates to ATV’S. Riding an ATV may introduce some to the environment but on the whole the activity is not environmentally protective.

                  • Hope says:

                    That’s really too bad that you are unable to open your mind to alternative views. I am not personally a snowmobile fan, I prefer to ski but I get into my car which burns fossil fuel to get to the trail head or the ski hill. Those darn ski lifts run on something. I’ve witnessed Snowmobilers rescue skiers with equipment failures or injuries. I’ve met some very fine people who are Snowmobilers. Most Snowmobilers don’t want ATVs on their trails either.

                    • JohnL says:

                      Very mature of you Hope. I’m sure Mr Finnegan only uses his car (if anyone feeling as strongly as he does even owns a car) for work and absolute emergencies. In general, I just love it when fanatics make judgments about others based on their misguided feelings about things.

                  • geogymn says:

                    I agree the number might be small but its from a group that otherwise might not have access to the path of enlightenment.

              • Boreas says:

                I tend to agree with Ryan. Why?

                1. Snowmobiles and ATVs are, for the most part, marketed and used for recreation – especially snowmobiles. They can be an excellent tool as well, but that is not the typical use if one considers total miles ridden.

                2. While possibly improving, the fuel efficiency and emissions (including noise and wildlife disruption) of a snowmobile don’t seem to correlate with protecting the environment – especially when used simply for recreational purposes.

                3. We aren’t going to replace cars with snowmobiles, so the argument for driving to a destination in a car – whether to ski or snowmobile isn’t really genuine.

                4. While snowmobiling may introduce many people to the outdoors, and therefore, somehow (by association?) turns these individuals into environmentalists is a stretch at best. Someone who enjoys snowmobiling will likely eventually fall on the side of increasing mechanized backcountry transport. In the end, is that good for the backcountry and overall environment?

                That being said, I DO agree that recreational snowmobiling DOES have a positive effect on the economies in this area, which cannot be denied – at least in good snow years. So the conversation should be about whether total environmental impacts outweigh the total economical impacts. However, I simply feel the assertion that snowmobiles on the whole are beneficial for the environment is incorrect. Are they a “good” thing overall? The debate will continue…

                • Hope says:

                  My point was that the “bridge” crossing the river was good for the environment by keeping the snowmobiles off the river. And also that they should be accommodated as a valid recreation pursuit in the Adirondacks. I think the DEC is doing the right thing.

  12. Paul says:

    Never done it myself – but the number of people who have seen parts of national parks (places like Yellowstone) on snowmobile tours, and after the experience supported their preservation, is probably not small.

    I prefer to visit these places on foot which as we know (and see in parts of the Adirondacks) has its share of environmental damage associated with it.

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