Monday, December 7, 2009

Adirondack Explorer’s Phil Brown Joins Adirondack Almanack

Please join me in welcoming Phil Brown of Saranac Lake as a new contributor to Adirondack Almanack. Phil has been the editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, since 1999. He is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing, all experiences that will no doubt inform his his weekly posts here at the Almanack. Phil’s work will appear mostly on Monday afternoons, but occasionally at other times as well.

Brown is also the owner of Lost Pond Press, which has published Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings, Adirondack Birding by Gary N. Lee and John M.C. Peterson, and Within a Forest Dark, a prize-winning novel by Michael Virtanen.

Regular readers of Adirondack Almanack know that the site has been growing dramatically over the past year with the addition of a dozen new contributors. In contributing to the Almanack, Phil Brown will be joining quite a stable of outstanding local writers: longtime local journalists Mary Thill and Lake George Mirror publisher Anthony Hall, experienced local naturalists Ellen Rathbone and Brian McAllister, paddling guru Don Morris, local inquiring family writer Diane Chase, outdoors writers Alan Wechsler and Kevin MacKenzie, local music contributors Shamim Allen and Nate Pelton, and local politics sketch commentator Mark Wilson. Our complete list of contributors is located at the lower right side of the page.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Theodore Roosevelt: Wilderness Warrior

A new book on Teddy Roosevelt by New York Times bestselling historian Douglas Brinkley is described by the publisher as “a sweeping historical narrative and eye-opening look at the pioneering environmental policies of President Theodore Roosevelt, avid bird-watcher, naturalist, and the founding father of America’s conservation movement.” For those interested in the Adirondack region, this new biography helps put TR’s Adirondack experiences into the lager context of wilderness protection and wildlife conservation history.

Brinkley draws on never-before-published materials for his look at the life of what he calls our “naturalist president.” Launching from conservation work as New York State Governor, TR set aside more than 230 million acres of American wild lands between 1901 and 1909, and helped popularize the conservation of wild places.

Brinkley’s new book singles out the influential contributions of James Audubon, Charles Darwin, and John Muir in shaping Roosevelt’s view of the natural world. Some of the most interesting parts of the book relate to TR’s relationship with Dr. C. Hart Merriam, who reviewed the future president’s The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in 1877; Merriam’s own The Mammals of the Adirondacks Region of Northeastern New York, published in 1884, was duly praised by TR.

Merriam and Roosevelt later worked successfully to reverse the declining Adirondack deer population (they brought whitetail from Maine), and to outlaw jack-lighting and hunting deer with dogs and so helped establish the principles of wildlife management by New York State.

During his political stepping-stone term as 33rd Governor of New York (1899-1900) TR made the forests of the state a focus of his policies. He pushed against “the depredations of man,” the recurrent forest fires, and worked to strengthen fish and game laws. Roosevelt provided stewardship of the state’s forests and the Adirondack Park in particular, that led to the most progressive conservation and wilderness protection laws in the country.

TR also worked to replace political hacks on the New York Fisheries, Game, and Forest Commission (forerunner of the DEC), according to Brinkley, and replaced them with highly trained “independent-minded biologists, zoologists, entomologists, foresters, sportsman hunters, algae specialists, trail guides, botanists, and activists for clean rivers.” To help pay the bill he pushed for higher taxes on corporations while also pursuing a progressive politics – what Brinkley calls “an activist reformist agenda.”

The book ranges with Roosevelt to Yellowstone, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Dakota Territory, and the Big Horn Mountains. It does capture Roosevelt’s time in the Adirondacks, but its’ strength is in putting that time into the larger context of Roosevelt’s life as a wilderness conservationist. For example, TR’s opposition to the Utica Electric Light Company’s Adirondack incursions is only mentioned in passing, though Brinkley’s treatment of the relationship between Gifford Pinchot and TR is more developed. An index entry – “Adirondack National Park” – is lightly misused bringing into concern how much Brinkley really appreciates the impact of Roosevelt’s Adirondack experiences (both in-country and in Albany) on his wilderness ethic.

All in all, however, Wilderness Warrior is a well written collection of the strands of Roosevelt’s conservationist ideas, woven into a readable narrative. Considering TR’s role in so many disciplines related to our forests, that’s no mean feat.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Commentary: Monetizing the Forest Preserve

Ever since 1894, when delegates to a New York State Constitutional Convention voted to keep the Adirondack Forest Preserve “forever wild,” conservationists have come up with any number of arguments in defense of wilderness. Some have been utilitarian, some populist, some historical, some spiritual. Those arguments have always been necessary, because the opponents of maintaining the Forest Preserve as lands forever wild have been many, and at times powerful.

In fact, one of the few valid reasons to oppose another constitutional convention is the political fragility of the state constitution’s Article XIV, the clause that prohibits the destruction of the Forest Preserve. The more astute politicians among the conservationists have always understood that it is the better part of prudence to avoid endorsing a single defense of wilderness, thereby retaining the support of proponents of all other possible arguments.

In part because of that catholic perspective, the Adirondack Park has been able to support “a multiplicity of visions,” as Dr. Ross Whaley, the co-editor of “The Great Experiment in Conservation: Voices from the Adirondack Park,” puts it. But new arguments in defense of wilderness can only buttress the cause, and here’s one that’s beginning to emerge: forests offset greenhouse gas emissions and thus play a valuable role in slowing climate change.

In a 2008 issue of BioScience, the journal of the American Society of Biological Sciences, researchers quantified the amount of carbon that Midwestern forests keep out of the atmosphere. They concluded that the forests could offset the greenhouse gas emissions of almost two thirds of nearby populations. While deciduous forests are very good at storing carbon, boreal forests are even better, says John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council, and, he adds, the Adirondack Park contains approximately 800,000 acres of those boreal forests. That’s reason enough for New Yorkers to support the preservation of even more land, if not by New York State, than by conservancies and land trusts.

But if the Adirondack Park has value as carbon storage, we asked Sheehan, could a price be attached to that value? Could the Adirondack Park, for instance, be awarded pollution credits that could be sold for the economic benefit of its residents? Here’s Sheehan’s response: “We are working with a few people right now to see what value could be placed on the global ecological benefits of lands on which we know the trees will continue to grow for centuries to come, that is to say, in the Forest Preserve and in wilderness lands on which New York State holds easements.”

As to whether the Adirondack Park could be awarded credits for storing carbon that would otherwise be sent into the atmosphere, Sheehan said, that’s conceivable. “We think we can seek and win federal credit for those Adirondack communities as part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or in a carbon trading program adopted by Congress.”

While our thought was that any funds derived from the sale of credits should somehow be apportioned among local governments to offset property taxes or to create jobs, Sheehan said, “We think the state should direct the money it receives into the Environmental Protection Fund, and the communities could use the money for planning or for grants to residents and businesses for energy conservation.” But however the funds were used, local governments might now have some financial incentive to support (or at least not oppose too loudly) the preservation of the Adirondacks.

Of greater importance, understanding the role that the Adirondack Park plays in slowing climate change can only deepen our appreciation of these woods – and of those who fought to make and keep them forever wild.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror http://www.lakegeorgemirror.com


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Biofuels and Adirondack Forest Jobs

The Adirondack Research Consortium will sponsor a biofuels market development conference Wednesday, February 17 in Saratoga Springs.

The day-long meeting will focus on the potential of this emerging industry in the Adirondacks and North Country, with an emphasis on business creation. Topics include biomass market supply and demand, policies affecting biomass energy markets, project finance perspectives, and technology. Experts will discuss these issues from a developer’s perspective.

Several Adirondack institutions, including the Wild Center, Paul Smith’s College and a few schools have announced intentions to switch from oil to wood-based heat and/or power. The weak economy and lack of start-up capital has stalled some initiatives, however. Paul Smith’s College trustees this year tabled a proposal to build a wood-chip co-generation plant as cost projections came in millions of dollars higher than initial estimates.

Biofuels are derived from plants, sometimes corn and switchgrass; in the Adirondacks biomass almost always means wood. Although this region still identifies forest products as a mainstay of its economy, in reality very few people work in logging anymore. Select hardwood and spruce logs are exported, often to Canada. Paper mills that ring the Adirondack Park have either shut down or no longer get pulp from local logs, with a couple of exceptions.

Foresters say biofuels have the potential to revive Adirondack logging if a critical mass of demand can be established. Low-quality trees that once went to pulpmills could be ground into chips or pellets instead. (Forest ecologists are also weighing the benefits of the carbon neutrality of wood fuels vs. the ability of uncut forests to store greenhouse gases.)

The conference program, registration, and accommodation information can be found on the Adirondack Research Consortium’s Web site, adkresearch.org.

Wood chips photograph from Wikimedia Commons


Monday, November 23, 2009

New Scholarship Fund for DEC Conservation Education Camps

Since 1948 when Camp DeBruce opened in the Catskills, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has operated a residential conservation education summer camp for young New Yorkers. Four camps, Camp Colby (near Saranac Lake), at the Pack Demonstration Forest in Warrensburg, and DeBruce and Rushford (downstate), serve children 12 to 14 and also provide locations for week-long Ecology Workshops for 15 to 17-year-olds.

Students who want to attend the camps can choose from one of eight weeks in July and August. They are encouraged to participate in Returnee Week, for campers who have already had the camp program. Returnee week includes special trips and activities and includes more than 200 annual returning campers. According to the DEC, “Returning campers are specially chosen for their demonstrated interest in building upon their outdoor recreation experiences and their knowledge of the state’s natural resources.”

This past week DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis announced that DEC and the National Heritage Trust (NHT) has established a summer camp scholarship fund in memory of Emily Timbrook (above left), a camper who attended and later volunteered at Camp Rushford in Allegany County and who was tragically killed in an automobile accident in April 2009.

The money collected through donations to the scholarship fund will be used for scholarships to send some returning campers to DEC’s summer camps for free.

Those who want to contribute to the scholarship fund to help send a young person to camp can send a check to NHT Camps, c/o Director of Management and Budget Services,
NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-5010.

Those wishing to make a contribution in memory of Emily Timbrook, should write “Emily” in the memo section of the check. NHT is tax exempt pursuant to Section 170(b) of the Internal Revenue Code and has been designated a 501(c)(3) corporation. The Trust will send out acknowledgment letters to donors.

Information and detailed program descriptions of the environmental education camps are
available at www.dec.ny.gov/education/29.html. For additional information contact [email protected] or call 518-402-8014. Registration starts in early February.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

No Adirondack Park Agency Meeting in December

The Adirondack Park Agency will not hold its December 10-11, 2009 regularly scheduled board meeting. According to an APA press release, “No agency proceedings requiring Board action are necessary before the regularly scheduled January 2010 meeting.” APA Chairman Curtis F. Stiles stated (in the release) that “Due to a lack of actionable content for our December meeting, it is in the best economic interest of the Agency and New York State to cancel our meeting originally scheduled for December 10 and 11, 2009.”

The Agency will resume its monthly meeting schedule January 14 and 15, 2010.

For informtaion about the agency’s meetings, public hearings and other activities visit http://www.apa.state.ny.us/.


Monday, November 9, 2009

APA: Big Tupper, Route 28, Lows Lake, Zoning, Snowmobile Trails

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will meet on Thursday and Friday (November 12th and 13th) at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook to consider the temporary re-opening of the Big Tupper Ski Area, reconstruction and widening of Route 28 in Oneida County, and more. Amendments to the park’s land use maps will also be considered, including whether to set a public hearing for the re-classification of about 31,570 acres. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Adirondack Youth Summit’s Zachary Berger

Zachary Berger takes a few moments to answer additional questions regarding his involvement in the first annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit.

Q: When you attended the Adirondack Climate Conference, held at The Wild Center, in November 2008, what inspired you to initiate an Adirondack Youth Climate Summit?

ZB: Last November’s conference was truly a success. I was very honored to have the opportunity to attend it, but I felt it was under represented by young adults. At this conference there were over 175 community leaders, business owners, and others, all with a concern for the environment, but there were only about 10 students, representing only one university, and one high school. From my point of view this under representation led to things being overlooked such as the lack of environmental education in public schools and the opportunity that schools have to set a model for their communities. The other students who attended the conference and I wanted to have our voices heard so we talked to Jen Kretser, Director of Programs at The Wild Center, and the planning process began.

Q: Though from Lake Placid you are now a freshman at RIT. Will you be attending this conference and if so what role will you take in this summit? If not, will you be attending the live stream and have you organized a group at your school to attend? What have you learned from this yearlong process and wish to pass along to others?

ZB: Yes, I will be attending the conference! I wouldn’t miss it for my life. Over the past year I have been part of the amazing team of people who worked endless hours putting this conference together. I will be at The Wild Center over the weekend doing last minute preparations, and during the conference I will be volunteering to keep things moving as planned.

If there was one thing I could tell others it would be: If you want to be successful in planning an event like this, find people with the same motivation and drive that you have. Having people to work with such as Jen Kretser from the Wild Center, and Mrs. Tammy Morgan from Lake Placid High School, really made this whole event come together.

Q: Why is it important for youth to have a voice on climate change?

ZB: Youth play a vital role in confronting climate change. We are investing years of our lives into our education, and will be entering the workforce very soon. Youth need to know the consequences of continuing to be carelessly affluent, what we can do both in our personal lives, and in our work lives to be more environmentally responsible. This summit will help students expand their knowledge on climate change while helping create carbon reduction plans for their schools.

Q: What is your own carbon reduction plan? What would you recommend for other young people that may inspire them to make a difference or to get involved in climate change?

ZB: Living at RIT has helped me to continue in reducing my personal carbon footprint. RIT provides every room with recycling bins for every room for electronics, plastic, paper, and cardboard. It is calculated that RIT’s recycling rate is over 70%. RIT also provides public transportation from campus into the city. Also, RIT is developing a new, web-based, rideshare website which helps those looking for rides and those who are willing to provide rides coordinate their schedules.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: First Adirondack Youth Climate Summit

Registration for the 2009 Youth Climate is closed but schools, universities, parents and children can follow the two-day event via a live stream. Conceived by then 17-year-old Zachary Berger of Lake Placid after attending the Adirondack Climate Conference last year, this year’s summit illustrates to all young people that their opinions and ideas can make a difference.

After much anticipation the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit will be held November 9th and 10th at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. The 24 attending high schools and colleges will each send a team of students, educators, administrators and facilities staff to develop a feasible carbon reduction plan that decreases energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to bring back to their schools and communities.

Zachary Berger, inspired by the Adirondack Climate Conference held at The Wild Center in 2008, contacted conference planners to organize a similar gathering exploring climate change and its effect on the Adirondacks for the youth of the region. In early 2009, a steering committee, comprised of students, educators and The Wild Center staff, formed to bring Zach’s vision to fruition.

Berger says, “At the [Adirondack Climate] Conference there were over 175 community leaders, business owners, and others, all with a concern for the environment, but there were only about 10 students, representing only one university, and one high school. From my point of view this under representation led to things being overlooked such as the lack of environmental education in public schools.”

The Youth Climate Summit’s goal is multilevel, according to ADKCAP (Adirondack Climate and Energy Action Plan). The Summit will hold educational plenary sessions where research-based information will be presented about the economic and ecological effects of climate change. Participants will learn strategies to address climate change in the Adirondacks and how, when applied, communities will benefit monetarily.

Workshops are scheduled throughout the two-day event pairing students with experienced personnel to develop training skills to inspire participants to engage others to “green their schools and communities.” Through hands-on activities members will learn team-building skills in the hopes to engage classmates and coworkers in a grassroots effort to make their schools energy-efficient. During this process teams will develop a carbon and cost reduction plan to bring back to each school.

The following high schools and colleges are attending this inaugural year: Chateaugay Central School, Clifton-Fine Central School, Colton-Pierrepont Central School, Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School, Green Tech Charter High School, Heuvelton Central School, Keene Central School, Lake Placid High School, Madrid-Waddington Central School, Minerva Central School, Moriah Central School, Morristown Central School, Newcomb Central School, Northville Central School, Ogdensburg Free Academy, Plattsburgh High School, Potsdam High School, Saranac Lake Central School, St. Regis Falls, Tupper Lake Central School, Clarkson University, Colgate University, North Country Community College, Paul Smiths College, St. Lawrence University and SUNY Potsdam.

These institutions will serve as models in energy efficiency, sustainable energy usage, building maintenance, landscaping & grounds management, school & community garden planning, and how to affect the current science curriculum in schools. (The Summit is aligned with NYS Commencement Level MST Standards.)

The Adirondack Youth Climate Summits are scheduled through 2011 to monitor the success of each climate action plan. There will also be the opportunity for those Adirondack schools that watch the live web stream to participate in future summits. The complete schedule information is available here.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Scope of Lake George Mercury Study Expanded

The discovery of elevated levels of mercury in the spiders and songbirds of Dome Island has led the Nature Conservancy of Eastern New York and the Dome Island Committee, the organizations responsible for the island’s preservation, to test for mercury contamination on Crown Island and protected shorelines.

That will help the groups determine how pervasive mercury and its toxic form, methylmercury, is in Lake George, said Henry Caldwell, the chairman of the Dome Island Committee.

Researchers from the BioDiversity Institute of Gorham, Maine, which conducted the original studies of Dome Island’s birds and spiders, returned to Bolton Landing earlier this week to begin the broadened study.

“No one expected to find mercury pollution at these levels on Lake George,” said Caldwell. “Working with the Nature Conservancy of Eastern New York, which is the island’s owner, we decided to take the next step and look beyond Dome Island.”’

In July, the Dome Island Committee received a draft of a study by the BioDiversity Institute of Gorham, Maine, that found that “mercury concentrations in spiders from Dome Island represent some of the highest recorded in the Northeast.”

That study followed one conducted in 2006, which concluded that “mercury levels in songbirds sampled on Dome Island rank among the highest in New York and across the region.”

The island’s spiders, which the birds feed upon, may be the source of the elevated mercury levels found in birds, the scientists surmised.

From Crown Island and a site on the mainland, researchers will collect spiders of the type sampled on Dome Island and subject them to mercury tests, said David Buck, an aquatic biologist with the BioDiversity Institute.

The researchers will also test crayfish, Buck said.

“Crayfish reflect mercury in their immediate surroundings and provide a useful yardstick for comparing mercury levels throughout a specific watershed,” said Buck.

Results of the studies should be available by next spring, Buck said.

“I’d be surprised if we found that mercury contamination was limited to Dome Island,” said Buck.

Additional studies will permit scientists to assess the environmental impacts of mercury pollution on Lake George, said Buck.

The Dome Island and Lake George studies will become part of more comprehensive studies of air pollution and its impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity in the northeast, said Mark King of the Eastern New York Nature Conservancy.

“Our focus should be making people aware of how widespread mercury contamination is,” said King. “We have an opportunity here to show how mercury moves through the ecosystem; Dome Island and Lake George are pieces in the big picture.”

For more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Paterson’s Deficit Proposals Mean For The Adirondacks

Late last week Governor David Paterson announced a two-year, $5.0 billion deficit reduction plan that he claims would “eliminate the State’s current-year budget gap without raising taxes, as well as institute major structural reforms.” The plan includes a second raid on the state’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), which the Governor swept clean of $50 million at the end of 2008, and a raid on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s (RGGI) carbon allowance auction proceeds. Those funds, amounting to about $90 million, had been slated for energy conservation and clean energy development.

“Energy conservation and clean energy development,” says Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan, “are two areas where the investment would have provided both real savings for the taxpayer and clear benefits to the environment and public health.” None of the money collected from the carbon auctions since the New York began participating in January has been spent on energy programs according to Sheehan, who added that “this may be the first time in history that a dedicated fund was actually raided for another purpose before one cent of it was spent on its intended purpose.”

The proposed $10 million dollar raid on the EPF is the second within a year. About $500 million has been diverted from the fund for non-environmental purposes since 2003. The EPF is supposed to fund major environmental projects and provide local tax relief for landfill closures, municipal recycling facilities, conservation agreements, and expansion of the state Forest Preserve.

“A month or so ago, we wondered aloud why the Governor wasn’t spending the Environmental Protection Fund money that had already been collected since April 1,” Sheehan wrote in a recent e-mail to the media, “Now we know why.”

The governor’s announcement comes just a week after he said he would cut ten percent from the budgets of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). The Governor’s plan announced late last year to cut state property tax payments to Adirondack municipalities that host state lands was rejected by the State Legislature this spring.

EXCERPT FROM GOVERNOR’S PRESS RELEASE:

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)/EPF Transfers
(2009-10 Savings: $100 million; 2010-11 Savings: $0 million)

This proposal would transfer $90 million in RGGI proceeds and $10 million from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to the General Fund. It is currently expected that RGGI proceeds through the end of 2009-10 will total $220 million, allowing the state to meet its $112 million commitment to the recently passed Green Jobs legislation, as well as this $90 million General Fund transfer. Additionally, it is fully expected that after implementation of the DRP, the State would still be able to meet its original 2009-10 EPF cash spending plan of $180 million, which is equal to record 2008-09 levels.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Adirondack Mill Provides Paper for Al Gore’s Next Book

On November 3 a new solution-oriented climate-change book by Al Gore will be published. Our Choice will pick up where An Inconvenient Truth left off and, like everything Mr. Gore does, it will be scrutinized for its environmental integrity, right down to the paper it’s printed on.

Our Choice will use 100% recycled paper and be carbon neutral, according to a release from publisher Rodale Press. For North American editions, that paper will be produced in the Adirondack Park, at Newton Falls Fine Paper in St. Lawrence County.

“The Al Gore book is a very small percentage of our volume overall, about .5 percent of our total production,” says Scott Travers, president and vice chairman of the Newton Falls mill. “But it’s not the size of the order, if you will, it’s . . . that we were recognized by such an individual and such an effort for our environmental stewardship. The bigger issue is that the entire marketplace will recognize us for our environmental attributes.”

This is the mill’s first 100-percent recycled product, but it has been making partially recycled paper for decades, and since it was acquired and re-opened two years ago by the Canadian holding company Scotia Investments, which among other companies owns Minas Basin Pulp & Power and Scotia Recycling. The latter recovers paper all along the Eastern seaboard, Travers says. Scotia Recycling provided fiber to the Newton Falls mill for Our Choice.

“We hope that eventually all of the paper in the Newton Falls mill will have 100 percent recycled content,” he says. “It was an open, competitive bidding process for the Al Gore book. What excites people today is having a minimal impact on the environment or having an even better impact, to be able to improve the environment. If we’ve captured fiber that would have gone to the landfill, we’ve improved the environment.”

The mill is also working to have a “closed-loop” wastewater system on line by November, Travers says, eliminating the need to export waste such as sludge from the facility. One day managers also hope make steam for heat and papermaking from biomass instead of oil.

The Newton Falls story is improbable as well as inspiring. At a time when paper mills around the perimeter of the Adirondack Park were closing, this tiny one-industry hamlet rallied to recruit a new owner after the mill there was idled in 2000. The mill had a century-long history but adapted with the times and markets. Its last owner, Appleton Paper, had invested millions in upgrades. For seven years, potential buyers raised hopes and dashed them until Scotia Investments partnered with a former mill manager in 2006. The facility now employes 120 people and has been retooled. Travers says the mill will expand into recycled packaging as demand for publishing paper continues to decline.

“I applaud the people in Newton Falls and their desire to make a positive difference. The important thing is we have a dedicated workforce, we have a dedicated community, we have a dedicated holding company,” Travers says. “We’re fully committed to the success of that operation.”

Photograph of Newton Falls Fine Paper provided by Scotia Investments


Sunday, October 11, 2009

APA to Move Forward on Boathouse Regulations

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will hold public hearings on the APA’s proposed revisions to its boathouse regulations. Following APA meetings in August and September, 2008, the Agency voted of 8 to 3 to submit the proposed revisions for State Administrative Procedure Act (SAPA) authorization (in February of this year). Following authorization to proceed (which the agency received on October 8) the APA will be scheduling several public hearings (both in-park and outside the Blue Line) later this fall. Here is the complete notice from the APA:

The APA Boathouse definition was implemented in Regulations adopted in 1979, and revised in 2002. The new 2009 definition proposes specific roof, height and footprint criteria to replace the 2002 “single story” limitation. The revision clarifies design components and continues to prohibit the use of boathouses for anything other than boat storage.

Other uses, if independently built, would be subject to the shoreline setback requirements of the APA Act. For example, other structures such as decks, guest cottages, and recreation rooms are prohibited on the shoreline if greater than 100 square feet in size. In the past, landowners attached these components as part of what would otherwise be a boat berthing structure, and argued these components were part of the “boathouse” because the previous definitions did not specifically exclude them.

The 2002 definition limits boathouses to a “single story.” However, the definition fails to prohibit large “attics,” and extensive rooftop decks, resulting in some very large non-jurisdictional shoreline structures. The lack of clarity requires architect’s plans and time-consuming staff evaluation.

This is a particular problem in towns that do not have their own zoning ordinances. Currently within the Park, local boathouse regulation runs the gamut from no regulation to some towns having limits on size, including square footage and height restrictions. Some town regulations are more restrictive than the present 2009 proposal.

The 2009 proposal retains the 2002 provisions that define “boathouse” to mean “a covered structure with direct access to a navigable body of water which (1) is used only for the storage of boats and associated equipment; (2) does not contain bathroom facilities, sanitary plumbing, or sanitary drains of any kind; (3) does not contain kitchen facilities of any kind; (4) does not contain a heating system of any kind; (5) does not contain beds or sleeping quarters of any kind”.

The proposal adds: “(6) has a footprint of 900 square feet or less measured at exterior walls, a height of fifteen feet or less, and a minimum roof pitch of four on twelve for all rigid roof surfaces. Height shall be measured from the surface of the floor serving the boat berths to the highest point of the structure.”

The change is prospective only; lawful existing boathouse structures may be repaired or replaced pursuant to Section 811 of the APA Act within the existing building envelop.

For those who wish to exceed the size parameters or expand a larger existing boathouse, a variance will be required. Standard shoreline cutting and wetland jurisdictional predicates still apply in all cases.

Shorelines are important. The dynamic ecosystems that edge Adirondack Park lakes, wetlands, rivers, and streams are critical to both terrestrial and aquatic species. Well-vegetated shorelines serve as buffer strips, protecting banks from erosion, safeguarding water quality, cooling streams, and providing some of the Park’s most productive wildlife habitat. Large structures and intensive use at the shoreline causes unnecessary erosion and adverse impacts to critical habitat and aesthetics and raises questions of fair treatment of neighboring shoreline properties.

The Statutes and Regulations that the Agency is charged to administer, strive to protect water quality and the scenic appeal of Adirondack shorelines by establishing structure setbacks, lot widths and cutting restrictions. However boathouses, docks and other structures less than 100 square feet are exempt from the shoreline setback requirements. The original Adirondack Park Agency Act also allows a higher density of residential development on shoreline lots. Continuing development and redevelopment on the water’s edge, including large dock and boathouse structures, continues to threaten water quality and increase the types of use detrimental to long term protection of the Park’s greatest asset.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Adirondack Council Releases 2009 State of the Park Report

The Adirondack Council has released its annual State of the Park Report, what it calls “a comprehensive review of how the actions and decisions of local, state and federal officials have helped or harmed the ecology and beauty of the Adirondack Park over the past year.” Attorney General Andrew Cuomo received high praise; Governor David Paterson received a split rating. Several Adirondack towns also are being praised for efforts to protect the environment. “There was a time when it seemed like environmental organizations only argued with local government officials in the Adirondacks—those days are over,” Adirondack Council Executive Director Brian L. Houseal said in a press release accompanying the report. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A 2017 Constitutional Convention And The Adirondacks

There has been a lot of public discussion about the potential for a constitutional convention in 2017 (as allowed by the current state constitution every 20 years), one that could influence the future of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Park.

The New York State Constitutional Convention of 1967 (the last State Constitutional Convention) was held in Albany April 4 – September 26, 1967 and the revisions submitted to the voters that November; all of the convention’s proposals were rejected. Among the proposals that failed during the process were those to establish the forerunner of the Department of Conservation and to make it easier for the legislature to take land from the Forest Preserve (with voter referendum).

Wilderness preservation issues are likely to be hotly debated in the run-up to a constitutional convention—in fact, former Governor Mario Cuomo recently called for a chance to revise the constitution using, in part, these words:

A constitutional convention is a peoples’ meeting to design or redesign the peoples’ government. The legislature has traditionally not favored calling such a body to life. It feared that a convention might take steps to diminish the legislature’s institutional power or incumbents’ chances of re-election.

Others with particular interests to protect have also been skeptical. For example, environmentalists worry—needlessly, we think—about a convention altering the present constitution’s commitment to keeping our parks in the Adirondacks and Catskills ‘forever wild.’

This is short-sighted. Environmentalists might make gains at a convention by convincing us to constitutionalize positive rights to clean air and clean water.

Sure, it seems a long way off, but the idea that a new constitution might either abolish the forever wild clause, or “constitutionalize positive rights to clean air and clean water” is something Adirondack residents take seriously.

The New York State Library has recently digitized and made available online a treasure trove of documents relating to the 1967 convention. The current NYS Constitution can be found in pdf form here.



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