We have quite a bit of news to share with you out of last week’s Adirondack Park Agency (APA) meeting.
In light of a proposed battery storage system in Raquette Lake and the state’s working group studying battery fires, the APA announced it is creating an application for such infrastructure when it falls under the APA’s jurisdiction. You can read more about that, and the state’s working group update here.
A widening number of organizations are banding together for funding requests for the Adirondack and Catskill Parks forest preserve. In a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, 41 groups called for a $10 million allocation for forest preserve stewardship in the 2024-2025 state budget’s Environmental Protection Fund. Last year’s budget allocated $8 million.
The groups also call for additional investment in affordable housing and cellular and broadband infrastructure. They also hope Hochul will maintain funding for forest preserve visitor centers, support additional research and monitoring programs, develop an accessibility policy for state lands, clear a backlog of conserved land under agreement for public acquisition and add additional staff supporting forest preserve-related state agencies.
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed bipartisan legislation last month that allows town boards to stop the spread of invasive aquatic invertebrate species, such as Zebra mussels and Asian clams, instead of just aquatic invasive plants.
The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury and state Assemblymember Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake.
Stec said the law gives communities more flexibility to address invasive species. Woerner said invasive aquatic species harms the environment, health and recreational economy. Both lawmakers were grateful to Hochul for signing the legislation.
I attended the Common Ground Alliance meeting on Friday at Gore Mountain in North Creek. Groups from across the Adirondack Park come together and talked about policy issues they care about and how to better be heard in Albany. Topics included housing, broadband and cell service, climate change, invasive species and bond act and environmental protection funding.
We, too, are covering many of these issues in our print and web pages of the magazine and look forward to continuing our reporting. You’ll see some follow-up stories building on the conversations at the alliance.
A state initiative to get more renewable energy projects up and running is starting in the Adirondacks. Spearheaded by the New York State Research and Development Authority, the “Build-Ready” program collects all the leases, permits and other groundwork necessary to get a renewable energy project up and running. The state then auctions the project off to a developer in the hopes that it will be a turn-key build.
In our deep-dive on Adirondack Park unit management plans (UMPs), we learned from the Adirondack Park Agency that Debar Mountain Wild Forest may soon be on the docket for another examination. In 2020, the agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation released a draft UMP that called for tearing down Debar Pond Lodge, a 1940s-era Great Camp in the town of Duane. It is an illegal structure on forest preserve lands.
But groups, particularly Adirondack Architectural Heritage, called for the building’s preservation. That would require a constitutional amendment, and though such a one has been introduced twice, it has not passed the state Legislature. Adirondack Architectural Heritage is hoping its third attempt will be successful this upcoming legislative session. Should it pass both houses, the earliest the amendment could be on a statewide ballot would be November 2025.
More than 60 local leaders, many of whom are from Saranac Lake, sent a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul last week supporting the Adirondack Park Agency’s proposed move to the village. They highlighted benefits of relocating the agency’s headquarters including revitalizing the downtown, reusing and renovating an existing building, partnering with the village on a geothermal energy project, revitalizing an historic building, adding parking to the village and making the agency more accessible to the public.
The letter states that the proposal to renovate an existing building will “have fewer environmental impacts than constructing a new one,” but fails to mention that the APA would erect a second building into the hillside behind the former Paul Smith’s Power and Light building on Main Street.
Some of the signers include Saranac Lake Mayor Jimmy Williams, former Mayor Clyde Rabideau, Executive Director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage Erin Tobin and a number of Saranac Lake business owners.
About 50 years ago, the state Department of Environmental Conservation was charged to create these physical and natural resource inventories and project lists for more than 50 chunks of forest preserve in the Adirondacks. Former Gov. George Pataki tried to kick start these plans back in 1999. He called for them all to be finished in five years. Nearly 25 years later, about 782,000 acres still don’t have plans.
Why is this important? Without a plan, no major projects can be done in a unit. For a place like Lake George Wild Forest, which has no plan, that means the DEC cannot build a marked trail up Rogers Rock. It cannot reroute the trail up Prospect Mountain, which DEC has already called “dangerous to hikers.” The William C. Whitney Wilderness has no plan, either. Campsites there cannot be moved, which some said needs to be done to protect sensitive shorelines and habitat.
In 2021, the state’s highest court ruled some snowmobile trails planned for Adirondack Park forest preserve violated the state constitution. While there were several facets to the decision, one of its cruxes was around the abstract question of what is a tree. Protect the Adirondacks, the group to bring the lawsuit, argued the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s definition of a tree was too small. The DEC was using 3 inches in diameter at breast height in its counts. Protect wanted the state to count trees 1 inch in diameter at breast height.
Last week, the DEC released a new forest preserve work plan policy that includes accounting for smaller trees. This policy will shape all projects on forest preserve—in the Adirondacks and Catskills—going forward. Read more on the policy here.
The September/October issue of our magazine is out, and in it you can read about unit management plans. It is difficult to make any sentence sound exciting with the phrase “unit management plans” in it, but here’s why they are important. “UMP’s,” as they’re often called, are inventories of physical and natural resources in an area of the park. They also include a list of projects the state Department of Environmental Conservation wishes to accomplish. No UMP? No project. This includes hiking trails, campsites, water body studies, ski trails, parking lots—any variety of recreation or natural resource protection projects.
We found that hundreds of thousands of acres in the Adirondack Park are without UMPs. That includes Lake George Wild Forest, one of the most accessible places in the park. That means the eroded trail up Prospect Mountain cannot be rerouted. A designated trail up Rogers Rock cannot be made. The William C. Whitney Wilderness, dubbed by the state the “crown jewel of the Adirondacks,” is without a UMP, too. The state is relying on a stewardship management plan from the ‘90s, which some say isn’t protective enough.
If you aren’t already subscriber, you can sign up for our bimonthly magazine here: https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/subscribe. The article includes the map below, provided by the DEC, which shows the status of these plans across the park.
Remember those hiker surveys at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) in Keene? They were conducted by SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and collected data about the three-year pilot reservation system there. The surveys aren’t happening this year, said Jill Weiss, assistant professor of environmental studies at the college. Her students are, however, in the process of collecting more data from focus groups. Weiss is also analyzing survey data from years one and two (we’re in year three currently).
The state Department of Environmental Conservation added that a final report on the surveys will be done by the end of the year. DEC will share it once it’s finalized.
The Lodge at Schroon Lake is proposing to add 32 boat slips to a previously permitted dock. The DEC is reviewing a permit under Article 15 Title 27, Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers. The dock is under the jurisdiction of the state Office of General Services, according to the project notice. Public comments must be submitted by Aug. 3 to Benjamin M. Shubert, NYSDEC Region 5 Headquarters, 1115 State Route 86, Ray Brook, NY 12977 or emailed to DEP.R5@dec.ny.gov.
A listening session on the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act is coming to the Adirondacks next week. It will be from 1 to 3 p.m. on July 14 at the Sparks Athletic Complex Alumni Gymnasium at North Country Community College, 23 Santanoni Ave., Saranac Lake. If you’re interested in attending, you can register here: https://www.nysebatour.com/north-country.
Here is a refresher about how the state has divvied up the $4.2 billion:
“$1.5 billion for climate change mitigation;
$1.1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction;
$650 million for water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure;
$650 million for open space land conservation and recreation; and
$300 million for other projects not specifically allocated in the act.”
What would you like to see funded in the Adirondacks?
Executive Director Barbara Rice noted the APA has hired six new staff members in the past six months. When Rice started about a year ago, the agency had 42 employees and it now has 48. The agency is considered full staff at 54 so there are still positions to fill.
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