Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Adirondack Almanack: Adirondack Groups Win Round Over Canoe Route

Two Adirondack conservation groups, the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) and Protect the Adirondacks! (PROTECT), have won an important round in a lawsuit to force the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to classify a state-owned wilderness canoe route in the heart of the Adirondacks. According to the local conservationists their lawsuit challenges the failure of the state to classify the waters of Lows Lake and other water bodies at all and is not challenging a particular classification determination.

State Supreme Court Justice Michael C. Lynch denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit against APA and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). According to a press release issued Friday, "the groups brought the lawsuit because of APA’s failure to classify the waters of Lows Lake and nearby water bodies. The groups assert that state law requires the state to classify state-owned water bodies that are part of the Forest Preserve."

“We are pleased that the Court has rejected the state's effort to delay the resolution of this case and look forward to the day when APA and DEC will have to comply with the State Land Master Plan and classify Lows Lake as part of the Five Ponds Wilderness Area," said Dale Jeffers, co-chair of PROTECT’s Conservation Advocacy Committee.

The decision reaffirmed that the Master Plan has the force of law according to ADK’s executive director and counsel Neil Woodworth. “There is a persistent misconception that the Master Plan is just a set of guidelines or recommendations,” Woodworth said. “That is not the case. The provisions of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan are state law, codified as Section 816 of New York State Executive Law. State agencies do not have the discretion to ignore the plan. That is what this case is all about.”

In his ruling, Justice Lynch determined that issues raised by ADK and PROTECT are “justiciable,” in other words, substantial issues that are appropriate for resolution by a court.

The groups also assert that APA had already classified Lows Lake as Wilderness in 1987 and that classification was approved by Gov. Cuomo in 1988. The state moved to dismiss that claim as untimely, but Justice Lynch recognized that the lawsuit is not challenging the earlier classification but instead seeks to enforce it. He ruled that the claim was timely brought.

In April, the APA banned floatplane use on Lows Lake after 2011. The following month, the APA and DEC proposed classifying Lows Lake and other nearby water bodies as Wilderness. The groups assert that the Master Plan requires APA to classify all state-owned lands and waters in the Adirondack Park according to “their characteristics and ability to withstand use.” In September, the APA voted to classify a portion of Lows Lake as Wilderness and a portion as Primitive. Both classifications prohibit motorized public uses. But Gov. David Paterson’s representatives on the APA board later changed their position and supported a resolution that left the lake unclassified.

A copy of Justice Lynch’s decision is available as an online pdf.

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