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RL land bill could be voted on soon

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - Updated: 8:47 AM

By CRISTINE MEIXNER

Express Editor

LONG LAKE - Legislation is being drafted to resolve the land ownership issues in Raquette Lake, and there is a good chance it could be voted on during the current legislative session ending in June.

The State of New York claims it owns over 90 percent of “Township 40.” Other parties — including individuals, the fire department, a utility company and the school district — claim ownership.

About 220 parcels of land covering slightly more than 1,000 acres in Raquette Lake, once Township 40 of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase, are contested.

Township 40 was never surveyed into lots, so deeds were often unclear as to exactly what lands were being conveyed.

On top of that, deeds in Township 40 were often filed on vacant property with no title searches made, and an individual was not always required to present a deed to be placed on tax rolls as a property’s owner.

As an example, Samuel Payne occupied Green Point peninsula on Raquette Lake starting in about 1855, but had no deed recorded.

In 1873 Payne deeded 78.75 acres of Green Point land to Charles Blanchard. In a 1952 case Hamilton County Supreme Court ruled for the landowner, saying he had a valid deed.

Since Payne had no deed on record, the court said, he did not receive notice of an 1871 tax sale nor have an opportunity to redeem the property. The court found Payne’s ownership went back to 1855, when he occupied Green Point and obtained ownership by adverse possession years before the tax sale upon which the state based its claim.

In 1994, Hamilton County Supreme Court again ruled the state has no claim to Green Point property. The state did not appeal.

According to a history compiled by the Township 40 Committee, in the 1840s the state sold large parcels to private parties. State officials say much of that property ended up in the state’s hands again due to unpaid taxes.

The state held tax sales in 1875, 1881 and 1884, after which it claimed to have purchased almost all of Township 40, but in 1924 the Court of Appeals ruled the tax sales were illegal and therefore void.

Some landowners have tried to clear their titles in court. Two have lost, due to inability to prove continuous adverse possession, and six won.

The Town of Long Lake was part of an effort several years ago to solve the problem through an amendment to the NYS Constitution, under which the occupants of Township 40 lands would receive clear title to the lands they occupy.

The town had offered to give the state land “at least equal in value to the lands subject to such settlement” in exchange for settling the title issues. The land would have been added to the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

The Legislature passed the amendment in 2008, but constitutional amendments must pass two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before they can be presented to voters in a statewide referendum.

“The amendment was passed in 2008 with the understanding that an agreement on the exchange of land would be reached prior to second passage in 2009,” according to state Senator Betty Little’s Director of Communications Daniel E. Mac Entee.

That did not happen.

“A consensus was not reached by the various parties, including the environmentalists, governor’s office, Department of Environmental Conservation and local representatives and the legislation was not advanced,” Mac Entee says.

He says the bill was also affected by the “tumultuous” political dynamics of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s resignation, Lieutenant Gov. David Paterson “picking up the pieces” and a change in Senate control.

“Negotiations are ongoing, talks are productive and Betty [Little] and [Assemblywoman] Teresa [Sayward] are hoping an agreement will be reached this session and legislation approved in June,” Mac Entee says.

For more about the Township 40 issue see twp40.com.

     

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