By CRISTINE MEIXNER
INLET - Protect the Adirondacks has gotten permission to sue the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency over a new snowmobile trail in Hamilton County.
The environmental group alleges the two state agencies violated Article 14 -- the "Forever Wild" clause -- of the NYS Constitution when it built a new 9- to 12-foot wide, 12-mile community connector trail between the main road through the Moose River Plains and 7th Lake in the Town of Inlet and on to the hamlet of Raquette Lake.
The Appellate Division of the Third Judicial District of the Supreme Court, Albany, gave Protect permission to file the lawsuit March 28. A lawsuit claiming Article 14 has been violated may not be filed without Appellate Division approval.
The Seventh Lake Mountain Trail opened Feb. 15. It links the communities of Inlet, Raquette Lake, Indian Lake and Long Lake.
Protect the Adirondacks believes the DEC violated the NYS Constitution when it cut "over 2,200" trees to build the new trail. If Protect prevails other planned community connector trails would be affected, including one planned for the Jessup River Wild Forest in the towns of Arietta, Indian Lake, Lake Pleasant and Wells.
The DEC created and the Adirondack Park Agency approved the Snowmobile Trail Siting, Construction and Maintenance Guidance Policy for state lands in the Adirondack Park in November 2009. The APA found the document complies with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. Protect says it does not.
TOO MUCH CUTTING?
The pertinent part of the "Forever Wild" clause reads, "The lands of the state, now owned and hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be_ forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold, _exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed, or destroyed."
Protect Chairman Chuck Clusen says, "The DEC chopped down over 2,200 trees to build the snowmobile trail through the Moose River Plains. We believe the high number of trees removed violates the state Constitution. We're not saying the state can never chop down a tree, but the work done on these new trails goes far beyond what is legal and acceptable."
Protect also alleges "the widening, clearing, grading, flattening, rock removal, destruction of bedrock, bench cutting, use of gravel and bridge building" involved in creating the new trail was also illegal.
Protect is being represented by John Caffry and Claudia Braymer of Caffry & Flower in Glens Falls.
The DEC issued a statement in March saying it does not believe Protect's lawsuit has any merit. The DEC and APA will be defended by the state Attorney General's Office.
AGAINST GROOMERS TOO
Protect also claims the tracked trail-groomers used to groom the snowmobile trail violate the SLMP, even though the APA Board of Commissioners found they do not. Protect is challenging the APA's decision.
The 2009 guidance document for the first time allows tracked trail-groomers to be used on trails on state land. Previously only snowmobiles pulling drags could be used.
Executive Director Peter Bauer says the trail was built like a road so it could handle "large, multi-ton tracked groomers."
Parts of the trail do follow an old road, creating some long, straight sections. It generally is 9 feet wide on the straight sections and 12 feet wide on curves.
DEC says it built the trail as it did for safety reasons.
The Adirondack Council, another environmental group, already attempted to sue the state over the Snowmobile Trail Siting, Construction and Maintenance Guidance Policy. The Appellate Division refused to allow the lawsuit, saying it did not allege "any concrete injury."
However, that attempt took place before the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail was built.