By PETE KLEIN
Express News Staff
RAQUETTE LAKE - The NYS Legislature approved a pair of constitutional amendments Wednesday, June 19, that authorize land swaps involving the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The proposals will be on the November ballot statewide.
Of great importance locally, one would clear up a century-old ownership dispute between the state and 200 landowners in the Town of Long Lake, in and around Raquette Lake.
The swap would allow the private owners, all whom have deeds to the lands they occupy, to remain where they are in exchange for purchasing lands nearby that would be added to the forest preserve. The lands they purchase would have to be of equal or greater value than the lands the state would give up in exchange.
Long Lake Supervisor Clark Seaman said, "This is great news. After a 100 years and counting, this has been long time coming."
The Forever Wild Clause (Article 14, Section 1) of the NYS Constitution protects the public lands of the Adirondack Park from lease, sale, exchange or development, noting they must be "forever kept as wild forest lands." Any exchanges must be approved by two separately elected legislatures and the voters of the state.
The Raquette Lake amendment would require the landowners to pool their resources and purchase for the Forest Preserve a significant parcel of land along the Marion River, which connects Raquette Lake to Blue Mountain Lake.
The second amendment would authorize a swap that would expand the Jay Mountain Wilderness and Taylor Pond Wild Forest by at least 1,507 acres. NYCO Minerals of Willsboro would be authorized to expand its mine in Lewis, Essex County, onto 200 acres of adjoining forest preserve in exchange.
NYCO would be required to return the lands to the forest preserve after they are restored and replanted.
The new state lands would be five parcels adjacent to the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area, plus a sixth adjoining the Taylor Pond Wild Forest and the Bouquet River.
NYCO also owns processing facilities in nearby Willsboro, employing about 100 people total. It mines wollastonite, a white mineral used primarily in ceramics and as a substitute for asbestos in automobile brakes and clutches. It is also used to make metals, paints and plastics.
Environmental organizations are landing on both sides of the land swaps, with most of the opposition directed at the NYCO exchange.
The Adirondack Mountain Club supports the amendments. Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer says the NYCO Minerals land exchange is a bad idea. Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve Partner Dave Gibson opposes the NYCO amendment because he says it does not prove a critical public need.
William C. Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said in a press release, "Both amendments solve long-standing problems. The people of Raquette Lake will finally resolve a property ownership dispute that has plagued them for more than a century.
"Landowners get clear titles, while the people of the state get new Forest Preserve lands on the beautiful Marion River that belong in public ownership and will enhance recreation and tourism.
"The NYCO exchange will expand the Jay Mountain Wilderness and add lands to the Taylor Pond Wild Forest along the Boquet River."