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Attorney finds 'fatal flaws' in new draft EIS

Saturday, August 31, 2013 - Updated: 8:55 AM

By PETE KLEIN

Express News Staff

INDIAN LAKE - The fact that the Town of Indian Lake has an Adirondack Park Agency-approved local land use plan may well be a classic case of unintended consequences.

Because Indian Lake does have such a plan, it has a planning board that meets monthly to review and rule on many land use applications that would otherwise be reviewed by the APA. And because these reviews and rulings have legal consequences, the Town of Indian Lake employs Michael Hill, an attorney at Miller, Mannix, Schachner & Hafner LLC, Glens Falls, to provide legal advice to the planning board.

Hill, who has years of familiarity with the intricate legalities of the Adirondack Park State Land Use Master Plan (SLMP), the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), has sent a 10-page letter to the APA in which he faults the agency for presenting a "fatally flawed" DSEIS that "cannot serve as the basis for a classification recommendation to the Governor" for the Indian River Tract and the Essex Chain Lakes Tract and the reclassification of a section of the Blue Mountain Wild Forest.

Hill points out, "The SEQRA requires a detailed consideration of the economic and social impacts of the proposed land classifications before the agency makes a recommendation to the governor," but "the DSEIS currently contains no such analyses."

Instead, Hill says, the DSEIS ignores the human element, focusing instead upon the environment, and thus is an unbalanced review.

Hill points out the SEQRA Handbook "specifically states it is not the intention of SEQRA for environmental factors to be the sole consideration in Agency decision making and reiterates the importance of weighing and balancing all considerations.

"The DSEIS does not assess the adverse economic impacts of restricted access that would be imposed under the agency's proposed alternatives or the beneficial economic impacts of other alternatives that would afford greater access," Hill wrote.

CHAIN LAKES ROAD

Hill's arguments make it clear the Chain Lakes Road is an inconvenient truth APA staff and environmental groups advocating for more Wilderness classification and less Wild Forest classification wish to ignore.

Hill wrote, "The DSEIS characterizes Chain Lakes Road as a private road when in fact it was established and maintained by the Town of Indian Lake from present-day Rt. 28 all the way to Third Lake on the Essex Chain of Lakes."

In 1888 the Indian Lake Town Board ordered that a highway, known now as Chain Lakes Road, be laid out to the width of three rods (49.5 feet). It became known as Highway District 24.

In 1901 and in 1905 Arvin Hutchins was listed as overseer of Highway District 24. Town records show the town has spent money maintaining the road and maintenance has continued to date on the majority of the road south of the Cedar River.

The Nature Conservancy, which sold the lands to the state, gave easements to the towns of Indian Lake and Minerva so use of this road could continue.

As Hill points out, "As noted in the DEIS, the towns of Minerva and Indian Lake have a non-exclusive right to provide for public motorized access on the South Chain Lakes Road and to mine gravel from the outer Gooley Pit for the purpose of maintaining the road and other infrastructure.

"This easement clearly anticipated the continuing public nature and use of Chain Lakes Road into the interiors of the lands to be classified."

ENDANGERED OPPORTUNITY

Currently there is a very small parking area about 3 miles up Chain Lakes Road from Rt. 28 and 0.6 miles to the old Gooley farmhouse.

A short distance beyond the farmhouse is a trail marker sign that reads, "Cedar River 2.9 miles - Clear Pond 1.7 miles."

The small parking area is as far as motorized use is now allowed. The Town of Indian Lake maintains motorized use should extend at least to the Cedar River.

The small current parking area could cause one to wonder if the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has low expectations for use if this remains the end of motorized access into the interior.

Hill, who has hiked in the 2.9 miles to Cedar River and back, says in his letter, "According to the DSEIS, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has indicated that camp structures at the Outer Gooley Club on the Indian River Tract may be eligible for listing on the NYS Register of Historic Places. However, the DSEIS inexplicably states that 'These buildings are not being used and are scheduled to be removed or moved.'

"Requiring these historic structures to be removed before a final determination of their eligibility for such a listing is certainly ill-advised and inconsistent with OPRHP guidance. The history of the Adirondacks includes not only its natural history but also the history of human use, especially logging and recreational use by sportsmen beginning in the 1870s.

"The Gooley farmhouse provided lodging facilities for travelers, loggers and sportsmen as a hotel / lodge and could become an important historic interpretive center and a tourist destination with proper management."

IT'S ALL ABOUT ACCESS

No one during the public hearings was an advocate for trashing the newly acquired state lands, but having access to them was an issue.

Hill writes, "As noted repeatedly in the DSEIS, under the State Land Master Plan the protection and preservation of the natural resources of the state lands within the Adirondack Park are paramount, but human use and enjoyment of those lands should be permitted and encouraged so long as the resources ... are not degraded.

"Pursuing a highly restrictive classification of these lands elevates the physical and biological aspects far above the social and psychological aspects and the mandate to permit and encourage human use and enjoyment of these lands. For example, if access to the Cedar River requires a 3.5-mile portage from the proposed parking area, its use and enjoyment would, as a practical matter, be limited to only the fittest and healthiest younger individuals who own the most modern, ultra-lightweight watercraft."

A MODEL EXISTS

Hill refers to the Moose River Plains as a model of protecting the environment while providing access to the public.

"As evidenced by the success of the Moose River Plains Wild Forest, the statement in the DSEIS that the only means of mitigating impacts is the selection of more restrictive land classifications is not accurate," Hill wrote. "The DSEIS itself elsewhere points out that the Unit Management Plan prepared by the DEC will provide more specific restrictions on the use of lands within the land classification recommended by the Agency.

"Classifying the lands as Wild Forest would afford maximum flexibility. It would allow the DEC the opportunity to manage and restrict any of the types of permissible uses to protect specific areas where greater protection might be warranted.

"At the same time, a Wild Forest designation would not impose a total outright ban on the motorized access that is needed, as a practical matter, to enable a diverse cross-section and significant numbers of the public to enter, use and enjoy these lands."

CONCLUSION

Hill concludes his 10-page letter sent to the APA, the governor, the DEC and state and local elected officials with, "Without continued motorized access to the interiors of these tracts, the State's acquisition of these lands would benefit only a select minority. Most of the taxpayers who paid for these lands would effectively be excluded from visiting and enjoying them.

"The potential of these lands to benefit people of average health and mobility would be lost, and Indian Lake and other area towns would suffer from the lost tourism-related opportunities. All of these harms can be averted, and the potential of these lands to benefit all New Yorkers can be realized, if appropriate consideration is given to social and economic factors and the lands are classified as Wild Forest.

"Fairness to all potential visitors as well as the viability of the Town of Indian Lake and other area towns hangs in the balance."

peterklein@hamiltoncountyexpress.com

     

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