The Adirondack Park Agency has posted its agenda and materials for its meeting this week (May 11-12th) and there is no action scheduled for the classification of Boreas Ponds or any other Forest Preserve lands. All indications show that there is little likelihood for action on the Boreas Ponds at the APA’s June meeting.
The state’s ambitious schedule announced at the time of the classification hearings at the end of 2016, where they stated a plan to have this process completed in advance of the 2017 summer season, has been abandoned. What has slowed the state to a grind is its commitment to a series of unprecedented Forest Preserve management actions to build some form of lodging and dining facility near Boreas Ponds. The exact form of this plan remains in flux, but the state leaders at the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which is leading this effort, remain determined to fundamentally change management of the Forest Preserve.
Phil Brown, a contributor to Adirondack Almanack and editor of Adirondack Explorer, published an article in the Times Union last week in which DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos confirmed the agency was looking at various scenarios for lodging and dining facilities at Boreas Ponds. He said they’re concepts and without formal proposals at this time. Word from the DEC is that they’re looking at scenarios based on some form of hut-to-hut style cabin(s) facility or some kind of Intensive Use Area facility that provides tent platforms or yurt-style “temporary” structures. While the details and possible scenarios vary, what’s consistent across the DEC is that it’s taking a hard look at combining some form of lodging facilities, whether a cabin or a glamping style tent platform or something else, with dining facilities, the options of which range from a central dining hall and kitchen to an area where various cooking equipment is furnished for guests.
These concepts enjoy different levels of support from within the DEC, but it appears that the legal division and Forest Preserve managers are following the directive of the Commissioner to lay out options to provide enhanced public access to the Forest Preserve without, at least for now, changing state law or the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. This has led the DEC staff to pursue novel interpretations of laws and regulations in order to facilitate the new management directive from the Commissioner.
In addition to the lodging/dining facility concept, Commissioner Seggos is also looking at classification options that retain a variety of roads for public use, including an option for a road network that encircles the Boreas Ponds.
For his part, Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to make a decision. It appears that he is retaining the final say over how, and if, the Wilderness-Wild Forest-Primitive-Intensive Use lines will be drawn. His key staffers are developing different options with lists of the respective pluses and minuses, including a legal analysis. The big question facing the Governor is how far he wants to go in changing the management of the Forest Preserve or subverting long established legal precedents for Forest Preserve management.
The Intensive Use Area option, where a small 5-acre area is created near the south end of Boreas Ponds, remains the top option. DEC staff has added to this option plans for an extensive road and bicycle trail system, which spider out from an Intensive Use area with lodging and dining facilities. Another option is to punt, whereby a 5-acre tract would remain “pending classification” while the state moves ahead with other classifications. The DEC would return to the 5-acre unclassified area at a future point once its plans were formalized. The four options that the Adirondack Park Agency took to public hearings at the end of 2016 are fallback options at this point.
The Governor is listening most intently to local government leaders who are pushing for various forms of enhanced access for the general public. They want a good deal more than retaining parts of the Gulf Brook Road as a motor vehicle road, beyond an east-west Newcomb to Minerva major new snowmobile trail, beyond CP-3 access for disabled individuals, beyond retention of the cabin at the 4 Corners, and beyond retention of the LeBiere Flow and Boreas Ponds dams.
Major new changes, such as those outlined above in a new Intensive Use Area, would require a new round of public hearings. While the public has shown up to the recent Forest Preserve hearings, the Cuomo Administration has an impeccable record at ignoring public comments. Comments for Wilderness ran 4-1 for the Essex Chain Lakes area. Over 85% of comments opposed retention of the Polaris bridge over the Hudson and construction of a new bridge over the Cedar River. Nearly 90% of comments opposed weakening of the State Land Master Plan and over 80% of comments called for Wilderness in some form around Boreas Ponds. While Boreas Ponds remains in play, the state has acted against the overwhelming majority of public comments in a string of recent major Forest Preserve management decisions.