Successes and Impacts of Protect the Adirondacks
Protect the Adirondacks exposes illegal road reconstruction in the High Peaks Wilderness Area. In December, PROTECT released information that exposed illegal reconstruction, using heavy equipment, to rebuild an abandoned road in the High Peaks Wilderness Area. The State of New York closed this road in 2018 and in 2020 and 2021 undertook actions to reclaim the road corridor to a natural forest condition. Without public notice, the Department of Environmental Conservation reversed course and used heavy equipment to undo the restoration work and reconstitute the abandoned logging road. Click here for our expose on this matter.
Protect the Adirondacks selected for state Forest Preserve Trails Stewardship Working Group. After losing in court and being found to have violated Article 14, Section 1 of the NYS Constitution, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has set about to revise a series of policies and guidance documents for trail management on the Forest Preserve. The DEC has organized a 13-member working group to assist it in this effort that started in December 2021 and will run well into 2022. Protect the Adirondacks is participating on this working group and will work to make sure that this effort upholds Article 14, is transparent, and accountable. Check our website for updates. Here’s an initial piece.
PROTECT wins historic lawsuit as New York’s highest court finds that the Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency violated Article 14, Section 1, of the State Constitution in their efforts to build hundreds of miles of wide over-sized snowmobile trails in the Forest Preserve. In a landmark decision, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled on May 4, 2021 that a plan by the Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency to build a network of hundreds of miles of “Class II Community Connector Snowmobile Trails” violated Article 14, Section 1, the famed forever wild clause, of the New York Constitution. The Court ruled that the changes to the Forest Preserve from this new kind of trail were so great that these trails could only be built after approval of a constitutional amendment and could not be authorized by administrative actions.
The Court of Appeals decision was the last stop in an 8-year legal odyssey in Protect the Adirondacks v. the Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency, initiated in 2013. This ruling, like the 1930 ruling on Article 14 by Court of Appeals, will shape Forest Preserve management for decades to come. The Board and staff of Protect the Adirondacks, and most of all our extraordinary attorneys, John Caffry and Claudia Braymer, poured their heart and souls into that legal challenge. Through the last eight years there were a number of twists and turns, with high points and low points. This was a David and Goliath story in every way.
Published online hiking trail guide for 100 terrific hikes outside the overused and crowded High Peaks Wilderness Area to try and disperse public recreational use to others areas of the Adirondack Park. Click here to read the online trail guide. These guides feature directions, pictures, and maps for 100 mountains, waterfalls, remote lakes and ponds, lookouts, bogs and wild rivers that will dazzle hikers of all abilities.
Defended “forever wild” at the New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. After the 2019 decision by the Appellate Division, Third Department, in favor of Protect the Adirondacks, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency appealed to the Court of Appeals. Protect the Adirondacks submitted all materials to defend our victory at the state’s highest court. Click here and click here to read all about it.
Used, dirty oil tanker railcars prohibited from storage on Adirondack Park rail lines, stage is set for conversion of railroad to multi-use public recreation trail along the Hudson River: In October, the NYS Attorney General submitted a letter to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) formally requesting voluntary abandonment of the 29-mile Tahawus Railroad, also known locally as the Sandford Lake Railway, that runs from North Creek to Tahawus Mine in Newcomb. This follows on state actions requesting abandonment from the STB that was started in 2018. Protect the Adirondacks has long supported abandonment of this line. In 2017, with its tourist train and rock/aggregate transport businesses all failing, Iowa Pacific embarked on a plan to store 2,000-3,000 out-of-service oil tanker railcars on the dormant 29-mile-long Tahawus Railroad. Iowa Pacific brought in over 100 dirty oil tankers to the Tahawus line and stored them on siding track on the banks of the Boreas and Opalescent Rivers. Long stretches of the Tahawus Line run through the Forest Preserve, which meant that thousands of dirty rail cars would be stored on public lands. This plan met with widespread opposition. Protect the Adirondacks strongly opposed this effort. Click here to watch a video in opposition to this effort that PROTECT organized in partnership with local governments. Click here to see a New York Times article about PROTECT’s work opposing this plan.
The voluntary agreement accomplishes three things. First, Iowa Pacific bought itself some good will with the state. The company is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and is looking to sell its ownership of the Tahawus Rail corridor. The state has stated that it is not interested in purchasing the rail corridor at this point. Second, the voluntary agreement permanently prevents the rail line from being used for storage of rail cars. Third, voluntary agreement will keep the rail corridor intact in the event that Iowa Pacific goes bankrupt, which would enable the possibility of converting the railway to a public multi-use public trail.
Landmark legal decision upholds forever wild protections in the NYS Constitution for the public Forest Preserve: In July 2019, the Appellate Division, Third Department, issued a decision favorable to a lawsuit brought by Protect the Adirondacks that challenged the constitutionality of the tree cutting and construction of a network of wide road-like Class II Community Connector snowmobile trails in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. This lawsuit was started in 2013. An injunction against tree cutting was won in 2016. A trial on this case was held in 2017. For more background information see articles here, here and here. This case is now being appealed to the Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York State. If this decision holds, it will have a major long-term impact on Forest Preserve management and uphold the famed forever wild clause in Article 14, Section 1 of the State Constitution.
Publication of Major New Report Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010: In the spring of 2019, Protect the Adirondacks published a seminal report The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010. The purpose of this report was to examine the belief, long held by many across the Adirondacks and in state government, that environmental protections have negatively impacted Adirondack communities. The findings in this report are eye-opening. Far from unique, the economic and population experiences in the Adirondacks are the norm in Rural America. It must be recognized that when the conventional wisdom or popular narratives insist that socio-economic difficulties so common throughout Rural America are caused in the Adirondacks by environmental protections, the remedies most often proposed threaten the open-space character and ecological integrity of the Park. A more logical interpretation of this report’s data would conclude that the comparative economic success of Adirondack communities is the consequence of environmental protections. In this perspective the test of effective economic development initiatives is the degree to which they enhance or at least complement, rather than degrade, environmental protections. Click here to read more background information.
Health & Safety Land Accounts Authorized by the State Legislature, implementing the 2017 NYS Article 14 Constitutional Amendment: Protect the Adirondacks was a key supporter and one of the primary architects around the creation of the new Health & Safety Land Account, which allows local governments in the Adirondack and Catskill parks access to limited areas of the Forest Preserve along highway corridors so that they can enhance the delivery of municipal services for things like broadband and other utilities and bike paths. This legislation authorized the 2017 amendment to the state constitution approved by New York voters. This allows 500 acres to be removed from the Forest Preserve under a process administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). A total of over 1,500 acres was purchased in 2018 as the replacement lands and have been added to the Forest Preserve. PROTECT will monitor the management of this program very closely in the years ahead.
High Peaks Wilderness expanded to 275,000 acres in size: After the classification of the Boreas Ponds in early 2018, and expansion of the High Peaks Wilderness by 25,000 acres, state agencies c combined the High Peaks Wilderness Area and the Dix Mountain Wilderness Area into a grand 275,000 acre Wilderness area. The new High Peaks Wilderness Area is the 3rd largest Wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, behind the 350,000 acre Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the 1 million acre Florida Everglades. PROTECT advocated for the expanded High Peaks Wilderness area throughout our organizing and advocacy efforts during the Boreas Ponds classification. Read more here and here.
Canoe-In for Motorless Weller Pond: In August 2018, over four dozens activists in a variety of canoes, kayaks, and guidebooks paddled across Middle Saranac Lake to Weller Pond as part of theCanoe-In for a Motorless Weller Pond and called on state agencies to designate the two small 150 acre Weller Ponds as motorless areas. While this event was unsuccessful at this point in time, state agencies did move the limit boat traffic to no-wake 5 mph. We will continue to push for a motorless Weller Pond in the years ahead.
Oil train railcars removed from the Adirondack Park: The last of the used oil tanker railcars stored on a remote rail line the central Adirondacks were removed in 2018. PROTECT worked for two years to highlight the problems with storage of out-of-service oil tanker railcars on rail lines in the Adirondacks, long stretches that traversed the Forest Preserve. PROTECT worked closely with local government leaders and other groups. PROTECT’s work was a highlighted in a New York Times story about the issue. See a Don’t Trash the Adirondack Park video that PROTECT produced in partnership with local government leaders.
Boreas Ponds classified as Wilderness and managed as motorless lake: In early 2018, the Adirondack Park Agency classified 11,600 acres around the Boreas Ponds as Wilderness, making the ponds a motorless canoeing spot. This was part of a larger Forest Preserve classification of over 25,000 acres that was added to the High Peaks Wilderness. Governor Andrew Cuomo quickly signed the official Wilderness designation. “The High Peaks Wilderness was expanded by 25,000 acres today. That’s a historic accomplishment. With a stroke of his pen, the Governor created 25,000 acres of new Wilderness in the Adirondack Park. That does not happen every day and is something to celebrate,” said Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. The final Boreas Ponds classification was extremely close to the position that Protect the Adirondacks had advocated since December 2015.
Forest Preserve tax cap killed: As part of the Governor’s 2018 NYS budget proposal, PROTECT worked with a coalition of other organizations and local governments to kill a cap on Forest Preserve property tax assessments and changes in state law from the current system of locally assessed property taxes to a system of Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) with a rate set by the State Comptroller. This proposal raised serious issues about a likely decrease in state lands tax payments over time and subsequent tax shift to private lands in Forest Preserve communities in the Adirondacks and Catskills. See more information here.
Two Visitor Interpretive Centers in the Adirondacks to be funded through the Environmental Protection Fund: In advocacy around the state budget, PROTECT worked with other organizations and Park leaders to secure funding through the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) for the two Adirondack Park Interpretive Centers in Newcomb and Paul Smith’s.
All hunting camps removed from Third Lake on the Essex Chain Lakes: In the fall of 2018, the last hunting camps were removed from the Essex Chain Lakes area. For two years there had been clamor from local government and historic preservation groups to keep some of these cabins as some kind of living museum, which PROTECT actively opposed. Click here for information about the removal of these buildings. PROTECT closely examined the problems of buildings oil the Forest Preserve; this was a three part series, see part one, part two, and part three.
Protect the Adirondacks produced a new video opposing plans by Iowa Pacific Holdings to store indefinitely used out-of-service oil tankers in the Adirondack Park. The video “Don’t Trash the Adirondacks” features footage of the oil tankers and interviews with the Stephen McNally, Supervisor of the Town of Minerva; Wester Miga, Supervisor of the Town of Newcomb; Claudia Braymer, Warren County Supervisor from the City of Glens Falls; Robert Rafferty, Adirondac Rafting Company; and, Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. The video runs 6 minutes in length. Click here to view the video on YouTube.
2017 marked the 20th year of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP). ALAP celebrated its 20th season in 2017 of monitoring the water quality of dozens of lakes and ponds across the Adirondacks. ALAP is a partnership between Protect the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College. The Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) was started in 1998 with three objectives: 1) to organize long-term water quality data on individual lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park; 2) to provide long-term trend data on individual lakes and ponds for local residents, lake associations, property owners and local governments to help organize water quality protection efforts; and, 3) to assemble a profile of water quality conditions across the Adirondacks. ALAP was designed as a cost-effective program based on trained volunteers and scientific analysis. Click here to read more.
Protect the Adirondacks and statewide coalition helped pass the Health and Safety Land Account Constitutional Amendment. Proposal 3 passed by over 100,000 votes in close vote that showed the great concern that New Yorkers have for the forever wild Forest Preserve. Protect the Adirondacks worked with a diverse statewide coalition to support Proposal 3, which authorized the creation of a 250 acre Health and Safety Land Account that will enable local municipalities in the Adirondacks and Catskills to utilize lands alongside state and local highways for expanding or routing utilities, such as broadband or municipal water systems, as well as bike paths. Lands will be applied for and disbursed through a public review process administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Click here to read more.
First trial ever held in the history of Article 14 of the NYS Constitution. The trial on the future of “forever wild” in Protect the Adirondacks v NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency wrapped up on April 4, 2017 in State Supreme Court in Albany County. The trial ran for 13 days, spread over five weeks. At issue was Article 14, Section 1 of the State Constitution, the forever wild clause, which states that: “The lands of the state, now owned or 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 or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.” Despite the clear command of the Constitution, with APA’s approval, DEC has already constructed over 32 miles of new class II community connector snowmobile trails in the Forest Preserve, resulting in the clearing of dozens of acres of land and the destruction of over 24,100 trees. Dozens, and perhaps hundreds, more miles of such trails are being planned. Click here for more information.