Posted on January 6th, 2010 Add a comment >>
“To our knowledge, this represents an unprecedented level of interference from the governor’s office,” said Dave Gibson, the environmental group’s executive director. “The governor not only failed to appreciate this magnificent region of Lows Lake, but then … apparently allowed his staff to actively twist arms.”
The article drew a strong response from Fred Monroe, the executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, which lobbied against the Wilderness classification.
“Lows Lake is a man-made lake, a feat of engineering created by two concrete dams,” Monroe wrote in a letter submitted to the Times Union. “It is not a wilderness and was never classified as ‘wilderness.’ The claim that a ‘wilderness area’ has lost its status ‘for the first time in memory’ is simply false.”
Click here to read the newspaper article. Click the link below to read Monroe’s response.
Posted on November 17th, 2009 2 comments Add a comment >>
You haven’t heard the last of Lows Lake controversy—at least not from me.
Unfortunately, I missed the discussion that preceded last week’s vote by the Adirondack Park Agency on the proposed classification of the lake. (The APA changed its schedule at the last minute, so I arrived after the vote).
As you may recall from my earlier post, the agency commissioners voted 7-4 to reverse a decision in September to classify the lake as Wilderness or Primitive. The reason the classification proposal failed last week is that the three designees representing state agencies—namely, the departments of environmental conservation, economic development, and state—changed their votes.
Since the Department of Environmental Conservation had been one of the authors of the proposal—and it’s the agency responsible for protecting the Park’s natural resources—I was most curious about its change of heart.
After Friday’s meeting, I called DEC’s regional office for an explanation and was referred to the department’s public-relations staff in Albany. I was told by a spokeswoman in Albany that the department would not comment beyond what DEC’s representative, Betsy Lowe, said at the meeting.
Today I got a chance to listen to Lowe’s explanation as the APA has posted a webcast of the meeting.
But first a little background. The proposal would have designated the eastern third of the lake Primitive and the rest Wilderness. Both classifications prohibit the use of motors. The proposal also called for classifying or reclassifying much of the land around Lows, again either Wilderness or Primitive.
The Local Government Review Board, which monitors the APA, had opposed attaching any land classification to Lows Lake. Most of the land around Lows is in the public Forest Preserve, but there are private holdings along the shore as well. The board argued that classifying Lows would set a precedent that would give the APA jurisdiction over other lakes with private land. The board did not object to classifying the state lands abutting the lake.
At Friday’s meeting, William Thomas, a former Johnsburg supervisor, introduced an amendment to remove the lake classification from the proposal.
APA Chairman Curt Stiles told me later that he had not known that Thomas planned to introduce this amendment. In contrast, it seems likely that Lowe did know that the amendment was coming, because she supported it without hesitation—notwithstanding that it contradicted DEC’s earlier position.
Her first argument in favor of the amendment was that DEC would have a tougher time managing the lake if it were classified Wilderness or Primitive. “The staff would not be able to use small boats to do the administrative work they need to do to take care of the campsites,” she said.
Think about this. DEC has prohibited the public from using motorboats on Lows Lake and will ban floatplanes from the lake after 2011. But it wants its staff to continue to use motorboats on what is supposed to be a wilderness canoe route.
Stiles seized on this point during the APA meeting. “The notion of classifying the water where the underlying bed is owned by the state is appropriate,” he said, “notwithstanding the hardship it may intrude on DEC personnel in terms of having to row instead of taking a motorboat. But when you classify Wilderness, that’s part of the deal, so I don’t consider that to be a legitimate objection.” Nor was this ob jection raised in the many months leading up to Friday’s vote.
In an interview today, Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), was a bit harsher in his criticism. “To throw the whole concept of a wilderness canoe route in jeopardy because DEC wants to use motorboats is a real shock,” he said.
Lowe, who is DEC’s regional director, gave another reason for changing her vote: The community was not comfortable with classifying the lake. “It sounds like there’s a concern that the classification of the bed is somehow precedent-setting,” she said.
Woodworth said he has little doubt that the state-agency designees discussed their move before the meeting and intentionally left Stiles out of the loop. “I think it was an organized effort by the three state agencies to sandbag Curt Stiles,” he said. He added: “As far as the three state agencies that flipped their vote, I think they did so in concert, and I think they did so with the blessing of the governor’s office.”
Lowe’s office referred all questions to Albany. I left a bunch of questions with DEC’s spokesman in Albany but have yet to hear back. I’ll give an update if I do.
Some people wonder what it matters if the lake is classified or not. After all, DEC has already adopted regulations to ban powerboats and planes. Woodworth, however, said regulations can be changed without much trouble. “If the water were classified as Wilderness [or Primitive] it would be much harder for any subsequent political administration to reverse the decision to phase out motorboats and floatplanes,” he said.
Since Lows Lake is part of the Forest Preserve, Woodworth contends that the APA is obligated to give it some kind of land classification. He said DEC’s vote on Friday was a betrayal of previous commitments to support classifying the lake. Asked if ADK will sue the APA, he replied, “I think it’s likely at this point. I’m not saying we’re definitely going to do it.”
Incidentally, the APA voted 6-4 back in September to classify the lake. However, the vote of the designee from the Department of Economic Development (DED) was later deemed invalid because he had already left the department for another state job. Since the proposal required six votes to pass, the APA took up the matter again this month.
Commissioner Cecil Wray, who was absent in September due to illness, voted for the measure last week and noted that if he had been present at the first meeting, the proposal would have mustered six votes even without the DED designee’s support. “I’m feeling very apologetic, because I’m the cause of all these problems,” he said. “I apologize that I was not here in September.”
Posted on November 13th, 2009 3 comments Add a comment >>
In a victory for local government, the Adirondack Park Agency voted 7-4 Friday to renege on an earlier decision to give a land-use classification to the waters and bed of Lows Lake.
The APA board did the about-face while redoing a vote taken in September. At the earlier meeting, the commissioners voted 6-4 to classify the waters, bed, and surrounding lands of the lake either Wilderness or Primitive. Because of a legal snafu, that vote was later deemed invalid, and so the board took up the matter again at this week’s meeting.
In the original decision, the board agreed to classify about 9,620 acres of land Wilderness and another 290 acres Primitive. In addition, Lows Lake itself would have been split into two zones: 1,960 acres Wilderness and 640 acres Primitive. The 200 acres of neighboring Bog Lake also would have been classified as Wilderness.
Fred Monroe of the Local Government Review Board, a nonvoting member of the APA board, strongly objected to classifying the bed and waters of the lake, saying it would set a bad precedent. Although Lows Lake is mostly surrounded by state land, there are private lands on the lake. Monroe feared the decision would extend APA jurisdiction to other lakes with private land.
At Friday’s meeting, APA Commissioner Bill Thomas, a former Johnsburg supervisor, proposed amending the resolution to leave the lake unclassified. Betsy Lowe, who represents the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), was among those who supported the amendment. So did the designees from the departments of state and economic development, the other two state agencies with seats on the board. Without their three votes, the amendment would not have passed.
Afterward, Dan Plumley of Protect the Adirondacks denounced the vote. “The retreat by the three state agencies—especially the Department of Environmental Conservation—is shameful,” he said.
He and Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, contend that since the lakebed is part of the Forest Preserve, the APA is obligated by law to classify it. “It’s certainly a possibility that we will challenge the decision in the courts,” Woodworth said.
But Brian Houseal of the Adirondack Council, another environmental group, said he supported the decision to leave Lows Lake unclassified. He argues that dividing a lake into two zones goes against common sense. “How would you know when you cross from Wilderness surface waters to Primitive surface waters?” he asked.
Houseal thinks the APA needs to develop a separate classification scheme for waters, analogous to the one it uses for Forest Preserve lands.
Both the Wilderness and Primitive classifications would prohibit the use of floatplanes and motorboats. The less-strict Primitive classification allows for manmade facilities such as the Lows Lake dams and roads.
DEC has already banned the public use of motorboats on Lows Lake and is phasing out the use of floatplanes. Thus, Monroe argued that it was unnecessary to classify the lake.
Woodworth, however, worries that the decision will set a precedent that enables the state to avoid classifying other lakes in the future. He said he would have been satisfied if all of Lows Lake had been classified Primitive.
Besides the state designees, the commissioners who voted for the Thomas amendment were Frank Mezzano, Art Lussi, Lani Ulrich, and of course Thomas himself (all four are residents of the Park). The commissoners opposing the amendment were APA Chairman Curt Stiles, Dick Booth, James Townsend, and Cecil Wray. All but Stiles live outside the Park.
Posted on September 23rd, 2009 2 comments Add a comment >>
The executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board has written Gov. David Paterson to urge him to reject a proposal to classify part of Lows Lake as Wilderness.
At its September meeting, the Adirondack Park Agency voted 6-4 to classify the western part of Lows Lake as Wilderness and the eastern part as Primitive. Adjacent lands also were placed in one or the other of the two categories. To take effect, the proposal must be approved by the governor.
Fred Monroe, director of the Local Government Review Board, argues in a letter to Paterson that the proposal sets several “bad precedents.” He notes that it would be the first time the APA classified as Wilderness a water body with private shoreline.
“If the APA is allowed to classify waters as Wilderness, they will be authorized to vastly expand their jurisdiction over private lands without legislative action,” he says in the letter, dated Sept. 22.
Monroe also argues that Chris Walsh, the state Commerce Department’s designee on the APA board, should not have been allowed to vote, because Walsh had already left the department to work in the governor’s office. Without Walsh’s vote, the proposal would have been defeated, Monroe says, because it needed six votes to pass.
In an e-mail to the Explorer, the APA says the issues raised by Monroe were discussed at the September meeting before the vote. The agency contends that Lows Lake is unusual in that the state owns the lakebed and so that the vote does not represent a precedent for other lakes. The agency also says Walsh continued to be the formal designee from the Commerce Department at the meeting.
Click the links below to read Monroe’s letter and the APA response.
Posted on July 15th, 2009 1 comment - Add a comment >>
On Monday, the Adirondack Park Agency held the first two hearings on classifying Lows Lake as Wilderness, and as expected, there was a lot of local opposition.
Both hearings took place inside the Park: at the town hall in Long Lake and at the state Ranger School in Wanakena. The opposition was stronger in Long Lake.
APA spokesman Keith McKeever said only eight people attended the Wanakena hearing, and their views were “split down the middle.” Eighteen showed up at Long Lake, where “there more people opposed to the classification than were for it,” McKeever said.
Following are newspaper accounts of the two hearings:
A third hearing will be held in Albany at noon Monday at the headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Room PA 129B.
The APA is expected to make a decision in the fall.
See my earlier blog for more information about the proposal.
Posted on June 26th, 2009 1 comment - Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Park Agency has scheduled hearings for reclassifying as Wilderness 12,545 acres of state land in the Lows Lake region. The state Department of Environmental Conservation proposed the reclassification to appease environmentalists angered by DEC’s decision to allow floatplanes to continue landing on Lows Lake through 2011.
As noted in an earlier blog, the proposal is unusual in that it would classify the lakebed as well as the adjacent lands.
The Wilderness classification is the strictest of the APA’s seven zoning categories for state land. The main restriction of Wilderness Areas is that motorized use is prohibited. After 2011, no planes will be allowed to land on Lows Lake. Motorboats already are banned, except those used by owners of private inholdings.
The hearing schedule is as follows:
Monday, July 13
Wanakena Ranger School, 11 a.m.
Long Lake Town Hall, 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 20
DEC headquarters, Rm. PA 129B, 625 Broadway, Albany, 12 p.m.
Posted on April 22nd, 2009 3 comments Add a comment >>
Just before we went to press for the May/June issue of the Adirondack Explorer, the Adirondack Park Agency voted 9-2 to allow floatplanes to continue landing on Lows Lake for three more years, thus ending almost a year of public debate. As a sop to green groups, the APA and state Department of Environmental Conservation agreed to classify Lows Lake and adjacent state lands as Wilderness. Look for a story on the decision when you get your Explorer. I am posting here two of the important documents relating to the decision. In one, DEC spells out the rationale for allowing commercial pilots to land on Lows and the rules they must abide. The second is a memo to the APA board in support of the proposal, written by the APA’s acting executive director and its counsel. It’s interesting that the memo fails to mention that the APA’s state-lands staff concluded that extending floatplane access to Lows Lake would violate the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.