Posted on March 22nd, 2011 33 comments Add a comment >>
Imagine how the High Peaks Wilderness would change if people were allowed to drive to Marcy Dam or Indian Pass. The Adirondack Park Agency raises this possibility in a legal brief filed last week in the long and convoluted dispute over the Old Mountain Road in the Sentinel Range Wilderness.
The Old Mountain Road is now used as a trail for hiking and cross-country skiing, but in May 2009 the state’s environmental conservation commissioner ruled that the route was never legally closed and thus, theoretically, could be reopened to motor vehicles.
If allowed to stand, the decision could be cited as a precedent for reopening other old roads in the Forest Preserve, according to the APA.
Jim McCulley, the president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, touched off the battle in 2005 when he drove his pickup truck onto Old Mountain Road. Motorized vehicles are not allowed in Wilderness Areas, but McCulley contended that the road had never been legally closed. He was ticketed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis agreed with McCulley and dismissed the ticket. But DEC’s staff, in a motion filed by DEC attorney Randall Young, contended that Grannis misinterpreted the law and asked for a clarification of the decision. Young is not seeking to reinstate McCulley’s ticket, but he has argued that Grannis’s ruling raises questions about the status of other roads in the Forest Preserve.
The APA sides with Young on this point. In its brief, the APA mentions the old truck trail to Marcy Dam and the trail through Indian Pass as two old roads at risk of being reopened to motor vehicles—both of which are in the High Peaks Wilderness.
“These are just two among many recreational trails that occupy the track of 19th century roads and are placed in question by the argument in the Commissioner’s [ruling],” the APA says.
The APA argues that Grannis’s ruling violates the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, which sets forth the rules for the management of Wilderness Areas. In essence, the APA contends, Grannis modified the master plan by altering the status of the road. The APA says only its board can modify the master plan.
The Adirondack Council also filed a brief in the case. The council also says the Grannis decision could lead to the reopening of roads in other parts of the Forest Preserve, endangering flora and fauna and damaging trails.
Click here to read a story in the Adirondack Explorer about the implications of the Grannis ruling.
The decision on whether to clarify the ruling lies with Administrative Law Judge Louis Alexander.
McCulley’s lawyer, Matt Norfolk of Lake Placid, said in his brief opposing the motion for clarification that his client will not recognize any order that alters the Grannis decision. “The motions for clarification and reconsideration … have made this particular administrative proceeding to be a spectacle of lawlessness and abuse of process,” Norfolk asserts.
Norfolk also contends that the APA filed its brief after the 5 p.m. deadline on March 18. In a letter to Alexander, he asks that the agency’s brief be rejected as untimely.
Click the links below the read the briefs filed by the APA, the Adirondack Council, and Norfolk.
Posted on February 4th, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
A lawyer for the state Department of Environmental Conservation argues that his former boss misconstrued the Highway Law in dismissing a ticket against a Lake Placid man who drove his pickup truck on an abandoned road in the Sentinel Range Wilderness.
Randall Young, the top attorney in DEC’s Region 6, is asking the commissioner of DEC to clarify a decision handed down in 2009. The decision was made by then-Commissioner Pete Grannis.
Jim McCulley, the president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, sparked the legal dispute after driving his truck on the Old Mountain Road in 2005. The road, now part of the Jackrabbit Ski Trail, runs through a Wilderness Area where motorized use is prohibited. McCulley, however, argued that the road was never legally abandoned.
Grannis agreed with McCulley, but Randall asserts that the former commissioner overlooked factual evidence and legal precedent. Among other things, Grannis noted that the route has continued to be used by hikers and skiers. Randall, however, contends that such recreational use is irrelevant in determining the legal status of a road.
Randall was granted permission in January to file a motion for clarification of the ruling.
Click the link below to read Randall’s brief.
Posted on January 21st, 2011 11 comments Add a comment >>
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has granted a request by its own staff to clarify an agency decision that the Old Mountain Road in Keene—now part of the Jackrabbit Ski Trail—had never been legally abandoned and therefore could be open to motorized use.
The decision by DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis in 2009 raised questions about the status of other old woods roads in the Forest Preserve. Many such roads are now foot trails and closed to vehicles.
DEC attorney Randall Young had filed a motion for clarification, contending that Grannis misinterpreted the law and that the decision could lead to conflicts with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. Click here to read an indepth look at the implications of the Grannis decision.
Old Mountain Road passes through the Sentinel Range Wilderness, where all motorized use is forbidden. Lake Placid resident Jim McCulley challenged the closure of the road by driving his snowmobile and later a pickup truck on the road, leading to a series of legal battles.
Both the Adirondack Park Agency and the Adirondack Council supported Young’s motion for clarification and sought permission to intervene in the matter.
In a ruling dated December 30, acting DEC Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz granted Young’s motion and agreed to allow the APA and the council to participate.
“This gives us an opportunity to undo what was potentially a damaging precedent for the Forest Preserve,” said John Sheehan, the council’s spokesman. He fears the Grannis decision could be used to open other roads in the Preserve.
Iwanowicz has asked DEC staff to submit legal papers by February 4. McCulley, the APA, and the council are required to file their responses by March 11.
McCulley’s lawyer, Matt Norfolk of Lake Placid, could not be reached for comment. In a letter to the administrative law judge in the case, Norfolk asked for confirmation that Iwanowicz was still the acting commissioner when he signed the ruling.
McCulley was ticketed for driving on the road, but the ticket was dismissed. The motion for clarification does not seek to reinstate the ticket.
Click the links below to read Iwanowicz’s decision and Norfolk’s letter.
Posted on June 10th, 2009 Add a comment >>
An attorney in the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Watertown office has asked DEC’s commissioner to clarify his decision to dismiss a complaint against Jim McCulley, who was ticketed for driving a truck on the Old Mountain Road in the Sentinel Range Wilderness.
McCulley contends that the Old Mountain Road, now part of the Jackrabbit Ski Trail, remains a town road and therefore DEC has no right to exclude from it snowmobiles or other motor vehicles.
In May, Commissioner Pete Grannis ruled that DEC’s lawyers had indeed failed to prove that the road had been legally abandoned by the towns of Keene and North Elba. The ruling has created doubt about the future of the Old Mountain Road and other old roads in the Forest Preserve.
In a motion dated June 5, DEC attorney Randall Young asserts that “specific aspects of the decision should be clarified to ensure proper care, custody, and control of the lands under the administration of the Department.”
Young says the department’s staff believes the decision “misapprehended or misapplied the applicable law.” He argues that improving the road for motor vehicles would violate the forever-wild clause of the state constitution, the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, and Environmental Conservation Law.
The attorney is asking only for clarification. He is not asking Grannis to reverse the decision.
”DEC is appealing to itself,” McCulley said after receiving the motion papers. “It’s so dumb it’s scary.”
I found out about this too late in the day to contact DEC for comment. I’m attaching the motion documents below. Be forewarned that some pages are missing. I hope to get a complete set soon.