RAY BROOK - The state Adirondack Park Agency voted Friday to approve a small subdivision project that's caused a big stir in the town of Indian Lake.
Dean and Donna Pohl, doing business as Marion River Carry Railroad Company, are planning a five-lot subdivision on 500 acres they own near state Route 28, along the north shore of Utowana Lake.
But critics fear the development will impact the environment and the Marion River Carry, a popular canoe carry on private land that's been used by paddlers and others for more than a century - including during the busy Adirondack Canoe Classic from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. More than 90 letters, most of them against the project, were sent to the APA and the town of Indian Lake Planning Board.
APA project review officer Virginia Yamrick said houses would be built on four of the five lots. The structures would be clustered together and couldn't be located within 250 feet of the shoreline. Yamrick said no development is planned on the larger fifth lot, which is the closest to the carry. The carry runs about a mile from the end of the Marion River to the dam at the west end of Utowana Lake, in the Raquette River headwaters.
"The carry exists and has existed historically for almost 100 years," Yamrick said. "The landowners have granted an informal right of passage through their lands. The current landowner has no proposal to change that agreement with the users of the lake and the river."
Some of those who wrote the agency said it should seek an easement from the Pohls to protect public access to the carry. But APA lead attorney John Banta advised against that move because the proposed development isn't located close enough to the carry. He also said it's not the agency's job, as a zoning authority, to resolve property-access issues.
"I think the public has the opportunity through many means and many remedies, and I believe they would prevail," added Chairman Curt Stiles. "But I don't think, at this stage, that's our responsibility."
Nevertheless, commissioners William Valentino, Cecil Wray and Richard Booth were concerned about the public losing access to the carry.
"Maybe this has gone on just fine on a tacit understanding basis for years," Wray said. "But there is a change here. The change is you're going to have four new homeowners here, and those four new homeowners might have different views about public access to that carry."
"This is a very highly used corridor with immense public recreation opportunities," Booth added. "I'm sitting here thinking this is the wrong kind of subdivision of this particular parcel given the immense public value of that recreational corridor."
Booth argued that the project should be sent to an adjudicatory hearing so the agency could reject it. But Commissioner Arthur Lussi said there are no significant environmental concerns that would need to be flushed out at a hearing.
"I don't think there's anything controversial environmentally here," he said. "It's the public's interest in continuing their use of the land for a canoe carry. I don't see this permit affecting that use or right."
Gerald Delaney, chairman of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, said the public could pursue legal action if access to the carry was ever restricted.
"But for this agency to take away someone's property rights by forcing a right of way onto their property - that should be decided outside of this agency," he said.
Booth's attempts to get the project sent to adjudicatory hearing failed and the full APA board approved it Friday on an 8-3 vote, with Booth, Wray and Valentino opposed. If the subdivision is approved by the town's planning board without any substantial changes, the agency will issue a final permit to the Pohls.
The agency's decision comes amid an ongoing legal battle over public access to a canoe route through private land not far northwest of this site. The Brandreth Park Association and Friends of Thayer Lake are suing Phil Brown of Saranac Lake, editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine, for trespassing after Brown wrote about canoeing from Lake Lila to Little Tupper Lake in the state-owned Whitney Wilderness Area, using a waterway through Brandreth land. Brown did step out of his canoe briefly onto privately owned land to get around short section of rapids at Mud Pond Outlet, but he believes case law allows the public to portage on navigable waterways.
(Editor's note: The last paragraph of this article has been corrected to reflect that Phil Brown did step out of his canoe while passing through Brandreth land.)
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.