SARANAC LAKE - The town of Harrietstown has decided to avoid what could be a costly legal battle with the state Department of Environmental Conservation over allegations that logging work was performed in the town's business park in Lake Clear without the necessary DEC permits.
The town board voted 3-0 Thursday night to file an application for a State Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit and pay a $100 annual fee to the DEC.
Town officials have argued that the permit, which is required for the control of stormwater discharges, is unnecessary, but they agreed to file the application rather than risk bringing a DEC enforcement proceeding against the town.
"It's only going to be $100 to make it go away; I say, let's do it," said Councilman Bob Bevilacqua.
The case dates to August of last year, when the Enterprise published a story about the town securing state Adirondack Park Agency approval for a 19-lot subdivision of the business park. The story referenced the fact that Paul Smith's College had recently logged part of the property through an agreement with the town.
After reading the story, DEC officials contacted the town and said it needed a stormwater discharge permit for what DEC described as a "land-clearing operation" at the business park.
"They contend we were logging as the beginning of construction out at the business park, which isn't true," then-town Councilman Jim Murnane said in December.
Town officials met several times with DEC officials to try and resolve the matter.
"We have tried arguing with the DEC from every possible angle about the necessity for the permit, and have devoted considerable time to meetings and correspondence, but it's clear that they aren't going to come around to the town's position that the permit isn't required," town Attorney James Maher wrote in a Thursday email to board members.
If the town doesn't go along with DEC's position, Maher said the state could launch an enforcement case. If the town lost in that administrative proceeding, it could then file an Article 78 petition to contest the decision. Maher said the town would have to hire outside counsel for both legal proceedings, which he estimated would cost at least $10,000 to $15,000.
Filing for the permit and only paying the $100 yearly fee "seems to me like the most logical way to resolve this issue," Maher wrote.
In a Feb. 15 letter to town Councilman Ron Keough, DEC Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann encouraged the town to submit a permit application, which he said is required for "forest management activities that are aligned with the build-out of the business park."
"The Department continues to be willing to work with the town to resolve this matter," Stegemann wrote.
Town officials enlisted the help of North Woods Engineering, which ultimately prepared stormwater pollution prevention plans for each of the 26 lots and the road in the business park.
"I think the town was in the right to think that no permit was required," Joe Garso of North Woods told the board Thursday night. "Be that as it may, the DEC engineer told our office that it's their opinion that if we elected to fight this, that they would pursue it, and he thought they have a pretty solid case. We can either go for a fight ... or we can just apply for the permit and it would be a done deal."
If the town kept up the battle, Keough said it could hurt efforts to market the business park sites to potential tenants.
"If we don't apply for (the permit) and it continues to drag on, we're going to spend money, and it's going to delay any opportunity to work with people looking to start biotech and other developments," Keough said.
Bevilacqua and Councilwoman Nichole Meyette agreed that it makes sense to settle the matter.
Garso said he could complete the permit application work within the $4,000 budget the board approved for his company's contract with the town.
Keough ran Thursday's meeting. Supervisor Larry Miller was on vacation, and Councilman Barry DeFuria, the deputy supervisor, was absent due to illness.