A state constitutional amendment that would settle a land dispute in Raquette Lake, that dating back to the 19th century, received the initial go-ahead from state lawmakers this week.
The proposal received first passage in the Senate on Tuesday and the Assembly on Wednesday. It will need to be approved again next year by a newly elected state Legislature before it can be placed on the ballot for statewide approval in a general election, likely in November 2013.
The dispute stems from both the state of New York and private parties claiming ownership of about 215 properties and more than 1,000 acres on the shores of Raquette Lake in Hamilton County. The private parties include individuals, the fire department, a public school, businesses and a utility company,
The state claims it purchased many of the properties in 19th-century tax sales and that they are part of the Forest Preserve, but residents and the other entities have disputed that, and most, if not all of them, hold deeds.
The constitutional amendment would allow the involved parties to engage in a land swap. The businesses, people and other entities in Raquette Lake would receive clear titles for their land in exchange for providing roughly $600,000 to the state for the purchase of Forest Preserve.
"The proposed amendment will settle a very lengthy and controversial dispute between the State of New York and private property owners in Raquette Lake," said bill sponsor Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, in a press release. "Doing so avoids costly litigation and benefits the public with improved Adirondack Park recreational access. A lot of work has gone into this, particularly by DEC, numerous environmental organizations and local officials, all to be applauded. This year's passage is a very encouraging first step."
Assemblywoman Theresa Sayward, R-Willsboro is also a co-sponsor of the bill and has been working on a solution to this problem for about 10 years.
"This amendment will authorize the settlement of a 100 year old competing claims of title between NY State and private parties in Raquette Lake in Hamilton County," she said in a press release. "The people, the State and the Forest Preserve will benefit from this first passage."
Finding a way to solve this dispute has proved elusive for numerous reasons, including the complexity of the state laws involving Forest Preserve, the cost associated with lawsuits that could resolve the issue, and poor documentation from the 19th century.
The contested land is located in what was originally Township 40, in the Tottenfield and Crossfield Purchase in the 18th century.