SARANAC LAKE - An Adirondack environmental group plans to sue the state for building the first of many "community connector" snowmobile trails in the Park, but the state says the group doesn't have a case.
Protect the Adirondacks has filed a motion with the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division Third Department in Albany, seeking approval to sue the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency - a procedure required for all lawsuits alleging a violation of Article 14 of the state Constitution. If the motion is granted, the group says the lawsuit would be filed in State Supreme Court in Albany.
Protect is challenging the new 12-mile community connector snowmobile trail the state opened earlier this month in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest in Hamilton County. The case could also have implications for other areas of the Park where community connectors have been approved but not yet built, including the Wilmington Wild Forest in Essex and Clinton counties, and the Jessup River Wild Forest in Hamilton County.
A state Department of Environmental Conservation excavator sits idle during construction of a new snowmobile trail this summer in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest.
(Photo — Peter Bauer, Protect the Adirondacks)
Protect alleges that DEC's cutting of more than 2,200 trees to build the Moose River Plains trail violates the New York Constitution's prohibition on tree cutting in the state-owned Adirondack Forest Preserve.
"We're not saying the state can never chop down a tree, but the work done on these new trails goes far beyond what is legal and acceptable," Protect Chairman Chuck Clusen said in a press release.
Protect's attorney, John Caffry, cited a 1930 case in which the New York Court of Appeals struck down the state's plan to build a bobsleigh run for the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics on Forest Preserve land because doing so would have required destroying more than 2,500 trees and clearing 4-and-a-half acres.
"DEC's plans for the community connector snowmobile trails go far beyond that, and are clearly unconstitutional," Caffry said in the release. The group estimates the entire community connector trail system in the DEC's Adirondack Park Snowmobile Plan will result in cutting more than 8,000 trees and clear-cutting almost 50 acres of Forest Preserve.
Protect Executive Director Peter Bauer said construction of the 9- to 12-foot-wide Moose River Plains snowmobile trail, which was done by DEC crews, involved extensive grading, flattening, tree and rock removal, destruction of bedrock, bench cutting, the use of gravel and the building of oversized bridges. It's more like a road, he said.
"These lands are supposed to be 'forever kept as wild forest lands,' and you now have what is, in essence, a 12-acre clear-cut," Bauer told the Enterprise.
DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said staff at her agency are reviewing Protect's motion and "do not believe it has merit," although she didn't say why.
"Moreover, over the past six month(s), DEC and APA staff, together with the towns, the New York State Snowmobile Association and numerous local volunteers worked tirelessly to construct what is the most significant trail project to be undertaken in the Central Adirondacks in decades," Severino wrote in an email. "While there are a limited few who refuse to see the forest through the trees and how sustainable communities benefit both the Adirondack Park and the local economies, our many partners in this project demonstrate the broad-ranging support for this new trail."
DEC held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Moose River Plains snowmobile trail on Feb. 15.
"Establishing this community connection multiple-use trail reflects Governor Andrew Cuomo and DEC's vision to connect Adirondack communities to the Forest Preserve and to each other, providing recreational and economic benefits," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a press release issued the same day as the ceremony.
Jim Rolf, trails coordinator for the New York State Snowmobile Association, called the potential lawsuit "unfortunate." He said the effort to create a snowmobile trail building and maintenance policy for the Park involved a broad group of stakeholders.
"Everybody gave their input," he said. "We were not 100 percent happy as to what the final product was, as probably and obviously they weren't. But it involved negotiations and compromise, so I think it's unfortunate they started this action."
Rolf attended the Feb. 15 ceremony, when he rode the trail for the first time.
"I would invite anybody to go ride it and tell us if it's anything remotely close to a superhighway," Rolf said. "It's probably the most winding foot trail that is wide enough to be used by snowmobiles that I've ever ridden on in my life."
While it waits for approval to sue the state over the Moose River Plains trail, Protect has also filed a lawsuit over the use of large-track snowmobile trail groomers on state land in the Adirondacks.
"We think the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and the DEC regulations are quite clear that the only motor vehicle allowed on a trail is a snowmobile," Bauer said. "A community connector trail would not be built in the way it is if it were not being built for a large groomer to operate on. If it was just a snowmobile pulling a drag, which is what these remote trails should be, it would be a much narrower trail, which is wilder."
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.