Camp Gabriels amendment off the table, for now

A state constitutional amendment that would have eased the sale of the former Camp Gabriels prison failed to get final state legislative approval before lawmakers wrapped up their session Saturday.

The Senate unanimously approved bill 8028A on Wednesday, but the legislation never made it to the Assembly floor for a vote, despite the efforts of Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, who sponsored it. At one point she met with Assemblyman Steve Englebright, chairman of his chamber’s Environmental Conservation Committee, to discuss the proposed amendment, according to Dan Mac Entee, Little’s communications director.

“When Betty met with Assemblyman Englebright, he expressed an interest but asked for more time to study the property,” Mac Entee wrote in an email.

The focus at the end of the session, Mac Entee said, was on other priorities, like legislation to resolve the Township 40 dispute in Raquette Lake and on a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a Forest Preserve land bank, both of which were approved.

The Camp Gabriels amendment would have exempted the 92-acre prison property from Article 14 of the state constitution, the “forever wild” clause, allowing the land to be sold. The proceeds from the sale would have been used to add new lands to the Forest Preserve.

The push for a constitutional amendment started last month when the Brighton Town Council approved a resolution supporting the proposal. It sent similar resolutions to other towns and the Franklin County legislature, which approved one May 19.

The effort came seven-and-a-half years after the state closed the prison and two-and-a-half years after it auctioned the former minimum-security prison to Adam Fine of Rockland County for $166,000 – but the deal never closed.

Fine’s partner, Rabbi Eli Hersh of Monsey, said last year that he had difficulty getting title insurance and securing the necessary financial backing for his plan to turn Camp Gabriels into a summer camp for Orthodox Jewish boys. He said that’s because his investors were leery of concerns environmentalists have raised that the former prison is state land in a Forest Preserve county that can’t be sold without a constitutional amendment.

Amending the constitution is a three-step process. It requires passage by two separately elected state legislatures, then approval in a statewide referendum.

Little’s Camp Gabriels amendment drew support from environmental groups like Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild. If it had been approved in the session that ended early Saturday morning, it would have been on track to get on the statewide ballot in November 2017.

Mac Entee said there’s a chance the legislature could come back into session later this year, but issues like this typically aren’t taken up then.

“I would never rule out Betty’s advocacy if the opportunity presents,” he wrote.

If the amendment passes in next year’s session, the earliest it could gain second passage and be put on the statewide ballot would be 2019.