Green groups oppose snowmobile bridge

RAY BROOK — Two Adirondack green groups have registered opposition to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan to build a snowmobile bridge over the Cedar River in the central Adirondacks.

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Council have both sent letters to the DEC opposing the move, which is included in the DEC’s plans for the Essex Chain Lakes near Newcomb.

In its unit management plan for the Essex Chain, the DEC has proposed a bridge over the Cedar River, at a location where a bridge used to be. The proposal would allow the DEC to utilize existing roads to connect the hamlets of Indian Lake and Minerva, as well as the Blue Mountain Wild Forest.

However, the Cedar River is classified under the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers, and in the proposed bridge location, it is listed as recreational. This means that new motorized uses along and near the river are essentially prohibited.

“The application seems to be a back-door attempt to make public motorized use of the Polaris Bridge an integral part of the project,” the Adirondack Council wrote in a letter. “However, the planned opening of the Polaris Bridge to new public motorized use relies on ‘grandfathering’ of private lease holder access rights to justify a new, previously unauthorized and expanded public use of these recently acquired Forest Preserve lands.”

The Council lists five objections it has to the bridge as proposed, including motorized uses within a Primitive Area; the overall size and construction of the bridge; and an argument that the bridge and trails each need a variance to meet the proposed widths.

The Council is not opposed to the snowmobile trail per se, but say in the letter that the state should keep its promises.

“Why, some ask, worry about legal requirements if we support the connector trail? The legal protections that exist … are promises from one generation to the next,” the Council wrote. “Promises should be kept.”

Adirondack Wild goes farther, saying that the proposed bridge is outright prohibited.

“The January 1986 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the regulations implementing the Rivers Act clearly states that ‘motorized open space recreational uses in scenic river areas’ are prohibited,” Adirondack Wild wrote. The group then claims that as the bridge itself may be prohibited, the snowmobile trail that would use it would also be moot.

“The proposed snowmobile trail and bridge in the Department’s application would allow snowmobilers heading north from Indian Lake on the South Chain Lakes Road to continue on to more northerly and easterly portions of the trail leading to Minerva,” Adirondack Wild notes. “Should the New York Court of Appeals determine that DEC’s opening of the South Chain Lakes Road to motorized recreational use violates the Rivers Act and/or the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, that portion of the proposed new snowmobile trail would have to be closed, thereby eliminating a key portion of the trail and rendering construction of new trails and a bridge in the Scenic river area of the Cedar River pointless.”

The DEC’s plans for the bridge — which would be 140 feet long and 12 feet wide — are based on past use of the area. Since a bridge had previously been in place across the Cedar River at the same location, the DEC says that motorized use in that area is essentially grandfathered in.

“Initially, barges were used to cross the Cedar River and, later, bridges were constructed,” the UMP explains. “In 1978 the last bridge collapsed from river ice buildup and was never replaced, although the Chain Lakes Road (North and South) on either side of the river–where bridges had been historically located–continued to be used until the land was purchased by the State in 2013.

“Snowmobiles, driven by both the public and the lessees, have continuously crossed the Cedar River since the last bridge collapsed in the vicinity of these earlier bridge locations.”