Latest court ruling leaves Cedar River bridge project in limbo

A state Supreme Court judge continued to put the brakes on the state’s plan to build a bridge over the Cedar River, which would connect Indian Lake and Minerva.

Judge Robert Muller issued a stay and a preliminary injunction on Tuesday, in the pending case against the state Department of Environmental Conservation brought by two environmental groups, Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

The groups have argued that building the 12-foot wide bridge with steel trusses violates the state constitution, because the Cedar River is considered “scenic” under the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act. The act, they argue, protects the river from development.

The DEC and area community leaders believe the bridge, intended for recreational uses like hiking, snowmobiling, skiing and biking, would provide economic opportunities to Adirondack communities.

Muller based his latest decisions off the fact the State Supreme Court in Albany is still deciding another case that could affect the one before him.

In that case, the court is deciding whether the DEC can cut down trees and build a snowmobile trail on a portion of the land south of the proposed Cedar River bridge. Muller wrote in his decision that if the Court of Appeals “finds that the public snowmobile use is not permitted … then a 12-foot wide bridge supported by steel trusses may no longer be necessary.”

The DEC has said it disagrees, because it still intends the bridge to accommodate non-motorized recreational uses. Muller said the bridge could be made smaller if it does not need to support snowmobiles, according to court documents.

Muller issued a stay until the Court of Appeals decision is made, “thereby preventing an inequitable result.”

Muller also granted a preliminary injunction, which means the state cannot move forward with any kind of construction, tree removal or disturbance of the site “until a final determination is rendered in this proceeding.”

DEC requested the environmental groups post an undertaking of $122,600, which it considers the “low end of the estimates for annual economic impacts on local communities” and includes 10% of the DEC’s design costs.

Muller ordered Adirondack Wild and Protect the Adirondacks to put up $500 as an undertaking.

“Respondents (the DEC) have pushed forward with the Cedar River Bridge notwithstanding the ongoing litigation in this and other courts, and with the full knowledge that an injunction could be issued with respect to the project,” Muller wrote. “Indeed, the court has been puzzled by this approach since the commencement of this proceeding.”

David Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild, said he was pleased with Muller’s decision.

“His ruling was very much appreciated in our favor so far,” Gibson said. “From our point of view, the preliminary injunction allows that corridor to remain, for now, a wild forest environment.”

Matt Simpson, Horicon supervisor and president of the Adirondack Association of Towns & Villages, said he was disappointed with Muller’s latest decision but not surprised.

Waiting on the Appellate Court’s decision, Simpson said, has “effectively halted recreational development right now in the Forest Preserve.”

“These are very important to the sustainability of our communities in the Adirondack Park,” Simpson added, about the trails and bridge projects. “Basically, what good is preserving the land if we’re unable to enjoy the great recreational opportunities that it provides for?”