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St. Lawrence County helps town fight Adirondack Council suit on ATV use

Tooley Pond Road in the hamlet of Degrasse, town of Russell, is marked by a St. Lawrence County multi-use trail sign. (Provided photo — Christopher Lenney, Watertown Daily Times)

CLARE — County assistance has been authorized this week for the defense of the town of Clare in a pending legal fight against the Adirondack Council in state Supreme Court.

For the second year in a row, the Adirondack Council has petitioned for a judicial review of a local all-terrain vehicle law passed by the town of Clare. Filed Nov. 5 in St. Lawrence County, the petition seeks to have the ATV law voided on the basis of three alleged violations — of state Vehicle and Traffic Law, the state Constitution and the state Environmental Quality Review Act.

In response to a request for aid from the town of Clare, the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators on Monday night unanimously passed a resolution authorizing county attorney Stephen Button and his office, as well as the senior engineer from the county highway department, to advise. The resolution permits up to $7,500 in financial assistance.

Enacted in July and formally called “Permitting and Regulating All-Terrain Vehicle Operation on Certain Town Roads as part of the St. Lawrence County Multi-Use Trail System,” Clare’s local law allows ATVs to be used on a 10.75-mile stretch of Tooley Pond Road.

A nonprofit focused on the ecological integrity of the Adirondack Park, the Adirondack Council noted environmental review procedures outlined by the state Environmental Quality Review Act, which requires local, regional and state agencies to evaluate any action for potential environmental effects. Actions, according to the SEQRA, include local laws, codes, ordinances executive orders and resolutions that may impact plants, wildlife, land, air, water or noise level.

“The Town of Clare acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and in violation of the spirit and letter of SEQRA when it enacted Local ATV Law without taking a hard look at the potential environmental impacts,” the petition reads.

The county resolution outlines the history of the Multi-Use Trail System as it relates to draft and final Generic Environmental Impact Statements filed in place of an Environmental Assessment Form, a requirement of the SEQRA. A county resolution passed in 2012 accepted the final GEIS, which included a review of a portion of Tooley Pond Road through Clare.

Tooley Pond Road begins in the hamlet of Degrasse, town of Russell, and primarily parallels the Grasse River through portions of the Adirondack Park and the Grasse River Wild Forest.

The roughly 16-mile road winds southeast from Degrasse, ending in Cranberry Lake. The 10.75 mid-section of the road is bounded by the town of Clare, and the ATV Law connects the town’s portion of Tooley Pond Road to adjacent trails in the St. Lawrence County Multi-Use Trail System.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency are both listed as involved agencies on the petition due to Tooley Pond Road passing through state Wild Forest lands and state Forest Preserve lands of the Adirondack Park.

The Adirondack Council filed a similar petition in October 2019, requesting the nullification of a June 2019 resolution permitting ATVs on the Clare portion of Tooley Pond Road.

Last year, state Supreme Court Judge Mary M. Farley ordered Clare’s 2019 resolution null and void based on the Council’s petition.

The Adirondack Council has previously sued in Lewis County and the town of Forestport, Oneida County, over trail systems that were ultimately deemed illegal.

On Nov. 30, town attorney Eric Gustafson, in agreement with Adirondack Council attorney Scott Goldie, filed a motion to adjourn the case from the Dec. 11 court calendar to the Jan. 8 calendar.

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