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Camp Gabriels constitutional amendment passes Senate

A building sits dormant at the former Camp Gabriels prison in the town of Brighton in February 2014. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

ALBANY — The state Senate on Wednesday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to facilitate the sale of Camp Gabriels in the town of Brighton.

The amendment would need to pass the Assembly and then pass both houses of the Legislature again in 2023 before being placed on the ballot for voters to consider in November 2023.

Camp Gabriels was a minimum-security correctional facility, closed in 2009. Previously it had been a tuberculosis hospital and part of Paul Smith’s College. The state has tried selling it before and almost closed a deal, begun in 2013, for it to become a summer camp for orthadox Jewish boys. However, environmental advocates claimed it couldn’t be sold because, as state land in the Adirondack Park, it defaulted to Forest Preserve when the prison closed — and the state constitution’s famous “forever wild” clause prohibits the state from selling Forest Preserve land.

Environmental groups such as Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild suggested they might sue the state if it sold Camp Gabriels without a constitutional amendment. They said they had no problem with the state selling the prison, but an amendment was needed to preserve the Forest Preserve’s legal protection.

In past years, state Sen. Betty Little sponsored a Camp Gabriels amendment bill each year, but it did not pass.

Little’s successor Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, is the amendment’s sponsor in the Senate this year. Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, is sponsoring it in the Assembly. The bill numbers are S5333 and A794.

Under the legislation, revenue from the sale of the property would go into a state account to be used only for Forest Preserve acquisitions.

The Adirondack Council, one of the park’s environmental groups, has issued a memo in support of the legislation.

“The property has been dormant for well over 10 years, and the lack of any activity has hurt the local economy,” said Stec. “As we know, prison closures have a big impact on small communities where there aren’t a lot of other job opportunities. The hope here is to win passage of the amendment and find a buyer who can invest in the property and create some very much-needed commerce.”

Gov. David Paterson closed Camp Gabriels in July 2009. It had been a minimum-security prison since 1982 and before that was owned by Paul Smith’s College, serving as classroom and dormitory space. The Sisters of Mercy Order ran it as a tuberculosis sanatorium for many years before selling it the college.

The 92-acre site has 48 structures, which includes a pavilion, chapel and shrine, an administrative building, housing units, support buildings and a sewage treatment plant.

Camp Gabriels was transferred from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to the Office of General Services following its closure.

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