NORTH ELBA — Last week's McCulley decision has stirred interest over what's next for Old Mountain Road.
After years of lawsuits, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis ruled the route through the wilderness is a town road, never formally closed or abandoned.
Grannis dismissed DEC enforcement action against Jim McCulley, who drove a snowmobile onto the road seven years ago and was ticketed for using a motorized vehicle on state land.
But, environmentalists are not pleased with the decision.
ROUTE TO CLOSURE
The Adirondack Council is demanding that Grannis implement a little-used Highway Law 212 and "undo damage" that the environmental group says the McCulley decision portends.
"Commissioner Grannis has the authority to use (Highway Law 212) to prohibit the use of motorized vehicles on this and other roads that are affected by this decision," Adirondack Council Executive Director Brian Houseal said in a statement.
"We urge Commissioner Grannis to begin that process right away."
But legislation was already being sought to amend Highway Law 212.
Bills introduced in January by Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) would "remove the ability of the state to modify, abandon or close roads within the Adirondack Park," saying road closure by the state "disrupts local transportation without compensation to the local community."
The legislation is currently in Transportation Committees of both houses.
USE IS RARE
Transcripts from McCulley's Essex County case show Highway Law 211 originally applied to roads on state lands used "for farm or prison purposes."
An amendment in 1929 removed that restriction and also removed the need for notice to the towns.
Attorney Matthew Norfolk, McCulley's counsel in the Old Mountain Road case, finds only four cases since 1977 where the law has been used, besides McCulley.
"DEC has previously looked to use Highway Law 212 to close roads on Forest Preserve land 'if the land on both sides of the road is state land and the road terminates on state land'. That's been DEC's stated position," Norfolk said.
Old Mountain Road does not end on state land in the two towns it traverses: North Elba and Keene.
"This may explain why, despite repeated requests from the Adirondack Council in the past, DEC has not, and most likely will not, attempt a Highway Law 212 closure of Old Mountain Road," Norfolk said.
North Elba Town Supervisor Roby Politi said after the Grannis decision that "as far we're concerned, Old Mountain Road has always been a town road."
He sees the McCulley decision as an opportunity for towns to co-create a unique recreation corridor.
"It would be nice if both towns agreed on what the corridor could be used for."
Politi called the Adirondack Council's call for closure "fighting words."
Keene Town Supervisor Bill Ferebee couldn't be reached for comment.
Ken Jubin, who owns land at the North Elba end of Old Mountain Road, said "it's great" that DEC finally recognized the route as a public highway.
"This means that the Town of North Elba and the Town of Keene have a width of 66 feet to use (according to historic laws); there's plenty of room for whatever recreational purpose that each of these towns desire to create."
Reacting to the council's call for closure, Jubin said the potential loss could be too great.
"The Old Mountain Road has too much potential use for the towns. The outdoor enthusiasts are definitely a component of the tourist trade here, for everyone — ice climbers, hikers, cyclists, snowmobilers and skiers."
As a passageway through the forest, Old Mountain Road has been maintained by the Adirondack Ski Touring Council for decades as part of the Jackrabbit Ski Trail.
Tony Goodwin, president of the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, said Old Mountain Road should remain a non-motorized trail. His group has maintained the passage since the 1980s.
"I definitely do not think that it would be possible to make that into a good snowmobile trail and certainly not a trail wide enough to accommodate both skiers and snowmobiles. There are sections too narrow for more than one snowmobile at a time."
Goodman believes Grannis should close it under Highway Law 212.
"But it would remain a trail. The one piece of the puzzle left is to relinquish any sense that this is a town road."
E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: email@example.com
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