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Local News

May 23, 2009

Old Mountain Road decision raises concern





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."



LAWMAKER ACTION

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.

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