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January 22, 2010

State closing on land deals that predate moratorium

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ALBANY — The Paterson administration is completing deals to buy the last two undeveloped Finger Lakes, 1,220 acres in the Catskills and conservation rights to 89,000 acres of Adirondack timberlands while halting other purchases of wilderness and open space in New York.

The Department of Environmental Conservation said Thursday current dedicated funds will be used to buy 3-mile long Canadice Lake and 7-mile-long Hemlock Lake, which provide Rochester with water. The state will also close on the Big Indian parcel by Belleayre Ski Center in the Catskills and an easement on former Finch Pruyn timberlands mainly in the central Adirondacks.

"These projects have been in the works for years," DEC spokesman Yancey Roy said. Prices were not disclosed.

Gov. David Paterson has proposed a moratorium on land buys in his budget plan for the fiscal year starting April 1. That applies to the other projects in the pipeline, Roy said.

"During this time the DEC will not make commitments to acquire, enter into purchase agreements, or close any transactions using (Environmental Protection Fund) funding," Roy said. "There is no end date for the moratorium, but we expect that when state finances permit, the open space conservation program will resume."

Affected acquisitions include the Nature Conservancy's highlands along the Hudson River Gorge in the central Adirondacks, as well as Follensby Pond, site of Ralph Waldo Emerson's storied 1858 "Philosopher's Camp." Many others are smaller parcels scattered around the state held by dozens of conservation groups.

"It leaves a lot of us high and dry," Joe Martens of the Open Space Institute said. The group has spent $11 million on some 4,000 acres in 20 parcels bought from 2005 to 2008 with approvals by the DEC to take them.

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