Press-Republican

April 12, 2013

Court approves move to sue DEC, APA

KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

RAY BROOK — Environmentalists are pursuing litigation to stop snowmobile-trail grooming on connector trails in the Adirondacks.

Protect the Adirondacks, based in Lake George, gained approval from the Appellate Division to file a lawsuit in a lower court.

Protect Executive Director Peter Bauer said the “lawsuit is narrowly constructed (and) does not challenge snowmobiling or motor-vehicle use in the Forest Preserve or use of large groomers on roads.”

“This lawsuit focuses on how the APA (Adirondack Park Agency) and DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) manage and groom snowmobile trails on the Forest Preserve.”

CLEARING

The lawsuit also contends that 12-foot-wide community connector trails built in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest violate the Forever Wild clause of the State Constitution by “widening, clearing, grading, flattening, tree removal, rock removal, destruction of bedrock, bench cutting, use of gravel and bridge building,” according to materials provided by Protect.

In related documents, Protect alleges that DEC cut “more than 2,200 trees over the 11.9 miles of the new Class II community connector snowmobile trail” and that such cutting “exceeds permissible limits.”

Protect also says state law allows only “snowmobiles on a designated snowmobile trail,” challenging the use of groomers on connector trails.

CONNECTOR TRAILS

Beyond Moose River, connector trails are being built in the Wilmington and Jessup River Wild Forest areas as part of planning process that endured a decade of discussion.

They are meant to provide snowmobilers with maintained routes between towns and villages in the park.

But Protect asserts that, as they are being built, connector trails require clear-cutting some 50 acres of State Forest preserve, estimating more than 8,000 trees will be removed in the process.

WINDING, NARROW

Dominic Jacangelo, executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association, said their group has no immediate plan to engage the court proceeding.

“We’ll confer with the appropriate parties at the state level and see what their preference is, and we’ll try to support the state’s position,” he told the Press-Republican.

“Protect has not filed their specifics yet. They’ve only filed an intent to sue. It’s pretty SOP (standard operating procedure) to gain that kind of permission.”

Jacangelo said he traveled through the new Moose River connector trail this past winter.

“When I rode the lower level, and I looked again at Protect’s original statement, I didn’t think I was on the same trail,” he said.

“The connector is too winding and narrow for the large groomers. If a groomer is going to be used on it, it’s going to be the smallest track-groomer available.”

PRECEDENT FEARED

Jim McCulley, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, asserts this litigation could establish a sticky precedent.

“Just as snowmobile trails are groomed by large track groomers on Forest Preserve land, so are ski trails at Whiteface and Gore (ski resorts). If groomers are removed from snowmobile trails, then they must be removed from state ski areas.”

COMPROMISES

Planning for connector trails was aimed at preserving backcountry areas by moving wider — and therefore safer — trails to the edge of Wild Forest regions.

“This has been a very thoughtful process over almost 10 years,” Jacangelo said.

“The discussions started in 2002 under Gov. (George) Pataki, working to create a strategy for snowmobile trails in the park that provided not only economic opportunity for local communities but also better environmental protection.

“The primary reason for creating connector trails was to conserve the backcountry. A number of snowmobile trails in Moose River Plains were closed in exchange for the new connector.”

Planning through the years involved multiple state agencies, environmental groups and snowmobile clubs working toward a good deal of compromise, Jacangelo said.

“You had some groups that said OK and some that said, ‘We’re not going to play in that sandbox.’ Overall, I don’t think any group walked away completely happy. Snowmobilers got much narrower trails than they asked for.”

ECONOMIC IMPACT

At stake is the nature of winter corridors that carry hundreds of millions of dollars into isolated local communities.

The Snowmobile Association finished an economic study of its sport in spring of 2012.

“We found $868 million in total economic activity is generated from the sport, and 28 percent of entire activity in the state takes place in the Adirondack Park,” Jacangelo said.

“The economic impact in the Adirondacks is $245 million.”

Connector trails were designed as year-round, multi-use trails, he said.

“The intention is for horses, bicycles and hikers to have access to these trails. These are in Wild Forest areas and allow for the most diverse recreational uses in the park.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com