Press-Republican

August 26, 2013

APA looks to classify new state lands

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — RAY BROOK — Four parcels of newly acquired state land are moving through the steps of Adirondack Park Agency land-use classification.

They are sections of the total 65,000 acres being conveyed by the Nature Conservancy to the state as part of the historic Finch, Pruyn & Co. transaction in 2007.

New York allocated $12.4 million late last year for the four parcels situated in the towns of Newcomb, Minerva and Indian Lake.

The parcels vary in size: Essex Chain Lakes is 18,888 acres; Indian River Tract is 945 acres; OK Slip Falls is 3,015 acres; and the smaller Open Space Conservancy section is 160 acres, according to APA documents.

Determining how these lands are classified also triggers potential reclassification of adjoining state park property, pushing the total land mass under APA review to upwards of 47,000 acres.

MASTER PLAN

Adirondack Park land classification has to, by state law, adhere to tenets of the State Land Master Plan.

In a draft Environmental Impact Statement released earlier this summer, APA said: “The protection and preservation of the natural resources of the state lands within the park must be paramount. Human use and enjoyment of those lands should be permitted and encouraged, so long as the resources in their physical and biological context, as well as their social or psychological aspects, are not degraded.”

A series of public hearings ended in July.

APA spokesman Keith McKeever said they received 3,749 letters/emails.  

“The actual number received was higher, but we removed duplicate comments. We received many, many duplicate comments from the same people.”

EIGHT OPTIONS

APA’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement puts eight options, with subcategories, on the planning table, including a final “do nothing” alternative.

The various options wrangle with boundaries that would press — to greater and lesser degrees — a preservation-oriented Wilderness boundary against the more accessible Wild Forest designation; or a Canoe Area with Wilderness corridors; or Wild Forest mixed with Wilderness and State Administrative regions.

All but two options form a Wilderness around the Hudson River Corridor. 

According to APA’s maps, classifications could partition each parcel, isolating the more sensitive land areas from lands crisscrossed by existing logging/camp roads, gravel pits or structures protected by permanent deeded rights for town, public and private use.

Maps of the four parcels offer a complex picture of how each classification might juxtapose another against the surrounding mix of state and private lands within town boundaries.

They look something like giant puzzles, but once assembled, they would depict long-reaching land-use strategy.

DEC STRATEGY

DEC has also developed a conceptual map of recreation and access strategy.

The DEC map identifies a Wilderness boundary pertinent to ingress and egress, with the northern two-thirds of Essex Chain Lakes and Indian River tracts set as Wild Forest areas.

DEC suggests access points on the northern side of each tract for different types of recreation, including handicapped-accessible areas, swimming, biking and snowmobiling. And its map marks several sites for visitor parking.

In DEC’s concept, OK Slip Tract is classified entirely Wilderness, except for a parcel of private land inside the boundary. That private property has been owned by Northern Frontier Camp, a Christian summer camp for boys, since 1946.

The southern third of the Indian River Tract is isolated as Wilderness in DEC’s concept, conjoining OK Slip as part of a larger Hudson Gorge Wilderness.

Most of the APA and DEC plans would establish a Hudson Gorge Wilderness region, requiring reclassification of easterly state land units.

The Hudson Gorge tract is currently a Primitive Area.

EASEMENTS

APA’s analysis of the scientific data and ecologically sensitive areas will govern, to large extent, what course DEC and the towns could chart in managing recreational use on the state lands.

But classification has to make room for easements in place.

Camp properties in Essex Chain Lakes are currently held in fee-lease by hunting clubs.  

The Polaris and Gooley Clubs maintain use of 1-acre parcels around their existing camps through 2018 in an agreement made when the Nature Conservancy bought the land nearly six years ago.

At least one environmental group believes APA might do better to wait to classify the lands.

“One option that the APA should consider is not to classify these lands until two things happen,” Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer said in a recent interview.

“First, until all of the entire 69,000 acres has been purchased (from the Nature Conservancy); and second, until all the reserved rights through 2018 are extinguished. 

“It’s going to be hard to implement any classification while people are still driving around. There is not a lot of precedent for such a deal.”

EXISTING RIGHTS

Other land-use agreements allow for sustained municipal use of state lands.

Minerva and Newcomb, for instance, have reserved rights to gravel pits in the Essex Chain Lakes tract.

Both towns also have reserved floatplane access rights on First and Pine Lakes.

Minerva and Indian Lake have easements to a road and gravel pits on the Indian River Tract.

Northern Frontier Camp owns OK Slip Pond inside the OK Slip Falls tract with a private right-of-way on a gravel road to its property.

All of these preexisting conditions could impact the legal decision-making.

MANAGEMENT PLAN

The formal DEC management plan for recreational use would come after APA designation.

“APA’s role is to classify the land based on State Land Master Plan criteria,” McKeever said.

“The second aspect in planning is the Unit Management planning process, and that gets to specific locations of parking lots, boat launches; what types of uses can occur on trails; and where motorized access would be allowed.”

The draft Environmental Impact Statement of the four parcels goes back to commissioners in September, when they might either designate land-use classification or carry deliberations into October.

APA’s decision will eventually be sent in a joint letter with DEC to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, McKeever said.  

The governor’s signature grants final approval of any Adirondack Park land-use plan.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com 

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APA SERIES

This is the first of a two-part report on eight options on the APA planning table for State Land Master Plan classification.

The four parcels around and encompassing Essex Chain Lakes were added to the Adirondack Park as part of The Nature Conservancy's former Finch, Pruyn & Co. timberland deal. The new state lands are primarily in Minerva, Indian Lake and Newcomb.

Part 2 will explore how preexisting conditions could impact legal decision-making in the land-classification process.