Below are the views of our legal team at Hodgson Russ LLP.
The land around the lake is not “forest preserve” as suggested by the DEC.
The DEC claims that the land surrounding Great Sacandaga Lake is “forest preserve” that should either be kept wild or that lands abutting privately held property should be open access for public gatherings of any kind. These two extremes do not reflect historical or present day realities.
When Great Sacandaga Lake was created in the 1920s, the area was not wilderness or forest preserve. It was comprised of farm land, factories, communities, a thriving railroad, and even an amusement park. The fact that this area was not wilderness or forest preserve can be seen in the relocation of 12,000 homes and the transfer of nearly 4,000 bodies from 22 local cemeteries.
The history of New York State’s action passing legislation for the reservoir and acquiring land bolsters the fact that this is not forest preserve. The State touted the creation of a pristine body of water that would be lined by sandy beaches: a prime spot for recreational access.
In fact, the State has not designated this land as “forest preserve.” The Adirondack Park Agency has not classified the land under the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan or in the related official maps.
Even if the land around the lake were forest preserve, this does not support the proposed permit system and lake access changes. Forest preserve is not a one-size-fits-all designation. Even a simple review of the DEC’s website shows that forest preserve uses differ greatly depending on the specific sub-classification. The HRBRRD and the State should be transparent about exactly what classification they are seeking to impose on lands surrounding the lake. And they should not seek to create wilderness where none exists. We can have our lake and enjoy it too. We can do so in a way that will not destroy property values, our local property tax base, and disrupt the balance of private and public use that we currently enjoy.
Re: The DEC's proposed permit system rules: The proposed rules should not be implemented.
HRBRRD proposed rules regarding changes to the current permit system. It followed the State Administrative Procedure Act and published the rules for comment. After input from the DEC and elected officials, the proposed rule-making was allowed to expire. Any attempt to impose the proposed rules now would require a new rule-making complying with the State Administrative Procedure Act’s review and comment period. This process has not been commenced again. Not yet.
Despite allowing the proposed rules to expire, HRBRRD has recently shown that it will seek to implement the policy changes without the new rules. We have already seen changes in signage and permit applications. Without following the administrative procedures that are required by state law, these actions are illegal.
We must be vigilant of changes that HRBRRD would implement without legally adopting new rules. And we must be constantly wary that the HRBRRD will once again return to legal channels in an effort to impose new permit system rules that are incompatible with decades of use and enjoyment of Great Sacandaga Lake by lake residences, tourists, and the local businesses that these groups support.