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Adirondack Park Agency Commissioners Approve Controversial UMP For Essex Chain Lakes

Essex Chain Lakes Tract sign
WAMC/Pat Bradley

Adirondack Park Agency Commissioners approved a Unit Management Plan for the Essex Chain Lakes during their monthly meeting last week.  But some conservation groups say the plan violates state laws and regulations.
The Essex Chain Lakes complex in the Central Adirondacks is part of Forest Preserve lands obtained by New York state in 2012.  The Adirondack Park Agency has classified the lands as a mix of primitive and wild forest.  A Unit Management Plan sets management guidelines for public use.  Commissioners debatedthe plan with State Land Committee Chair Richard Booth criticizing the proposal.   “I think this should be delayed. I think this happened far too quickly at the end and we really should give it more time. I’m going to oppose this UMP.  I do not think it is consistent with the Master Plan even with the amendments that have been made.”

A sticking point is whether the Polaris Bridge should remain intact and be a key part of a snowmobile trail.  Commissioner Arthur Lussi:   “I always believed that this corridor over the Polaris would be used for snowmobiling and I’ve constantly asked for a legally defensive solution to that.  Our counsel have done their best to create a legally defensible position on this case. But I can’t agree with it. I also can’t agree with the fact that we’re going to approve a Unit Management Plan before amending either the Rivers Act or the State Land Master Plan.”
That is what has Protect the Adirondacks up in arms.  Executive Director Peter Bauer characterizes the approved Unit Management Plan as widely illegal.  “The Adirondack Park Agency violated a series of series of state laws including the Wild and Scenic Recreational Rivers Act.  They are building a new bridge over the Cedar River where motors are prohibited.  They’re retaining Polaris Bridge over the Hudson where motors are prohibited.  They are looking to open a road inside a wild corridor on the Hudson River again where motor vehicles are prohibited. And they’re looking to have a floatplane access only campsite on part of the Cedar River again where motors are prohibited. That’s four ways which the Wild and Scenic and Recreational rivers Act has been violated by this plan.”

Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway accepts the core of the plan to implement land classification, but has concerns.  “For the Adirondack Council, we applaud the core of the plan which still protects the Essex Chain of lakes. But we and others are very concerned about having new public snowmobile use going across the Hudson River on the Polaris Bridge.  We appear to have lost that fight on that policy decision. We feel there were better alternatives. Those advocating for snowmobiles and towns felt strongly it was critical to be able to use the Polaris Bridge.”

Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe notes that in the past the land was productive forest, and towns got income from that and from leasing hunting cabins.   “The towns believe it’s very important that there be for us recreational use on the land and the state can mitigate some of that loss.  Probably the most critical thing is the winter economy is pretty dismal if you don’t have winter sports like snowmobiling.  It would be much cleaner to do several amendments to the State Land Master Plan and to the Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act before, but they promised to do these amendments after the fact.”

The Unit Management Plan passed on a vote of 8 to 2.  
There are eight main lakes in the Essex Chain Lakes complex.  The 785-acre area includes 10 miles of the Hudson River and four miles of the Cedar River.

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