Update - March 2, 2001
The lawsuit organized by PRFA to challenge the State acquisition of the 139,000-acre Champion Lands in the northwestern Adirondacks reached a milestone on February 22. In the imposing walnut-paneled courtroom in the Justice Building directly opposite the Capitol, attorney Madeline Sheila Galvin argued the appeal of the dismissal on technical grounds before the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department.
Appearing before the five-judge panel, Ms. Galvin, who is a partner in Galvin and Morgan of Delmar, was succinct and crystal clear in her presentation, even though the fine points of standing and the statute of limitations can be quite arcane. The judges' questions seemed to relate to the respondents' allegation that the amended petition was a new lawsuit and to the constitutionality of the conservation easements allowing logging on Forest Preserve land protected by Article XIV, the "Forever Wild" clause of the Constitution.
Arguing for the State respondents was Assistant Attorney General Lawrence A. Rappoport, who has been determined to prove that our amended petition was an entirely separate lawsuit. At one point in his oral arguments to the judges, he inexplicably made the false statement that plaintiff Carol LaGrasse was barred by a previous case from ever appearing in court in the State of New York as a taxpayer plaintiff! Thomas E. Ulasewicz, an attorney from Saratoga Springs, presented the arguments on behalf of the private respondents.
When we left the courtroom, a crowd of men we did not recognize filed out. The security guard asked my husband Peter, "What was all that about?" It was most unusual to see so many people come to hear a case in the Appellate Court!
At each stage of this lawsuit, we are receiving a significant amount of news coverage for the issues we've raised. For instance, in the February 25, 2001 article in Adirondack Daily Enterprise, the seeming enigma for our raising the question of whether the State can hold and log the 110,000 acres of conservation easements involved in the purchase is finally explained in the media.
We have kept up a vibrant public discussion of the "environmental impact" of this, record-large land purchase on the economy and culture of the northwestern Adirondacks, as well as a debate about protecting local communities and the viability of the local tax base that was envisioned in state laws addressing local participation and home rule.
We have a wait of at least six to eight weeks for the court's decision.
PRFA's work on conservation easements is getting expanding national attention. During January and February, the nationally circulated AgriNews in Billings, Montana, printed two long Op Ed's written by me on this subject. The second Op Ed, which was published under a new column called "The President's Corner," addressed the Grasslands Reserve Program being proposed in Congress.
-Carol W. LaGrasse