Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

UPDATE ON ADIRONDACK LITIGATION

Carol W. LaGrasse
President
Property Rights Foundation of America

Speech to

Adirondack Park Agency Local Government Review Board

Baxter Mountain Lodge, Keene, New York

May 30, 2001

Thank you for the honor of speaking to the you today, and for your indefatigable work, several of you for nearly thirty years, to protect the residents and property owners in the Adirondacks from the infringements on freedom imposed by the Adirondack Park Agency.

The Lawsuit Challenging the State acquisition of the Champion International Lands
The background of our lawsuit is instructive of what is taking place now in Adirondacks. We brought the lawsuit challenging the DEC acquisition of the Champion International tracts on October 28, 1999 in Albany County Supreme Court. The plaintiffs are Howard Aubin; Peter and I; Jane and Vernon Rose; five hunting clubs - Azure Mountain Club, top which Jane and Vern belong, Benz Pond Club, St. Regis Club, Madawaska Hunting Club, and Quebec Brook Hunting Club; and St. Lawrence County.

A total of 139,000 acres was acquired from the Champion International Corporation, with the acquisition split between 29,000 acres in fee simple (the largest DEC acquisition so far in its own right, I believe) and 110,000 acres as conservation easements.

The conservation easement transaction:
The giant land trust, The Conservation Fund, acquired all 139,000 acres of the property from Champion International. The title to the 110,000 acres was split and the conservation easements held by the State, while the land was held by The Forestland Group. (A relatively small acreage was set aside for development.)

According to research done by our attorney Jim Morgan of Delmar, the land trust intermediaries garnered $5 million in the transaction, as the initial selling price of all the tracts totaled $20 million and the final selling price added up to $25 million.

The Conservation Fund sold the 29,000 acres, largely along waterways, but with quite a large setback, to the State outright. The hunting clubs on these lands have only a short time span before demolition.

All of the sales took place on July 1, 1999.

In case you think that the name of The Conservation Fund rings a bell for another reason, they were noted in the May 22 Hamilton County News as the source of inspiration for the Adirondack Community Information Centers, or CIC's. The Mellon's Conservation Fund is the nation's leading proponent of greenways and one of the federal government's three leading land acquisition surrogates.

Their greenways expert, Edward McMahon, recently gave a forum on town planning in Old Forge. You can be sure that any forum he leads would be geared to leading town officials into more infringements on private property rights, as The Conservation Fund specializes in greenways-ever-expanding stretches of land conceived as wildlife corridors where all private land is strictly regulated and enough is acquired by government and not-profits to finish the stranglehold on private land and the economy—all in the name of tourism.

Before I go on with the details of the lawsuits, I wanted to also note an interesting point about a fact you probably know, that the Adirondack Community Information Centers (CIC's) being currently developed with much hoopla, starting with the one that just opened at Inlet, are funded largely because of the supposed generosity of the organization that owns the Bronx Zoo, the New York Zoological Society, now re-named the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has not received note as have Defenders of Wildlife for their work toward wolf reintroduction in the Adirondacks, but it is indeed a major thrust of their scholarly studies and their popular magazine, Wildlife Conservation. The latest news is that their scholars don't think that wolves could survive hunting and trapping to migrate across the Frontenac Link from Quebec to the Adirondacks and that they would interbreed too much with coyotes. But they are working on a solution to the second problem, the reintroduction of several large packs at once, so that the wolves kill the coyotes, rather than interbreed with them, as they do individually.

One last point about the CIC's and the new agendas that the APA and these groups are bringing in, all related to the interrelated and well-coordinated agendas of the big environmental groups:

The often-mentioned "Twinning" of the Adirondack Park and Abruzzo National Park in Italy...The newspapers haven't mentioned the one fact that the New York Parks and Conservation Society has been excited about the fact that wolf reintroduction is the common thread that got the twinning started. They want to do in the Adirondacks the same thing that they think is so successful in the park in Italy, which is to reintroduce wolves. The National Parks and Conservation Society is, as you probably recall, the premier organization involved in bringing new territory into the National Park system.

My concern is about the decline of fundamental American rights in the Adirondacks and in the environmentalists' efforts to depopulate the region. The type of activity taking place now in the Adirondacks points to the urgency of our litigation.

To return to the specifics of the lawsuits, the State violated several areas of law in acquiring the Champion International tracts, and it is because of this we have standing to try to negate the sale.

Causes of Action

1. The State violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). It failed to do an environmental impact study of the cultural impact on the hunting way of recreation as a result of the plan to demolish the 298 hunting cabins-all the cabins on the land, and failed to do an analysis of economic impact on the local communities.
 
2. The State failed to obtain approval from local municipalities for the purchases as required under the 1993 Environmental Trust Fund legislation and the 1996 Clean Air/Clean Water Bond Act.
 
3. The State infringed on the local home rule powers of the local municipalities by basically obtaining control over and diminishing the local tax base.
 
4. The State violated the "Forever Wild" provision of Article XIV of the State Constitution by acquiring conservation easements where logging will be permitted. This problem with conservation easements has been debated in the forestry and environmental community for over ten years, and I have assumed that the environmentalists will enforce the Constitution in later years when the State has over a million acres in Conservation easements. In fact, our attorney Jim Morgan found a DEC memo about the importance of the third party intermediary to assure that there was someone for the property to revert to in the advent of such litigation.
 
5. Other important fiscal and property rights matters.

Because of the difficulty of organizing the case on a volunteer basis, the hunting clubs and St. Lawrence County joined later. This was the source, but not the cause, of the technical legal problems that resulted.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Dan Lamont dismissed the case in February 2000 on technical grounds, including statute of limitations and late service. It was not heard on the merits. We filed an appeal to the Appellate Division and the case was argued by Jim Morgan's partner Sheila Galvin on February 22, 2001.

The Appellate Division did overturn the Supreme Court in the case of the State's claim that we had filed two different suits, as a result of later bringing in St. Lawrence County; and they did overturn their holding that the APA was the primary respondent, which would have meant that we had to file in 60 days; but they have a more restricted idea of the time allowed for service than does our attorney. Therefore they upheld the dismissal of the case.

We filed and served a motion to for leave to appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals on May 22.

The Lawsuit Challenging the New Regulations Promulgated by the APA |
I was very impressed with Susan Allen's latest issue of the Adirondack Park Agency Reporter, especially her reporting of the hair-splitting that disallowed the construction of a carport for an elderly couple in Chestertown, where a roofed addition to a house in the exact same spot would have been non-jurisdictional.

When I attended the many meetings about the APA's regulatory revision process, I wondered how the new regulations would pan out. What was interesting was that in spite of serious practical and legal criticisms leveled at the formal hearings last year, not one change of substance was made to the regulations between the initial promulgation for the hearings and the final promulgation. (I proofed the final regulations line by line.) The hearings were a farce. So much for hair-splitting adherence to law. Aren't hearings supposed to bring information that results in something besides the change from lower to upper case in the initial letters of words and a couple of similar changes?

The new regulations were effective January 3. On April 30, attorney Jim Morgan went to Albany County Supreme Court on my behalf to try to get the new regulations rescinded in total.

My first grounds for this lawsuit are that it has taken four years to get through Part I Phase I.

It is impossible for the public to retain its attention span to comment in an informed way. Furthermore, it is impossible to comment knowledgeably on the newly promulgated rules because other interrelated material that is being changed will be promulgated later, such as the definitions of words used in the already-promulgated rules. Since the promulgation of rules is a project, subject to SEQRA, this catch-22 comes exactly under the oft-touted issue of segmenting.

I made other negative comments at the hearings, and some of them are about the APA's overstepping its statutory powers by promulgating certain rules. These are incorporated into the lawsuit. Examples are:

This case has been served and filed, and no response was received to my knowledge as of Friday.

In closing, I'd like to urge you to be unflagging in your defense of the fundamental American rights of Adirondack residents and property owners. The same threats remain. The people who are taking away our rights and heritage are gaining ground. Your commitment to the freedom and the economic future of the people of the North Country is greatly appreciated.

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