Reprinted by permission of the Hamilton County News
DEC settles in access for disabled lawsuit
By CRISTINE MEIXNER
ALBANYThe disabled will have more access to state-owned lands in the Adirondack Park, including more motorized access, over the next five years.
An agreement signed Thursday, July 5, and ordered by U.S. District
Court Judge Lawrence Kahn settles a civil rights lawsuit brought
under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The action against the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was brought by Theodore "Ted" Galusha, Warrensburg, who has multiple sclerosis; and two others, Teena Willard of Wilton and William Searles of Chestertown.
They said their civil rights are being violated under ADA because
they are not allowed to use motorized vehicles to access certain
parts of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
The lawsuit asked the court to open all the trails and roads to the disabled on which state employees drive motor vehicles.
Kahn told the DEC to provide evidence that allowing the disabled this access would harm the environment any more than state vehicles do.
The settlement means 21 roads totaling 67.28 miles of "forever wild" lands in the Adirondack Park will be open to motor vehicle use by disabled people holding special permits issued by DEC.
The agreement says DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will recommend opening 11 roads, totaling 19.54 miles, in the state Forest Preserve's Adirondack and Catskill parks to motor vehicle use by the disabled as unit management plans for the areas involved are developed.
Such use is already allowed on 10 roads in the Adirondack Park, totaling 47.74 miles, opened by court order during the lawsuit. The road to Great Camp Santanoni in Newcomb was one of those roads, but under the settlement motorized vehicles are not allowed.
The roads will provide access to activities such as fishing, hunting, canoeing, bird watching and sightseeing, according to DEC. They will not be open to motor vehicle use by the general public.
In addition, DEC will spend nearly $4.8 million to make parking
areas, restrooms, fishing access sites, boat launches, campsites,
picnic areas, equestrian mounting platforms and DEC offices in
Warrensburg accessible to the disabled.
The mounting platforms will be needed for the four roads which will be set aside for travel by horse. The state is to provide horse-drawn carriages for the disabled as well.
The agency will also provide signs and promotional materials listing recreational opportunities for the disabled in the Forest Preserve.
DEC and the APA also must provide staff training on issues such as sensitivity awareness, needs of people with disabilities, trail assessments and facility improvement needs.
Also under the agreement, DEC will designate 10 coordinatorsone in DEC's central office and one in each of the department's nine regional officesto ensure that department programs are accessible to the disabled.
DEC also will create an advisory committee to consider issues of relevance to the disabled and appoint an advocate for the disabled to the Forest Preserve Advisory Committee.
In Hamilton County, projects totaling an estimated $653,000 are planned under the agreement as follows:
FOURTH LAKE FISHING ACCESS SITE: $15,000 to modify parking areas, restroom facilities and docks to be accessible to the disabled.
LONG LAKE BOAT LAUNCH SITE: $40,000 to construct paved parking spaces to meet accessibility guidelines, rehabilitate a restroom and install a dock as required to meet accessibility guidelines.
MOFFITT BEACH CAMPGROUND: $10,000 to modify 10 campsites to make them accessible to the disabled.
MOOSE RIVER PLAINS WILD FOREST: $565,000 to modify eight campsites and privies, rehabilitate Limekiln Lake-Cedar River Road, modify campsites and privies, build three accessible fishing piers and two accessible canoe launches; rehabilitate half a mile of Helldiver Pond Road and build an accessible fishing pier; rehabilitate three miles of Mitchell Ponds Road, build an accessible fishing pier and modify campsites and privies; rehabilitate half a mile of Icehouse Pond Road and build an accessible fishing pier; rehabilitate two miles of Beaver Lake Road, modify campsites and privies and build an accessible fishing pier; rehabilitate half a mile of Squaw Lake Road, build an accessible fishing pier and modify campsites and privies.
SIAMESE PONDS WILDERNESS AREA: $20,000 to utilize a contractor to provide an assessment of this location with respect to providing non-motorized access to Thirteenth Lake for boats and/or canoes; and to the extent consistent with that assessment, construct an outdoor recreation access route and accessible campsites.
WILLIAM C. WHITNEY WILDERNESS AREA: $3,000 to build a new ramp to the wood dock at Administrative Headquarters.
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said, "This settlement strikes an important balance between the state's duty under the state Constitution to rigorously protect the unique natural beauty of the Forest Preserve with the need for meaningful access to recreational opportunities on these treasured lands for all New Yorkers."