Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Liability to Private Property Owners

Comments on DEC Draft Comprehensive
Adirondack Snowmobile Plan

By Carol W. LaGrasse

Queensbury Town Hall
March 3, 2004

Introduction: My name is Carol W. LaGrasse. I am the president of the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., a nationwide organization based in Stony Creek, where I reside. Stony Creek is within the Blue Line of the Adirondack Park. The Property Rights Foundation of America is dedicated to the defense of private property rights in all their fullness guaranteed in the United States Constitution and to the preservation of the American tradition of private property ownership, which is fundamental to our freedom. I am a retired civil and environmental engineer. I am a retired Stony Creek Town Board Member.

A Plan for Liability to Property Owners:

The draft comprehensive snowmobile plan for the Adirondacks promotes moving snowmobile trails to the periphery of the Adirondack Park and to private land, creating additional liability for property owners.

The idea of a Core Area:

This plan is based on an extreme preservationist idea that the central Adirondacks are something that they call a "Core Area." The idea of a Core Area is that land should be restored to a condition of pre-human habitation, with no direct human influences - no buildings, no roads, no trails, no hunting, no other human influences. This idea of a Core Area first gained quasi-official status when the Adirondack Park Agency made a secret application to the United States Department of State MAB (Man and Biosphere Office) for UNESCO in Paris to designate the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve. The designation of this 11 million acre reserve was made secretly by UNESCO with no local input except from a small cadre of environmental elites shortly before the Cuomo-Berle Twenty-first Century Commission on the Adirondacks convened and finally made its radical recommendations in 1990. The recommendations were rejected by a statewide referendum and by the Legislature, but the Adirondack Park Agency has been implementing many of the recommendations without statutory authority.

Snowmobiles would not be consistent with the radical environmentalist vision of absolutely no human activities in a Core Area.

DEC states that their idea is to lessen snowmobile activity in the Core Area. By displacing snowmobiles from the arbitrarily designated Core Area, this draft plan moves snowmobiles to the outlying areas within the Forest Preserve and to private lands within the boundaries of the Blue Line.

Liability:

At an earlier hearing at the Guilderland Town Hall about this snowmobile plan, a citizen inquired about liability from snowmobile use of private land. The DEC referred this question to the counsel for the Adirondack Mountain Club, who answered with certain accurate information, but gave information that narrowly referred to the statute called the General Obligations Law, which provides certain liability protections for landowners who allow recreational use of their private property. The ADK counsel extemporaneously shared some partial information, but downplayed the liability, giving no idea of the large amount of unfavorable case law ruling that the General Obligations Law did not free landowners from liability in many situations where landowners expected to be protected.

It is wrongful of DEC to fail to account for the additional liability to private property owners that will be the result of the plan to move more snowmobile use to trails on private property. This is an important aspect of social and economic impact that should be covered in the environmental impact statement required under SEQRA. It was wrong for DEC to refer this important question to the ADK counsel, rather than answer the question directly through the DEC counsel with a written answer.

This winter the Property Rights Foundation of America published a two-page report on the liability of property owners because of recreational use of private land. The report covers the limitations of the General Obligations Law inherent in its narrow wording as interpreted by the courts in New York. Our report is based on research by Attorney Beatrice Havranek of Rosendale, New York. Copies are available for free on the table at this hearing.

Examples from court rulings on liability where the General Obligations Law affords no protection are

Until the DEC makes a more than perfunctory effort to disclose the liability to landowners from the draft plan's goal of increased recreational use of private land the draft plan is in violation of the state's environmental law. ###

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