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No Lake That is Not 100% Surrounded by Forest Preserve is Classified by APA

APA Re-votes: Waters & Underlying Land of Lows Lake Are Not Classified

For First Time, Three State Agency Designees Join Locals Who Oppose Preservationists

By Carol W. LaGrasse

In a stark contrast with its vote on September 12, the Adirondack Park Agency Board of Commissioners voted on November 13 to exclude the waters and underlying land of Lows Lake on the border of Hamilton and St. Lawrence Counties from classification as "wilderness" and "primitive." The vote on one of the most controversial decisions that the commission has faced was a stunning seven to four, with all commissioners present.

Reversing the commission's earlier six to four vote in favor of classifying the waters and bed of the lake even though the lake is not completely surrounded by state-owned land, all three state agency designees joined the four "in park" members of the commission who had been opposed. In addition, one of the other commissioners reversed his September vote. This made seven votes against classifying the lake.

As previously, only one of the four "in-park" commissioners, namely Chairman Curtis Stiles, who was formerly a member of the board of directors of the Adirondack Council, voted to classify the waters of the lake. The decision means that the APA Commission rejected its earlier reasoning that shores of lakes within the Adirondack Blue Line do not have to be entirely owned by the State of New York for the lake itself to be classified.

Preservationist Commissioner Cecil Wray apologized for being absent for the previous vote. His absence in September was crucial to the narrow 6 to 4 majority that turned to be unsustainable when it was determined that one of the votes in favor of the classification was invalid. This was because one man who cast the vote was no longer a member of the commission. Christopher Walsh, the designee of the State Department of Economic Development, had been replaced by James Fayle. However, Mr. Walsh had returned to his old seat to vote in September when Mr. Fayle was absent. After that meeting, Frederick Monroe, the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board executive director, discovered that Mr. Walsh was unqualified to vote, considering that he was no longer employed by the Department of Economic Development, but was instead was with the Empire State Development Corporation.

When Mr. Fayle returned in October, the commissioners decided to reconsider the vote on the complex classification of Lows Lake and the area in that vicinity. The legally correct reconsideration dictated that the matter come first before the commission's state land committee, which next was to meet on Thursday November 11, before the measure could be brought before the full commission on the next day.

On November, the APA's state land committee passed the classification plan identically to the way it had previously been presented to the full commission. But rumors had started that something was afoot.

It is Mr. Stiles' custom to poll every member of the full commission around the table before calling for a vote on an important motion. Before the vote on Friday, Commissioner William Thomas of North Creek attempted to propose an amendment to the motion to approve the classification, but Mr. Stiles did not allow it. Proceeding around the table, after the expected statements in opposition to the classification of Lows Lake by Mr. Monroe, the non-voting Local Government Review Board representative, and Mr. Thomas, the surprises began. Department of Economic Development designee Fayle said that he had to hear the discussion related to the water and better understand the background. He was followed by Department of State designee Riele Morgiewicz, who said, "I agree with Fred." She said that since they took the original vote, she had heard so much concern and had spoken about the issue with others.

The last of the commissioners on that side of the table was the state land committee chair, James Townsend, sitting next to the APA Counsel John Banta. An attorney, the preservation-oriented commissioner made a statement about the history of policies relating to classifying waters, and pointed out that this was "the first time the classification extended to mixed owners." He said that he "saw some backtracking" but hoped "it would not be viewed as a challenge to classify or a decision not to classify."

Then the polling moved to the other side of the table, beginning at the far end again with Frank Mezzano of North Creek, who reiterated his clearcut opposition to the classification of the lake. But next to him sat Department of Environmental Conservation designee Elizabeth Lowe, and here the surprises came in earnest. It became apparent that Ms. Lowe now opposed the designation of the lake. She said that "the regulations for banning float planes have been approved by the Governor, signed by Mr. Grannis, and will be in the Department of State." She was concerned about "the community comfort level with the classification of the bed of the lake."

Following Ms. Lowe came Commissioner Arthur Lussi. His statement was astounding. Mr. Lussi expressed his regret that he was going to go against Cecil Wray, for whom he expressed great admiration. But he had changed his viewpoint. He had reviewed the "wilderness" guideline in the State Land Master Plan, where it states that non-conforming uses from "wilderness" are to be removed as soon as possible, in any case by the third year. He said that the designation of the lake would clearly violate this clause. He said, "this is a definitive section we have to obey."

He was followed by Commissioner Leilani Ulrich who, quite in character, expressed her regret that a consensus had not been reached, while maintaining her opposition to the lake classification. She expressed her consistent concern for the economy of the local communities. Then was Commissioner Wray, apologizing for his absence in September. "I feel apologetic. Had I been here, I would have been the sixth vote."

And finally, at the side of the Executive Director Terry de Franco Martino, Commissioner Richard Booth firmly reiterated his support for the earlier decision to classify the waters and underlying land of Lows Lake. He said, "It is not a unique situation; it is a lake largely surrounded by wilderness."

Mr. Booth was followed by a closing statement by Mr. Stiles. He began with the words, "The chairman clearly supports the motion." He said that the master plan clearly calls to classify land as soon as possible…He said, "There's an argument that float plan regulations are in place. Will they be enforced?" He pointed out, "We adjusted the plan significantly in response to the public hearings…" He finished his terse statement, and then cut off an attempt by Mr. Monroe to respond to one of his remarks and called for the vote.

The vote was cast and all three state agency designees, plus Mr. Lussi, sided with the opponents. Mr. Thomas was allowed to make his motion to alter the plan from that submitted, by eliminating the classification of the waters and underlying land of Lows Lake, and the vote on the amended motion was 7 to 4 in favor.

The November 13th vote to eliminate the classification of the waters and underlying land of Lows Lake as "wilderness" and "primitive," does not announce the repeal of the DEC/APA regulation to phase out seaplane landings on the lake, which was implemented earlier as a result of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Adirondack Mountain Club, Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks, and Sierra Club. But it is clear that the conclusion of the commissioners' deliberation defeats the "precedent" feared by opponents to the lake classification. The vote kills any momentum to the possibility of the APA classifying other large lakes within the Blue Line, such as Raquette Lake and even Lake George, where all or large amounts of the underlying land are owned by the state and some, but not all, of the surrounding land is also state-owned.

"APA Classifies First Water Body, Lows Lake Now Mainly 'Wilderness'" - By Carol W. LaGrasse, September 2009

"Statement in Opposition to the Reclassification of Lows Lake and Vicinity" - By Carol W. LaGrasse, August 25, 2009

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