My name is Ted Galusha and I'm an eighth generation Adirondack peasant, avid camper, fisherman and hunter. I prefer to pursue these activities on State Forest Preserve and I use a motor vehicle to access these lands that are owned by the "people of the State of New York" because I have physical disabilities.
I spent two years going to meetings with all interested parties developing a compromise policy for motorized access for people with disabilities to these lands only to have it shot down by the Governor's Office behind closed doors. The policy adopted was the one that the enviros wanted to further their agenda. That was just the beginning of my education in Adirondack policies. Then we had numerous rallies and protests, got tickets, went to local courts, won some, lost most.
In 1998 we filed suit in federal court and immediately won an injunction opening the roads, trails and areas that they drove on and illegally arrested us on. Three years of fighting in court. Later we had a consent decree, signed by the judge as a court order on July 5, 2001.
Since that date they have chosen to ignore the mandates contained in it.
Here is a partial list of the problems I have with the state's compliance to the consent decree and the A.D.A. or Americans with Disabilities Act.
We have no access to Santanoni even though the state continues to drive there.
We based the settlement on what existed at the time. In fact, we could only ask for roads and sites that were already open to the public. They have since closed roads and sites to the public and are saying that these are "new opportunities" for disabled access. The one hundred or so sites in the Hudson River Recreation Area (HRRA) have been cut down to fourteen or fifteen. Only one site can be accessed by motor vehicle (because I keep removing the barriers).They have even eliminated the two designated "handicapped sites" that existed until July 2004. In a couple of spots they placed a privy in the middle of the road to prevent access.
They have closed the most convenient and desirable sites (vistas with beautiful views, waterfront sites, shady sites). A lot of the remaining "designated tent sites" are in low lying spots where any experienced camper would never set up. One site has, on numerous occasions, been under three feet of water, including the privy. I complained to the DEC and asked what the health department would say to a private property owner who had raw sewage all over. They admitted that it was a health hazard and agreed to move it. That was five or six years ago and it is in the same location despite the risk to the public.
Three and a half years ago I was arrested for removing barriers to access "Site 6." A man in a wheelchair was camping there and while he was out to town they blocked the access road. The only way he had to get to his site was to be pulled backwards up a very dangerous root-filled embankment. After a failed prosecution, they agreed to reopen the access road. They still haven't.
I suppose that it all falls into the "if it's not in writing, it didn't happen" category. That's the response I get when I ask the DEC or APA about the many comprises we have made in the last fifteen years of meetings and agreements between us and them.
A year ago they finished a road, parking area, accessible trail and hardened picnic area at the Bear Slides. They have yet to provide the supporting amenities that were agreed to (tables, cookers and privy) that would make it usable for people with disabilities. In July of 2008 I filed a formal APA complaint about the amount of unnecessary destruction and construction that this project caused. I never received a response to this complaint.
They were supposed to "remove barriers to access the Pines" and "return" tables, cookers and privies to this same area. I was adamant about this being included in the settlement because the state removed these items in retaliation for our protest held at this location and the lawsuit that followed. They knew that we meant motorized access.
The accessible fireplaces that they placed (in 2005) at the few campsites that remain have fallen apart and deteriorated to the point that they are not usable by people with disabilities.
The state has over-emphasized the vandalism in the HRRA (most caused by kids) as an excuse to close the few sites and roads that remain, to the detriment of people with disabilities who want to access these locations and are not responsible for the damage caused by the vandals.
This is only one area. Many of the same things have happened all over the Adirondacks including at "Shelving Rock" and "Moose River Plains." In fact, they have closed all the roads in Horicon that they said were town roads during our settlement negotiations. I got the town to open them to ATV's and the state sued them and won.
In July of 2004 Ken Hamm sent a six-page letter attacking my job performance, Brad Williams and the New York State Independent Living Council. This letter and the expense of the threatened legal action effectively eliminated any oversight that was mandated by the court. Since then there has been no oversight or accountability of the DEC and they have certainly taken advantage of that fact.
The Accessibility Advisory Committee, created by us in the consent decree, has become secret and not public, or open to the press, in violation of the Open Meetings law. There is no reasonable reason why anything discussed at these meetings has to be withheld from the public. They say it has to do with consent decree substitution discussions. I have pointed out that any discussions about that subject should not be held at a full committee meeting but instead should be between the plaintiffs, defendants and their respective attorneys.
I am regularly attacked and derided at these meetings. The majority of the people currently on this committee are members and/or officers of the extreme environmental groups and are pushing their group's agenda and not what's best for people with disabilities. I have even been ambushed at these meetings by the attendance of DEC and APA attorneys (who are not members) without the benefit of my lawyer. Every couple of months I receive a small packet of communications between committee members. I'm sure there is much more than what I get. Because I no longer have internet access I am out of the loop.
DEC insists that the lawsuit and consent decree had nothing to do with motorized access and will not budge from that position. We both know better.
Before the consent decree was signed and every year since I have pointed out that the definition of "motor vehicle" in The Official Guide to Laws and Regulations for Hunting and Trapping is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it includes "every vehicle or device operated by any power other than muscle power..." They still refuse to exclude from their definition of motor vehicle, electric wheelchairs, scooters or other devices designed and used by people with disabilities to access the woods. This needs to be changed. They are well aware of it but still refuse.
The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan has not been updated since 1983 in violation of its own requirements. (Even its definition of "motor vehicle" hasn't been updated.)
The Lake George Wild Forest and Moose River Plains Wild Forest Unit Management Plans were supposed to be done, according to the consent decree, by January 5, 2003. They are still not done, and no extension has been applied for or granted (almost seven years in contempt). There are probably others. They have proposed thirty-eight pages of special regulations in the Lake George Draft Unit Management Plan just for Buttermilk (HRRA) to justify what they are doing there and make their illegal actions legal.
The APA has recently reclassified Lows Lake and the ground under the man-made lake, for the first time, as wilderness. This will stop the historical use of seaplanes by people with disabilities. I thought that they had to take into account the consequences of their actions on people with disabilities and provide more access, not less.
We are supposed to accept our limitations. I accept my disabilities but not the limitations imposed by the state. This type of access was even included in the management plan in 1973, long before the Federal Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. I accept that I'll never be able to go jogging, or bowling or on long hikes in the forest, but I refuse to accept that my enjoyment of the Forest Preserve will only be by the air or a video. I am an owner in common with every other resident of the state. We're not trying to act in a proprietary manner. There's room for all of us but the enviros choose to be greedy and want it all.
The state will not deal honestly or honorably with us. They are totally and completely controlled by the enviros. They have almost completely destroyed the heritage and culture of the native Adirondacker in the name of the environment. Let me tell you, they don't love the environment and nature more than the hunters, fishermen, trappers, campers, the true conservationists that believe in the wise use of our natural resources.
The state's policies for the Adirondacks violate the U.S. Constitution, the New York State Constitution, state and federal laws, their own regulations, the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, human rights, and common sense conservation measures to properly use the resources available to everyone who paid and continues to pay for this land.
These people are not ignorant! They are making conscious decisions about what they are doing. They're not stupid. We just have to look at what they have accomplished in the last thirty-seven years. The enviros are greedy little children who want it all as long as someone else pays for it, and the taxpayers are that "someone."
All of the user groups need to unite against the common enemy. The only people represented by the state are the hikers and canoers and they pay nothing compared to the hunters and fishermen of this state.
This needs to change! There is enough room for all of us.
The title of this presentation is "Righting the DEC/APA Access Policy" but I'm afraid that their "access policy" has not been "righted." They still act with impunity, above the law, beholding only to the green of cash.
I've tried to work within the system, honorably and with honesty, only to be met with absolute dishonesty, collusion, and an agenda that does no honor to our system of "of the people, by the people, and for the people"!
I took an oath in the army to "defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic." That's why I'm here today. These people are enemies of our Constitution and our rights. I've worked within the system and outside of it and any gains that I have seen have been through acts of civil disobedience. We have an obligation to future generations to right these wrongs.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Carol and Peter LaGrasse for their tireless efforts to make people aware of the injustices in the Adirondacks. I'll close with a quote from Judge Kahn's injunction:
"Personal sacrifice to preserve the environment does not rest solely on the backs of the disabled; nor are the remaining pristine portions of the environment to be available only to the able-bodies."