By CRISTINE MEIXNER
For the Express
ALBANY – Protect the Adirondacks will get its day in court.
A state Supreme Court judge has denied a motion by Protect for a preliminary injunction against building new community connector snowmobile trails in the Adirondack Forest Preserve while its lawsuit is being heard, but also denied a motion to dismiss much of the environmental group’s action.
Protect is suing the Adirondack Park Agency and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, saying Class II (community connector) trails violate protections in place on the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
Class II trails provide the main travel routes for snowmobiles. They are located in the periphery of Forest Preserve areas.
While Class I trails may only be up to eight feet wide, Class II trails may be up to nine feet wide, except on sharp curves and steep slopes where they may be up to 12 feet wide. They are the only trails on state land on which tracked trail groomers may be used.
The APA approved the Adirondack Park Snowmobile Trail Maintenance Guidelines in November 2009. DEC worked on them for almost 10 years before submitting them to the APA. The APA’s role was to determine if the proposal was in keeping with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan it administers.
ADK. COUNCIL SUES
When the APA approved the guidelines The Adirondack Council, another environmental group, sued. That case was dismissed in 2010, when a NYS Supreme Court justice ruled most of the claims were not “ripe” for litigation because the guidelines could only be implemented through unit management plans.
Justice Gerald W. Connolly said the time to sue would be when a UMP providing for a Class II trail was adopted. The Adirondack Council appealed, but the Appellate Division agreed with the lower court’s ruling.
THE PROTECT LAWSUIT
Protect the Adirondacks took up the cause when DEC built the 12.8-mile Seventh Lake Mountain Trail in Hamilton County, between the main road through the Moose River Plains Wild Forest and 7th Lake in the Town of Inlet. The project involved cutting down 2,085 trees.
DEC is also building a Class II trail in Wilmington, Essex County, with 666 trees cut and 56 still to be removed; and a Class II trail between Wells and Speculator, with 30 trees cut and 123 left to cut.
Protect alleges the DEC and APA are violating Article 14, the “Forever Wild” clause, of the NYS Constitution by building the trails; that the DEC has violated the NYS Constitution “due to the vast number of trees cut down and the vast alteration of the natural terrain;” and that state law and regulations are being violated by allowing large tracked trail groomers on the Forest Preserve.
Protect asked for a preliminary injunction against building new Class II trails in the Forest Preserve while its lawsuit is being heard. The motion was denied in late August. Supreme Court Judge George Ceresia Jr. said it was not timely, as all the trees have been cut for the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail and the number of trees remaining to be cut for the Wilmington and Gilmantown trails is not substantial.
In the meantime DEC announced a plan to cut down 133 trees and build a new Class II trail in the Taylor Pond Wild Forest in Clinton County. On Sept. 13 Protect filed a new motion for a preliminary injunction to stop that project while its lawsuit is being heard.
Protect expects final papers in the lawsuit to be submitted to the court by 2014.