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The Essex Chain of Lakes, part of the Finch Pruyn timberlands. Photo: Carl Heilman, courtesy Adirondack Nature Conservancy
The Essex Chain of Lakes, part of the Finch Pruyn timberlands. Photo: Carl Heilman, courtesy Adirondack Nature Conservancy

Update: No APA vote next week on Finch timber lands

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UPDATE: Keith McKeever, spokesman for the Adirondack Park Agency, has confirmed that a final vote on classification of the Finch Pruyn timberlands will not be held next week.

No public agenda is available yet for the September APA meeting. Nor did McKeever explain why the vote has been put off.

Environmentalists have urged state officials to delay the vote, arguing that more time is needed to answer scientific and procedural questions about roughly 40,000 acres of lands in the Adirondacks.

While that vote is delayed, state officials are also opening a new public debate next week about the use of the historic rail corridor between Old Forge and Lake Placid.

Brian Mann is our Adirondack bureau chief and he's been keeping an eye on these developments.

Martha Foley: Brian, it sounds like a lot could happen next week...

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Brian Mann: Yeah.  Things are supposed to slow down after the summer season - but the next few weeks could be crazy.

MF: Let's start with the Finch Pruyn timberlands.  Tens of thousands of acres are in play here, in the towns of Minerva, North Hudson, Indian Lake and Newcomb.  Prized sections of the Hudson River are included in this parcel, as well as spectacular lakes and mountain summits. 

The big fight here is between wilderness and wild forest — two concepts that sound pretty similar.  What's the difference?

BPM: Wild forest, which most local government leaders prefer, allows more types of recreation — including more motorized recreation, and more road access.  Wilderness would be a quieter, less motorized option, but that also would likely  mean fewer tourists and users.  So that's really where the fault line lies.  I should point out that whatever plan is adopted will likely include some combination — big chunks of wild forest and wilderness.

MF: What's the next step for the Park Agency?

BPM: Last month, the Agency spent a huge chunk of time reviewing these lands, with commissioners asking dozens of questions about possible classifications, how different plans would affect everything from snowmobiling to canoe access.  A lot of APA staff were confident that they would be ready for a final vote this month.

MF: Environmental groups are urging a slow-down.  Four different groups, Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Council, Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild signed a letter asking for the vote to be delayed.  What's their concern?

BPM: I asked Peter Bauer with Protect the Adirondacks about this and he says their first big concern is just procedural, that there are still a lot of policy and legal questions that haven't been sorted out.

PB: There's clearly a procedural standard that needs to be adhered to and we think if the APA is going to rush all of these legal findings they're going to trip themselves up on following proper process.

MF: Okay, but often when someone calls for a delay like this, there's a political reason.  I mean, if green groups thought they were going to get the outcome they wanted, wouldn't they be pushing for a quick vote?

BPM: I think that's right.  I asked Peter Bauer if there was a political dimension to this, and he acknowledged that environmentalists are worried that state officials are leaning away from the wilderness classification that green groups want.

PB: We know what the department of environmental conservation's preferred option was and it was a wild forest option. Did any of the public comments, did any of that vast turnout in the public hearing, influence the agency commissioners or the DEC at all? If the answer is no, they're still going with wild forest. Clearly they want to make that decision as rapidly as they can, and not get beat up in the press and around the state.

MF: Okay, let's pivot to the big train debate.  This is the rail corridor that actually runs from Remsen through Old Forge and then all the way to Lake Placid.  After years of public debate, state officials are finally holding official hearings.

BPM: That's right.  It's a big moment.  For years, the Department of Transportation resisted engaging this question.  But a group called ARTA has pushed hard to have the tracks pulled up s that a multi-use trail can be built on the historic railbed.  Dick Beamish is one of the group's co-founders. 

He says bringing state officials to the table marks a sea change.

DB: They're not committing themselves to any course of action at this stage. But the very fact that they've decided to review the plan indicates that they feel it's out of date and needs a fresh look. Especially with all the pressure that has been put on them the last two or three years to convert the old rail bed into recreation trails. That's exactly what they're doing. What they will finally decide is anyones guess.

MF: This has become really controversial, with a lot of train supporters weighing in in favor of upgrading the tracks and restoring some kind of train service through the Adirondacks.  Is it really possible that state officials could tear up those tracks?

BPM: I think the state is under a lot of pressure to do something different.  The tourism train has been around for a long time, but much of the track still gets used very little.  Almost all of the towns along the corridor have passed resolutions calling for the management plan to be revised, or calling outright for the tracks to be torn up.  I think there will also be some pressure on train supporters to really lay out a plan that shows how the tracks could be restored, who would pay for it and who would then use that railroad to make it sustainable.

MF: Okay, the first public meeting on the train question will be held Monday evening in Old Forge, with officials from the Conservation and Transportation departments.  And the Adirondack Park Agency meets next Thursday in Ray Brook. 

Brian Mann will be at both of those sessions and will have stories for us through the week.  Thanks, Brian.

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