Environmentalists worry that a snowmobiler’s victory in the Old Mountain Road case could lead to the opening of roads throughout the Forest Preserve to motorized use. So worried is the Adirondack Council that it has asked for permission to intervene in the case.
In May, Pete Grannis, the chief of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, dismissed a ticket issued to Jim McCulley, a Lake Placid resident who drove a snowmobile and then a truck on the Old Mountain Road in the Sentinel Range Wilderness. Grannis agreed with McCulley that the old road had never been legally abandoned by the local towns and therefore DEC had no right to ban motorized use. (The decision is attached below.)
John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, said the decision could affect hundreds of miles of old roads in the Forest Preserve. The council has asked permission to join a motion by DEC’s staff to clarify the decision.
“Our entire object is not to go after McCulley but to prevent problems from arising in other parts of the Preserve,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan said the council wants Grannis to overturn his own decision or modify it “to remove some of the erroneous interpretations of the law.” He argues that state law and legal precedents suggest that a road is legally abandoned if it has not been used as a road for a number of years.
The four-mile stretch of the Old Mountain Road in question–which runs from Keene to North Elba–has not been maintained for motorized use for many years (click to see its history). It is part of the Jackrabbit Ski Trail.
Soon after Grannis issued his decision, DEC’s own staff filed a motion asking for clarification (see attachment below). DEC attorney Randall Young says the staff believes the decision “misapprehended or misapplied” the law and needs to be clarified “to ensure proper care, custody, and control of the lands under the administration of the Department.”
McCulley’s attorney, Matthew Norfolk of Lake Placid, opposes both DEC’s motion and the council’s request to support the motion. In legal papers filed with the agency, Norfolk contends that “DEC staff are simply attempting to reargue points of law that were argued (over and over again) in the administrative proceeding.”
DEC spokesman Yancey Roy said Grannis probably will decide within a month or two whether to consider the request to clarify his ruling. If he does agree to reconsider it, the two sides would be asked to present arguments for and against modifying the decision.