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Thursday, October 14, 2010

APA votes to preserve towers

The Hurricane Mountain fire tower. Photo by Phil Brown.

The Hurricane Mountain fire tower. Photo by Phil Brown.

After years of debate and delay, the Adirondack Park Agency voted today to authorize the rehabilitation of dormant fire towers on St. Regis and Hurricane mountains.

The APA board voted 9-0 to reclassify a half-acre under each tower as a Historic Area—an action that critics denounced as “spot zoning,” warning that it sets a bad precedent.

The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan had called for removing the towers, but in the face of a public outcry, the APA agreed to amend the master plan to allow the towers to stay.

The APA board expects that citizens groups will raise the money to fix up the steel structures. Board members also said the state Department of Environmental Conservation can remove the towers if they become a safety hazard or financial liability.

David Petrelli of the Friends of St. Regis was elated with the decision. “We have only a handful of these towers left,” he said, “and when one is taken down, it’s lost forever.”

“They’re landmarks; they’re part of our history,” said Melvin “Stub” Longware of the Friends of the Hurricane Fire Tower.

Assuming the governor signs off on the agency’s decision, DEC will draft management plans for the two Historic Areas. After that, the two friends groups will be able to begin work on fixing up the towers so they can be reopened to the public. DEC removed the lower steps from both towers years ago to make them inaccessible.

As recently as September, it seemed doubtful that the agency would allow the towers to be reopened to the public. At that month’s meeting, the APA staff recommended that the land under the towers be classified as Primitive. Under this scenario, APA staff said DEC would be authorized to do minimal maintenance to keep the towers intact but prohibited from restoring them for public use. When people on both sides objected to this solution, the staff changed its position.

Environmental organizations had argued that the APA should follow the State Land Master Plan and remove the towers. Acknowledging the towers’ cultural importance, they suggested that the structures be rebuilt in nearby hamlets and promoted as tourist attractions.

One tower is in the 13,500-acre Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area. It was only the tower’s presence that prevented the APA from originally classifying the region as Wilderness—which is defined in the State Land Master Plan as an area where “the imprint of man’s work is substantially unnoticeable.”

Despite acquiescing in the tower’s restoration, the APA board designated the rest of the tract as Wilderness. David Gibson of Adirondack Wild contends these twin decisions make a mockery of the Wilderness guidelines in the State Land Master Plan. “It’s clearly not compatible to have a five-story steel structure in the middle of a Wilderness Area,” he said.

The other tower is in the 18,200-acre St. Regis Canoe Area. Essentially, the Canoe Area is managed by the same guidelines as Wilderness. Thus, the tower had been considered a “non-conforming use” in the State Land Master Plan.

Because the towers were in violation of the master plan, the APA had to amend the document somehow to permit them to stay in place.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said he would have preferred that the agency classify the tower footprints as Primitive rather than Historic. He fears that people might cite this precedent as a rationale for permitting other structures to remain in Wilderness Areas and perhaps for reopening old roads in the Forest Preserve.

“Given the direction that some historic preservationists want to go, you could really change the wilderness character of the Park,” Woodworth said.

Woodworth said the towers could have been fixed up even if the summits had been classified as Primitive. “If they’re going to stay, they ought to be maintained, and the public ought to be able to use them,” he said.

His first choice, however, was to remove the towers. He noted that hikers can obtain great views from the summits without climbing the towers.

Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, also favored the removal of the towers, but he regards the issue as minor. “We’re not going to challenge this decision,” he said. “We have bigger fights.”

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

4 Responses

  1. Tony Goodwin says:

    Now the question is whether these two “Friends” groups can raise enough money to actually restore these badly deteriorated towers that are on more remote summits than most of the other towers that have been restored. I’m glad that the APA decision allowec the DEC to remove them if they become dangerous – i.e. if the groups don’t manage to take action to restore them.

    I wish the APA had further stipulated that only private money be used in the restoration. Given the state’s fiscal situation, these restorations should not be funded with member items. Further, the DEC should be fully reimbursed for all staff time involved in making sure that the restorations are done properly. Remember, it is still a DEC tower on state land.

    I agree with Brian Houseal that there is no reason to challenge this decision. it’s time to move on and see if the “friends” groups can actually restore these towers so that they are again attractive and safe to use.

  2. Paul says:

    Phil,

    Does the APA have the final say in the matter? It seems like the DEC came to a totally different conclusion who holds the trump card anyway? I guess it is the APA.

    ““Given the direction that some historic preservationists want to go, you could really change the wilderness character of the Park,” Woodworth said.”

    I don’t quite follow this comment? How can leaving historic structures CHANGE the character of the park???? It seems more logical that leaving already existing structures especially old historic structures is the way yo Preserve the character of the park. I guess he feesl that the Wilderness component is the only important component of the park’s character?

  3. Bill Starr says:

    A few common misconceptions exist concerning the APA, the APA Board of Commissioners and the SLMP;

    1. The SLMP is law…..well actually it is not, but it is provided for within the APA Act.

    Any argument in the contrary to this is nothing more than dancing around a razor thin

    line. Furthermore the SLMP does not supercede any standing state or federal law.

    2. The APA Board setting stipulations on any of their decisions…..in the case of the fire towers the board adding a provision about funding any restoration work is completely out of their scope of responsibility.

    Fire tower restoration work is covered under the Environmental Conservation Law section 09-0113 and the Legislation spells out DEC’s responsibilities. Nor do I believe that the Legislature has ever provided the APA Board the power to amend or over-rule the laws that the Legislature has passed.

    3 Therefore the APA Board does not possess any legislative powers.

    This is why the APA stipulations on restoration funding for the fire towers is completely apart from their responsibilities.

    The DEC has several established relationships with fire tower restoration groups both inside and outside of the park. Yet none of these groups were consulted to determine an accurate dollar figure for restoring a fire tower. Instead the APA and DEC staff consulted with the Long Island Central Pine Barrens Commission to establish a dollar figure based on their future fire tower project. Te problem with that is the fact that the Long Island fire tower project involves erecting a fire tower from scratch. Which leads me to question; “Why would the APA and DEC staffers do that?”

  4. HikingBlog.net» Blog Archive » APA votes to preserve towers says:

    […] Source: http://adirondackexplorer.org/out-takes/2010/10/14/apa-votes-to-preserve-towers/ […]

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