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Monday, June 17, 2019

Judge delays snowmobile bridge

Snowmobile bridge

A judge has delayed construction of a new snowmobile bridge over the Cedar River. Map by Nancy Bernstein.

A judge has blocked the state Department of Environmental Conservation from constructing a bridge over the Cedar River until legal arguments can be heard next month.

The ruling by State Supreme Court Justice Robert J. Muller is an interim victory for Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild. The two environmental groups contend the bridge would violate the state Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System Act. They also say the department failed to follow proper legal steps before issuing itself a permit for the bridge.

DEC wants to build a bridge over the Cedar River as part of a snowmobile trail connecting Indian Lake with towns to the north. Because the Cedar is classified as scenic, the green groups assert that building a bridge for motorized recreation is unlawful. In January, they filed suit against DEC.

The department contends the bridge is allowed because it would continue use that began before the state acquired the property in 2012. Although an earlier bridge collapsed in the 1970s, snowmobile riders continued to cross the river on ice at the same spot, according to DEC.

DEC had planned to start work on the project on June 15, prompting the green groups to petition the judge for a temporary restraining order.

In a decision on Friday, Muller wrote that “there is no question that immediate and irreparable damage will result if respondents (DEC) are permitted to proceed with site preparation for the Cedar River bridge. Trees will be cut down and vegetation removed in a scenic river corridor—precisely what the petitioners sought to prevent.”

The judge scheduled a hearing in the case for July 19, after which he will decide whether to extend the injunction, thereby preventing work on the bridge until the legal dispute is resolved.

Christopher Amato, the lawyer representing the environmental groups, praised Friday’s decision in an email to the Explorer. “The court’s ruling is a victory for all New Yorkers who cherish the remote and wild rivers in the Adirondack Park,” said Amato, who is a former DEC assistant commissioner.

DEC declined to comment.

Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild first challenged the legality of the bridge in a suit filed in 2016. Last year, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court ruled that the challenge was premature inasmuch as DEC had yet to issue itself a permit to build the bridge. The department later issued the permit, prompting the groups to start a second court action five months ago.

Following old dirt roads, the snowmobile trail would run between the Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area and the Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area. Critics say the trail is unnecessary as another snowmobile trail to the west already connects the towns in question. Supporters point out that the new trail would provide a more direct route.

Part of the trail would pass close to the Hudson River, which is classified as a wild river. Protect and Adirondack Wild contend this also violates the rivers act. This argument was part of the original suit filed in 2016. The question is expected to be heard by the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest tribunal, in the fall.

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.

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