Judges weigh argument that state must study lake capacity before approving projects
A new legal theory reached the state’s appellate courts in 2022 and could lead to judicial guidance on the state’s responsibility to study Adirondack lakes in more detail before approving development.
The idea centers on language in the Adirondack State Land Master Plan that instructs the state Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct “a comprehensive study of Adirondack lakes and ponds… to determine each water body’s capacity to withstand various uses,” especially motorized uses.
As a development team eyes a pair of marina expansions on Upper Saranac and Lower Saranac lakes, nearby property owners and environmental groups are challenging the projects on the basis that the state failed to study the so-called carrying capacity of the waterbodies.
The state and developer have argued that the broad mandate to study the lakes should not be used to delay an individual private project. But opponents have countered the state has no way to know whether the marina expansions will have an “adverse impact” on nearby state land without first studying the lakes’ uses and ecological impacts in greater detail.
A case involving former DEC Commission Tom Jorling, who is challenging one of the marina projects, went before a panel of judges with the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court’s Third Department in December. Members of the five-panel court pressed the state’s attorney on why the agency has not yet conducted any of the studies.
Expect more developments – including a possible appeal of the Jorling case’s Appellate Division outcome to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court – in 2023.
The Pennsylvania-based developer, Keith Stoltz, behind the two marinas also owns one of the most remote private properties on Lake Placid, an Echo Bay parcel once home to the former Camp Woodsmoke. By starting construction on a boathouse before the Adirondack Park Agency redefined boathouse regulations, Stoltz retained rights at the property to construct a 7,600-square-foot boathouse, six times the agency’s current limits. –– Zachary Matson
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