APA says regulations provide no other alternatives
By Gwendolyn Craig
Property owners around Eagle Lake in Ticonderoga are protesting the Adirondack Park Agency’s (APA) order to prevent trailered boats from launching at the only public waterway access there. Although it’s an option lake goers have enjoyed for over 50 years, the agency appears unwavering. It told the Explorer a barrier will be erected at the end of the 2024 boating season “to allow the public time to plan … and explore alternative launching opportunities.”
Alternatives are not appearing, however. Members of the Eagle Lake Property Owners Inc. have investigated if anyone will open their lakefront land to a public boat launch. No one has stepped up, said Cole Hickland, an Eagle Lake seasonal resident and a member of the organization.
Residents worry that the changes to the launch, which currently allows for motorboats to be set to float from trailers, will lead to lagging emergency response times, especially for camps only accessible by water. They worry it will be problematic for the elderly and people with disabilities and will decrease their property values.
The group has written Gov. Kathy Hochul, APA Executive Director Barbara Rice, APA Chairman John Ernst and others against the closure. They’ve posted protest signs around the lake and circulated petitions. Though the organization’s coffers are small, it is considering legal action, one member said. The Ticonderoga Town Board passed a resolution against the closure, as did the Essex County Board of Supervisors.
But ultimately, the agency charged with overseeing public and private development in the park has continued to say the “trailered launch” must go.
APA spokesman Keith McKeever said when the barrier is posted, canoes, kayaks and other watercraft can still be launched from the site. Motorboats are not prohibited, either. McKeever said some “may still be launched from the water’s edge, but must be lifted off of the trailer and rolled over a low barrier or alternative location on the lake.”
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“Emergency services, including firefighters and emergency medical technicians, will be able to utilize a key to unlock the bar when they need to access the lake, ensuring they can quickly respond to any potential emergency,” McKeever continued. “Individuals with disabilities, which includes Eagle Lake homeowners with disabilities, may apply to the DEC for a reasonable accommodation.”
The APA’s response frustrated Keith Park, president of the property owners group. He did not think emergency responders would want to be “fumbling with a key.” Park wondered if people with disabilities, who might have access to a key, would be harassed by neighbors to allow their own boats to be launched.
“Many residents are retirees and unable to wrestle with any motorboat,” Park added. “Why should the facility be configured to allow for four strong teenagers to put their fishing boat in, but keep the 80-year-old person backing in his for a day on the lake?”
The APA ordered the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in February to plan on erecting a barrier so the site will no longer accommodate trailered launches. Such launches do not conform with the agency’s leading policy document, the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.
The master plan bars trailered launches on forest preserve lands with water bodies under 1000 acres. Eagle Lake is about 400 acres, and the launch is on forest preserve lands in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest.
Despite this passage in the master plan, the DEC included alternatives to closing the launch in the 2019 Hammond Pond Wild Forest Unit Management Plan, a document that outlines the area’s natural resources and protection and recreation opportunities. The alternatives included studying the number of boats on the lake to see if the traffic had a negative impact on the water body, changing the zoning of the boating area to allow for the trailered launch and allowing the launch to remain.
The APA reviews unit management plans to ensure they conform with the master plan. It adopted this plan, giving some residents on Eagle Lake hope that the agency would consider the DEC alternatives to closure. An APA resolution said the plan conformed with the master plan.
Residents were shocked when the agency ruled in February that none of the alternatives complied with the master plan, and the launch must be modified.
“That’s in contrast to the resolution saying the plan, as it was adopted, is in conformance with the master plan,” Hickland said.
The Explorer asked McKeever why alternatives that the agency considered non-conforming with the master plan would be included in the unit management plan. McKeever said “(i)t is common for the state to explore various management alternatives for projects that are complex or controversial.”
Hickland, a retired auditor with the state comptroller’s office who fell for the area during work assignments, has lived seasonally on the lake for about 30 years. Hickland said boat traffic on the lake is light, comprising mostly residents. The property owners group is part of a state-sponsored and citizen-run water-quality testing program. The lake has been clean, Hickland said.
He would rather see the APA and DEC conduct a boat capacity study of the lake to determine if the launch is causing negative environmental impacts. Then, he said, he would feel like there was at least a reason to close it should the agency keep its decision.
Ticonderoga Supervisor Mark Wright said he wrote letters to the APA and state government officials about the situation, but nothing has changed. There is no other legal authority the town can exercise, he said, adding the town did not plan to sue.
“We all want to protect the Adirondack Park, but along with that conviction comes some common sense,” Wright said. He doesn’t think the agency’s decision shows that.
Members of the property owners group wondered why Eagle Lake was targeted for a trailered launch closure, when other small lakes in the park including Paradox Lake and Putts Pond, both in Essex County, have trailered boat access.
Paradox Lake, McKeever said, is in an area classified as intensive use and its management plan notes the launch should be retained. Paradox Lake is 896 acres, McKeever added, “which is much closer to the approximately 1,000-acre requirement for the provision of a formal trailered boat launching facility than Eagle Lake is at 410 acres.”
Putts Pond’s launch at the Putnam Pond Campground in Ticonderoga could see a similar fate to Eagle Lake. A draft unit management plan notes the pond is under 1,000 acres and the trailered launch “must be reviewed according to the criteria” of the master plan “to determine if its eventual conversion to a fishing/waterway access site is appropriate.”
Residents have sued the agency before over closing a non-conforming boat launch, and the state has won. Residents sued over the conversion of a trailered launch at Pine Lake in the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest in Fulton County. The state Supreme Court in Fulton County ruled in favor of the APA, noting “ the Court is sympathetic to petitioners’ situation, as stated it cannot substitute its judgment for respondents since their rejections of the alternatives have a rational basis.”
Adirondack policy, in plain speak.
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