By Gwendolyn Craig
A former head of the Department of Environmental Conservation is appealing a state Supreme Court decision dismissing his lawsuit against a marina project on Lower Saranac Lake.
Thomas Jorling, who lives on the lake and was commissioner of the department from June 1987 to February 1994, sued the DEC, the Adirondack Park Agency and LS Marina earlier this year. Jorling argued that LS Marina’s project to expand its boat storage and services would contribute to too many boats and degradation of the lake’s water quality. The former commissioner also worried about the impact the marina’s plans would have on the enjoyment of his property. The APA signed off on LS Marina’s proposal last fall.
Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Meyer dismissed Jorling’s complaints in a decision on Aug. 3. Jorling is trying again, however. He filed his appeal with the Appellate Division, Third Department on Aug. 26.
Jorling’s attorney, Claudia Braymer told Adirondack Explorer they did not have a comment at this time.
Keith McKeever, spokesperson for the APA said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Matthew Norfolk, attorney for LS Marina, called Jorling’s appeal “another delay tactic,” in an email to Adirondack Explorer. “The Appellate Division will (affirm) Judge Meyer’s decision and order.”
Meyer wrote that Jorling’s initial complaints were “speculative,” and the LS Marina project was actually making improvements to the property. And as far as the concern for too many boats, Meyer said that was an argument for another day. The issue “is not ripe for judicial review,” Meyer said, a term indicating there are not enough facts for the courts to intervene.
Jorling’s complaint against too many boats –or the “carrying capacity” of the lake–is a theme the state continues to be pressured about. Carrying capacity refers to the amount of human impact an environment can handle before there are negative consequences. For lakes in the Adirondacks, that could mean the maximum number of boats the lake can handle without negative water-quality impacts.
Court records show the state has admitted it hasn’t studied carrying capacity on Lower Saranac Lake. Multiple APA and DEC-approved plans for units in the Adirondack Park reference carrying capacity studies that have never been done.
Second project stalled
Mike Damp, partner of LS Marina, is also suing the variance board for the Town of Santa Clara. Part of Damp’s expansion plans included the former Hickok’s Boat Livery on Lower Fish Creek Ponds off state Route 30 in the town. He has since renamed it Upper Saranac Marina.
Damp purchased the property in 2014. He worked with the APA for several years to get the necessary permits for his business’s expansion and renovation. In February, the town issued a moratorium on development at the site of the marina until it could update its zoning regulations, which do not address marinas currently. The town hired The Chazen Companies, an engineering and planning firm, to assist with that. The town also formed a special committee to work on the marina regulations.
Another group from the lake, the Upper Saranac Lake Association, is known for orchestrating letter-writing campaigns for and against certain projects. In addition to supporting the town’s moratorium, several of its members are currently suing the APA and a property owner on Upper Saranac Lake over new development on a subdivision’s last vacant building lot.
Norfolk, representing Damp, filed a lawsuit against the Santa Clara Variance Board in April. He argued that the board had failed to review Damp’s application. Norfolk said Damp’s variance application had been filed before the town’s moratorium law was filed and in effect with the state Department of State.
Mary Elizabeth Kissane, attorney representing the town’s variance board, responded in court records that Damp “was fully aware the town board intended to pause commercial marina development until reasonable and appropriate revisions could be made to land use law, but he submitted a variance application … apparently believing that the mere submission of an application could somehow stave off application of a fully lawful moratorium enactment.”
The town supervisor and town attorney did not respond to Adirondack Explorer’s request for comment.
The state Supreme Court in Franklin County will issue a decision, but it is not clear when.
“My client has not been able to begin the marina project because of the Town’s moratorium,” Norfolk added.
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove a line that referred to Upper Saranac Foundation’s lake manager Guy Middleton as being part of an ad hoc committee related to the Santa Clara zoning regulations.
Joan Grabe says
It is obvious that the State and the APA have not been able to address modern day concerns of the environment here in the Park.To admit in a law suit that the agency did not conduct a carrying capacity survey of Lower Saranac Lake before issuing a permit for a marina expansion is a travesty. Or a joke.
Many years ago my brother and other like minded lake owners on Lake Efner outside Corinth banded together and banned power boats ( electric motors were OK ). The peace and quiet on that lake after that agreement was just about perfect. But that is a small lake and really not applicable to a lake of the size of Lower Saranac at this point. I live near the old Hickok’s marina near the Fish Creek campgrounds, soon to be enlarged and spiffed up if allowed. We buy worms there for our grandchildren. There are days when I think that Upper Saranac Lake has reached it’s carrying capacity of boat traffic and others where the lake looks semi deserted especially this summer. Upper Saranac Lake is a work in progress thanks to Guy Middleton, the Lake Association and the Lake Foundation but it takes vigilance and determination. And attention to lake side septics, commercial expansion and lack of proper procedure by government entities, elected or appointed. Mr. Jorling may not prevail but his actions have energized a great many of the rest of us.
Bobbie Leamer says
It is hard to understand what “body” sets marina standards. At this point there are no marina standards. Could the two cases, Lower Saranac Lake and Upper Saranac Lake, force some standards to be set? By the state? By the APA?
It’s clear this marina is being targeted by multiple special interest groups with unlimited funds to continue to tie it up in court indefinitely. Nonshoreowners rely on the marina. These rich interests and town can keep delaying this project for years, while the majority of the public wants the marina to open and succeed. At what point does the public say enough is enough? The lake belongs to everyone not just a few select few who live along the shoreline. Imagine being so unwilling to share you just keep suing a single entity in the hopes you will wear them out and they give up and go away.
Susan W says
As long-time Lake George property owners and boaters, we can attest to the massive increase in day users accessing Lake George via rentals and marina berths and trailering. Many, especially renters, have no concept of the regulations or boating etiquette or safety. We cannot use our sailboat on weekends due to the hazardous and rude boating behavior of others. Every marina berth and rental opportunity creates more problems for the rest of us. Not all change is good.
Joan Grabe says
As a friend of the family that lost their 8 year old daughter on Lake George a few years ago because of an impaired boater on Log Day evening, I know that could happen here very easily. Not all change is good !
Sorry, it appears you misread as this case is not about Lake George.
“We cannot use our sailboat on weekends”… ok Karen
Speaking as a nearby waterfront landowner, we don’t need Upper Saranac Marina to be “upgraded” with proposed docks sticking 200 feet out into Lower Fish Creek Pond. It’s only ~600-700 feet wide in that area!
Not only will it increase the boat traffic(much of it untrained and without knowledge of regulations) on the Fish Creek ponds, through the Channel, and out on Upper Saranac, it will become a navigation issue at that bottleneck.
Skeptical ADK says
Re” Editor’s note….What’s up with Guy Middleton, USF Lake manager? He doesn’t want the public to know he is an ad hoc member of the Town of Santa Clara Planning Board? And at the same time organizing letter writing campaigns through the USLA’s government affairs committee to Town of Santa Clara… Wonder why he’s so shy?
You can read more about Guy Middleton’s role in Town of Santa Clara as an “ad hoc member of the Planning Board” in the town’s own meeting minutes. July 2020. See “Planning Board Report,” second to last sentence. https://www.townofsantaclara.com/july92020.html