Commissioners question the borders of the Blue Line; discussion included expanding nearby state boat launch and closing beach
By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency unanimously approved plans for an RV campground on Great Sacandaga Lake in the town of Mayfield on Thursday, though it brought up jurisdictional questions.
Commissioners spent nearly an hour deliberating plans for an expanded state boat launch seven miles up the lake from the Mayfield campground. The Adirondack Blue Line, however, cuts off at the lake’s southern tip, giving the APA no say over the campground’s proposed dock and boat slips.
The 277-site campground is on 83.4 acres in the area of Woods Hollow Road and state Route 30. About 39.5 acres are inside the park, including 90 RV sites, 20 glamping sites and 13 primitive tent sites. Lane Winney and his family proposed the project and received a $200,000 reimbursement grant from Market New York, part of Round 11 of the Regional Economic Development Council awards.
The APA had jurisdiction over about half of the project site as a Class B regional project, a new campground in low intensity use and a new tourist accommodation. Staff recommended commissioners approve the project with conditions. Those include that the campground must be built as depicted in its plans, it may only operate from April to November, the RV’s must be readily moveable and the bathhouse buildings inside the park must be dark green, gray or brown, among other requirements.
Ariel Lynch, staff member of the APA, said she received 59 public comments on the project, 36 against and 23 in support. Some of the concerns, she said, involved lake access and the state highway, which were outside of the APA’s jurisdiction. Ultimately staff found the project would have no undue adverse impact to the environment and was an allowable use on private lands.
The Fulton County Planning Board approved the project in November 2021 and the Town of Mayfield Planning Board approved it in June 2022. The Winneys still need approvals from the state Department of Health, Department of Environmental Conservation, Public Service Commission,, Department of Transportation, Hudson River Black River Regulating District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Grid, Lynch said.
The APA’s process drew criticism from Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, which believes the agency’s permitting forms do not provide enough information. David Gibson, managing partner, complained that the current permit form checklist makes it difficult for the public to know what impacts a project, making it “impossible to gauge” how the agency’s permit conditions relate to or address any staff concerns.
Commissioner Zoë Smith also questioned why Lynch did not provide more information on environmental impacts in her presentation. Lynch said the area of the park is near other existing development including trails, a utility corridor and a mine, so most of the species around are generalist. Those are species that can usually adapt to a broad range of conditions.
Smith asked about the wastewater systems and the boat slips on Great Sacandaga Lake, which opened up a lengthy discussion between staff and commissioners on the APA’s jurisdiction.
Blue Line questions
When Ariel Lynch first showed a map of the Winney project, Commissioner Ken Lynch asked about how the Blue Line’s boundaries were decided. Ken Lynch, a former DEC regional director, was struck by the park’s border cutting off the southern end of Great Sacandaga Lake.
“It just seems odd it didn’t include all the lake,” said Commissioner Mark Hall.
Ariel Lynch didn’t know, but later received information from staff that the Blue Line was drawn based on lot lines.
Smith asked about the boat slips and dock proposed, but Ariel Lynch said she didn’t know anything about them because it wasn’t part of the APA’s responsibility. APA Counsel Chris Cooper said that was DEC’s jurisdiction.
Commissioner Andrea Hogan asked how APA’s jurisdiction worked with water bodies that extend into the Blue Line. Smith said that some of Great Sacandaga Lake is in the park.
“We couldn’t condition anything that they’re doing beyond the Blue Line,” Cooper said.
“Short of moving the Blue Line,” there is nothing the agency can do, Cooper said. Keith McKeever later told the Explorer the only way to redraw the Blue Line is through the state Legislature. That involves a bill passing two, successive state legislatures before going to a statewide vote.
Hogan and Smith were amazed that the agency had no say over the southern end of the lake, considering earlier in the meeting they’d spent nearly an hour discussing a boat launch nearby. Hogan said it seemed “a little bit silly” that they had just been talking about protecting the water quality on the lake.
Plans to expand a boat launch; close a beach
In that project, the DEC is proposing to expand the Broadalbin boat launch and officially close a beach. The actions are part of a draft unit management plan now out for public comment. The launch is the only major public boat ramp on the southern end of the lake.
Josh Clague, Adirondack coordinator for the DEC, struggled to answer commissioners’ questions on Thursday as he filled in for DEC fisheries staff. The town, he said, had a “delicate agreement” with the DEC to run part of the 14 acres as a beach in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. In 2020, however, the town closed it due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has decided it does not want the responsibility of reopening it.
Clague said the beach was never compatible with state regulations. Over the last couple of years, the boat launch and beach area has become a nuisance for local law enforcement. Clague said people are parking on Lakeview Road, creating traffic problems. With no supervision at the beach, people have been partying at night, building illegal campfires and bothering neighbors.
DEC is proposing to repurpose the beach as another boat launch for vessels like canoes and kayaks and expand the motorized boat launch parking. The department also plans to turn the rest of the beach area into a mix of stone and native plants to discourage swimming.
Commissioners agreed to send the draft to public comment. The DEC and APA are both accepting comments, with the APA focused on whether the plan conforms with its rules and regulations.
The Adirondack Watershed Institute runs a boat inspection station at the site, and Smith said her colleagues have told her about traffic problems there and backups of 10 to 20 vehicles trailing boats. Smith wanted to know what improvements might be made to the site to deal with the inspection traffic. Clague said he couldn’t speak to that, adding “it sounds like that would be a problem.”
Commissioner Art Lussi said he was concerned about the park losing a beach.
DEC will accept comments through Jan. 16, 2023. Comments can be submitted to: Rob Fiorentino, NYS DEC Division of Fish and Wildlife, 232 Golf Course Road, Warrensburg, NY 12885, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
APA will accept public comments on the proposed draft plan’s conformance to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan through Jan. 16, 2023. Direct comments to: Megan Phillips, Deputy Director Planning, Adirondack Park Agency, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977 Phone: (518) 891-4050 Email: SLMP_UMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov.
“I just have a hard time with it because obviously there’s demand for it, but it sounds like it needs to be managed more than eliminated,” Lussi said. “But again, if the local municipality wants it eliminated, I would certainly endorse it, but I just find it strange that you have an attractive use for an attractive area, and it’s already done and it’s already made.”
Jerry Delaney, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, had similar worries.
“I’m seeing this trend around the region, even with local municipalities abandoning beaches, and to me, it is an issue,” Delaney said.
Clague said DEC was not going to be able to meet the state Department of Health’s standards to maintain a beach.
Megan Phillips, APA’s deputy director of planning, said not only was the beach not properly staffed and guarded, but water quality testing was not done to make sure public health standards are being met.
Commissioner Benita Law-Diao, who previously worked at the state Health Department, asked why water quality testing wasn’t done. Randy Young, an attorney at DEC, was filling in for Region 5 Director Joe Zalewski. Young said DEC does require some water-quality sampling separately from DOH.
Law-Diao was also concerned about the DEC and APA encouraging more space for more motorized vessels. The state is currently in a legal battle over its failure to conduct carrying capacity studies of water bodies in the park. Carrying capacity refers to how much of something an environment can withstand before seeing negative impacts.
“I don’t know, just to close the beach to create more space for more motorized vehicles to be on the lake is problematic for me,” Law-Diao said.
Hogan pointed to a sentence in the draft unit management plan that said Great Sacandaga Lake could “sustainably support this amount of use. What was that sentence based on then?” she asked Clague.
“Staff opinion,” Clague said. “There might be more to that. I can’t say for sure.”
APA Chairman John Ernst agreed that carrying capacity should be part of the discussion.
“At some point we’ve got to come to grips with what this means for lakes,” Ernst said.
Brad Austin, APA representative from Empire State Development, said it would be helpful if staff would gather more information on the area’s historic use, the beach, water-quality testing and the town’s past role. Clague said he would have those answers from fisheries staff.
Correction: This story has been updated to say the only way the Blue Line could be changed is through the state Legislature and not via a constitutional amendment.