By Gwendolyn Craig
A former New York State Environmental Conservation commissioner has lost a lawsuit against his old department and the Adirondack Park Agency over a marina project on Lower Saranac Lake.
State Supreme Court Justice Richard Meyer dismissed Thomas Jorling’s complaints against the two state entities in a Monday decision. It is not clear if the former commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation will appeal. He is still making a decision on that, he said.
The decision also leaves a looming question over the state’s responsibility for studying water bodies’ carrying capacities—that is how many water craft and how much of other human impacts they can handle without negative environmental impacts. Meyer said in his decision that the issue “is not ripe for judicial review,” a term that means there are not enough facts for the courts to intervene.
“Obviously, I am very disappointed in the court’s decision to uphold the approval of a project by the feckless Adirondack Park Agency,” Jorling said in a statement to Adirondack Explorer. “The APA approval of this out of scale project, which will had adverse effects on the valuable character, wildlife, and ecosystems of a significant interior Adirondack Park lake, clearly shows APA is not carrying out its statutory duty to protect the park and its natural resources.”
Jorling sued the APA, DEC and LS Marina (the marina owners) over permits and approvals regarding LS Marina’s rehabilitation and expansion project. Mike Damp, one of the owners of LS Marina, purchased the property in 2014 and has tried since to make upgrades to the area. The APA signed off last fall on LS Marina’s project to increase boat storage, add covered dock slips, provide additional rentals and expand marina services.
Matthew Norfolk, attorney for LS Marina, told the Adirondack Explorer in an email that “the marina project is alive and well.” He called Meyer’s decision comprehensive and thoughtful, adding that he was not surprised Jorling’s complaint was dismissed, but “we are happy Judge Meyer rendered such a ruling.”
“It’s unfortunate for my client LS Marina and the Tri-Lakes community that Mr. Jorling brought this lawsuit in the first place,” Norfolk added. “Given the APA’s exhaustive review of the project, LS Marina’s eco-friendly design of the marina and it providing study after study on the environmental effect of the state-of-the-art marina project, there was no reasonable basis to challenge the APA’s approval. I personally can’t wait to see the marina when it is completed.”
APA spokesman Keith McKeever also provided a statement saying the agency “is pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision on this matter and has no further comment.”
Jorling, who has a residence on Lower Saranac Lake, filed the suit, worried that there would be increased boat traffic causing environmental harm and reduction in his property values. He also took the project approval as an example of the state’s failing to study a water body’s carrying capacity. Many management plans for specific forest units in the Adirondack Park call on the state to study carrying capacity and overuse, but so far, the DEC and APA have not done so.
Braymer had told the Explorer that the marina project “threatens the ‘forever wild’ protection given to Lower Saranac Lake, much of which is owned by the State and is part of the Forest Preserve.” Without specific APA regulations for marinas, too, Jorling and his defense suggested the APA’s approval of LS Marina’s project, expanding its boat storage capacity from 219 to 292 boats, would set a precedent and affect private shoreline in the park.
In his statement issued Aug. 4, Jorling compared the APA with another state agency, the Lake George Park Commission. The Park Commission has marina regulations, but the APA does not.
Meyer dismissed all of Jorling’s allegations.
Though Jorling alleged his enjoyment of his property “would be adversely impacted ‘due to the increased noise, increased light, increased activity, increased stormwater runoff,’” Meyer said these were “speculative.” The marina property originally had no stormwater runoff or erosion controls, Meyer added, which the LS Marina project will install.
Meyer also said the record did not prove how the new project would hurt the aesthetics of the lake when it was replacing more than 26,000 feet “of dilapidated wooden covered boat slips with new brown and green floating structures which blend into the natural features of the land.”
As far as whether the APA violated its laws protecting wetlands and shorelines and completing a carrying capacity study of Lower Saranac Lake, Meyer also sided with the state agency.
“The voluminous record here, amassed over more than six years of effort by LS to obtain the permits and variances, contains substantial and mostly uncontroverted evidence to support the determinations by the APA and DEC,” Meyer wrote in his decision.
This article has been updated to clarify Richard Meyer’s title. It originally said he was an Essex County judge, which he is, but in this case he was acting in his capacity as state Supreme Court justice.