New brief focuses on lack of study of Lower Saranac Lake despite language in State Land Master Plan
By Zachary Matson
State agencies must study the capacity of boating and other uses on Lower Saranac Lake before a marina project can move forward, former Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Thomas Jorling argued in a new court filing.
Jorling’s first brief in the appeal of an August decision outlines the argument that the DEC and Adirondack Park Agency are mandated to study the “carrying capacity” of lakes in the Adirondack Park and their failure to do so should bar approval of a proposed marina expansion.
The brief, filed by attorney Claudia Braymer in the Appellate Division, Third Department last week, cites the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, which in its opening pages emphasizes the importance of protecting the state’s major watersheds and declares “a comprehensive study of Adirondack lakes and ponds should be conducted” by the DEC.
The studies would aim to determine “each water body’s capacity to withstand various uses, particularly motorized uses and to maintain and enhance its biological, natural and aesthetic qualities,” according to the park master plan.
The state has acknowledged no such study has been conducted for Lower Saranac Lake or the larger chain of Saranac lakes before the APA approved a permit for a marina expansion. The APA unit management plan for Saranac Lakes Wild Forest also called for a study of the lakes’ capacity.
“[State agencies] evaded the mandate of the [State Land Master Plan] when they approved the [Saranac Lake Wild Forest Unit Management Plan] without a carrying capacity study and again when they approved the project at issue herein without a carrying capacity study,” Jorling argued in the brief.
Judge Richard Meyer, in his role as a justice for the state Supreme Court in Essex County, last year dismissed Jorling’s original complaint against the proposed marina, calling his claims of harm “speculative” and the arguments about a carrying capacity study “not ripe for judicial review.”
Jorling in the new brief argued that since there is no other administrative remedy for the concern about the lack of a capacity study, the courts should rule on whether the state must conduct one.
Jorling, who owns a residence on the lake across from the marina site and was commissioner of the department from June 1987 to February 1994, sued the DEC, the APA and LS Marina in December 2020. Jorling at the time argued that LS Marina’s project to expand its boat storage by 73 boat slips and upgrade other slips and docks would contribute to degradation of the lake’s water quality and disrupt others who enjoy the lake. The APA signed off on LS Marina’s proposal in 2020.
Meyer in the August decision 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” boat slips with improved ones. Meyer also highlighted the “voluminous record” developed before APA approval and noted stormwater and erosion controls included in the plan.
Jorling’s brief also made the case that the APA should develop broader marina standards and regulations before approving a major change to one.
Attorneys for the state and the marinas’ owner, LS Marina, in the original case argued Jorling’s complaints were overblown. They cited figures that suggest only about a dozen more boats will be on the lake at any one time and argued that improving dilapidated marina facilities could improve conditions on the lake.
Joshua Tallent, an attorney for the state, in a hearing last year said it didn’t make sense for the state to study the overall lake based on one permit request.
“It would be, I submit, highly irrational for the APA to try to control the amount of boat traffic on the entire Saranac Chain of Lakes through the vehicle of one private permit,” he said during the April 2021 hearing. “It’s not fair and it’s not rational.”
When Jorling initiated the appeal last year, Lake Placid attorney Matthew Norfolk, who represents LS Marina, in an email to the Adirondack Explorer called it “another delay tactic” and insisted the Appellate Division would uphold Meyer’s decision.
Peter Hahn says
he could fund those studies several times over for what he is paying in legal fees.
Sailboat Scotty says
Mr. Jorling has the right to appeal, but it is concerning when any single waterfront land owner may believe that they have the power to negatively affect an activity that has been a part of the Adirondack DNA since the last century.
Some may see this issue no different than to what’s playing out in overuse of the High Peaks – I get it.
The difference here, is that Mr. Jorling is doing to Saranac Lake what many private, and yes, wealthy waterfront property owners have tried to elsewhere in other popular boating states, notably Florida.
Owners of these waterfront parcels believe they have manifest right to assert control over navigable waters in front of there homes -sometimes feeling every thing in their view out over the water is within their control. They simply don’t want recreational boating activity – sights, sounds or people – to affect their privacy.
However, what is different from Florida is the economic activity associated with recreational boat ownership in the Adirondacks takes place in just a few short months. Boat owners also need marinas and ones that aren’t falling into the water. Supporting recreational boating economic activity must be a priority. Recreational industry jobs – including those at marinas – are important to the 130,000 New Yorkers who call the park home.
Walt Linck says
Well Scotty, my friend, you’ve said at least one right thing: Mr. Jorling has the right to appeal. That’s because this is a legal matter, and Mr. Jorling (who is credentialed in this realm, quite obviously) believes APA and DEC acted illegally. It seems pretty clear to me, now that I’ve read his appeal, is that his basic premise is that 50 years of INTENTIONAL EVASION of the law amounts to breaking the law!
Section 816 of the APA Act (see the APSLMP appendices) directed APA to classify the State lands of the Adirondacks according to their “capacity to withstand use” (with “lands” defined as INCLUDING WATERS), to write the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan [APSLMP] to direct DEC’s management of these lands and waters ACCORDING to such APA classification/categorization, and to ensure that a meaningful integration of private land and State-land planning and management occurs in the Adirondack Park in order TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC’S LANDS AND WATERS HERE. It seems to me fairly easy to argue that, for all intents and purposes regarding APA’S and DEC’s authorities and responsibilities swirling around this marina case, it has ALL been evaded here.
Have the waters of the Saranac Lakes ever been classified or categorized according to their capacity to withstand use (i.e., according to their “carrying capacity” in APSLMP terms)? Nope. Is there good guidance set forth in the APSLMP concerning how DEC should manage these lakes so as to protect them from overuse? Nope: not possible without appropriate classification/categorization AND some study. Did APA staff follow the mission of the Agency in working to the extent possible and required to integrate State-land planning and protection mandates into their permit review process? Seems like another big “Nope.”
The laws here in the Adirondacks were not written to protect wealthy waterfront owners down south at some Florida lakes! (Huh? Where’s the “Forever Wild” Forest Preserve down there, anyway?) And if you’d ever spent any time with Mr. Jorling and heard him tell great stories of being an International Paper Company boss responsible for taking over certain major, challenging operations in Russia and Poland, you certainly wouldn’t be likely to characterize him as some spoiled and rich lakefront owner who cares only about himself and his privacy on the lake. That’s really an unfair characterization of the man, in my view. I see his reputation as stellar, and that’s probably why he was chosen by Governor Mario Cuomo to be the Commissioner of DEC back in the ’80’s.