Marina projects stir controversy around both Lower Saranac and Upper Saranac
By Zachary Matson and Chloe Bennett
Proposed expansions to a pair of marinas have stirred up resistance on both Upper Saranac and Lower Saranac lakes, raising questions around the state’s responsibility to study boat traffic on Adirondack lakes.
The first project, an Adirondack Park Agency-approved expansion of a marina in Saranac Lake, heads to an appellate court fight. The second involves a marina that serves a network of ponds that connect to Upper Saranac Lake, and the project is meeting its own resistance from nearby residents.
Neighbors of the marina in Santa Clara have argued in public comments that the proposed covered docks would reduce usable space on the water, introduce new hazards and increase traffic in a bottleneck between a popular state campground and the midsection of Upper Saranac.
The Town of Santa Clara Planning Board postponed a vote on the special use permit for the marina expansion during a Thursday meeting. Chairperson Pamela Adams said the board should consider approving the application with several stipulations, including limitations on operating hours, personal watercraft use and boat rentals.
The board will prepare a resolution with more specific language and conditions, Adams said, and plans to meet again at 9 a.m. on July 12 with a draft. They have until July 25 to rule on the permit application.
About 16 people attended the meeting and some expressed concern over the possible expansion during a short public comment session. Ryan McLaughlin, a resident of the Fish Creek Ponds area, said he feels as though the board has not adequately answered the community’s questions during the meetings.
“I don’t understand why I can’t get some engagement and some discussion on the usage on the pond that we’ve all come to enjoy and appreciate over the years,” he said. “Nobody’s being disrespectful, nobody’s talking over anybody, we have legitimate questions and concerns.”
After the meeting, resident Jen Ortiz said the community has not received enough information on the project. “We’ve been out here for decades and we would like the marina to succeed,” she said. “We would like it to work for everyone.”
Lake Placid attorney Matthew Norfolk represented the marina owners at the board meeting. In an interview with a television journalist after the meeting, Norfolk said he thinks some of the complaints stem from people not having read the permit application.
“It feels like, looking at it from my point of view, a lot of the concerns are sometimes based on misinformation,” he said. “The applications have been available for months and months.”
The two marina projects have increased focus on a question concerning the state’s responsibility to study the “carrying capacity” of Adirondack lakes — an assessment of the impacts of boat traffic and other uses, in order to quantify what would constitute “overuse.”
The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan emphasizes that “the protection of major watersheds was a major reason for the creation of the forest preserve” and indicates state officials should study the uses that can be sustained on Adirondack waters.
“A comprehensive study of Adirondack lakes and ponds should be conducted by the Department of Environmental Conservation 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,” the master plan states.
Former DEC Commissioner Tom Jorling in an appeal of an earlier decision dismissing his suit against the proposed marina expansion on Lower Saranac Lake has argued that the APA cannot approve a marina project without a capacity study of the lakes that would be affected by the marina project. Opponents of the Fish Creek Ponds marina have raised a similar argument in interviews.
Both marinas are owned by limited liability corporations controlled by Pennsylvania-based developer Keith Stoltz, according to property records. Stoltz also has real estate and philanthropic interests in the Lake Placid area. Stoltz did not respond to messages seeking comment this week.
The Fish Creek Ponds marina plan, under the name USL Marina, calls for demolishing existing docks at the old Hickok Marina near State Route 30 and consolidating boat slips into four new floating docks that would be 50 feet wide and stretch up to 200 feet into the water. The plan calls for 94 boat slips, up from 76 now.
The marina expansion would increase total dock space from around 4,500 square feet to over 9,600 square feet and increase dock roofing from around 4,000 square feet to over 28,000 square feet, according to the marina’s permit application. The project would cost an estimated $400,000, according to the application.
Dozens of property owners and lessees around Fish Creek Ponds have opposed the marina proposal, raising concerns that expanding docks further into the pond will minimize the types of boating activities they have long enjoyed. They also raised fears of increased boat traffic and inexperienced boaters renting pontoon boats at the marina.
“For countless years folks have enjoyed the ability to safely water-ski, tube, canoe, etc. Lower Fish Creek Pond,” Dick Gunthert, who owns property across from the marina, wrote in public comments on the project. “With this length [of docks], with the added no-wake buoys, that will likely be no longer possible.”
Fish Creek Ponds connect the sprawling Fish Creek Campground to Upper Saranac Lake through a narrow channel. Locals said the channel will often clog with boat traffic during the busiest weeks of the year and said the marina expansion would exacerbate the problem.
The proposed project resulted in the town of Santa Clara imposing a moratorium on commercial development until it could develop new codes for commercial marina projects, which were adopted earlier this year.
The Upper Saranac Lake Association has tracked the situation, raising questions about whether the marina proposal sought to use “loopholes” in the new marina codes to achieve the proposed expansion.
“[The lake association] would also like to state for the record that the last minute addition of dock roofing over dock structures of this magnitude truly deters from the Adirondack style and impacts the character of the surrounding area,” according to the association’s comments.
Some residents have said they would not oppose a smaller marina project, suggesting they want to see improvements that do not increase boat traffic or limit usable space on the water.
Kim Hoover, who owns a camp on LaJuenesse Road near the marina, submitted a letter opposing the project signed by more than 80 neighbors.
“If this project is allowed to be built as submitted, the lake will forever be adversely altered, becoming a private parking garage with a traffic channel,” Hoover and other residents asserted in the letter. “[The] scope of this expansion project is simply too large for the lake, and we look forward to seeing a project that is a benefit to the entire lake community, not just the applicant.”
Neighbors have also raised technical concerns about how the developers measured the width of the pond, the style of lighting that will be used on the docks, the width of one of the docks and whether the marina intends to stay open as late as 10 p.m., which may be allowed under the town’s new marina code.
In a response to public comments, Norfolk has argued the expansion proposal adhered to the town’s new codes and called some of the complaints of locals “misplaced.”
The marina project, if approved by Santa Clara, would still require APA and DEC permits.
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