Project tied up in courts positioned for variance to install covered dock roofs
By Zachary Matson
Supporters and customers of the Saranac Lake Marina last week urged the Adirondack Park Agency to approve a plan to install roofs over boat slips, a final step in the years-long expansion plan.
The 99-year-old operation on Lower Saranac Lake, doing business as LS Marina, has grown from 219 slips when it was purchased from previous owners to 277 now. LS Marina replaced deteriorating docks and boathouse structures with floating docks and boosted the marina’s boat capacity with upgrades the past half dozen years.
An earlier design earned an APA wetlands permit, but the owners reworked the plans after a court annulled the permit over the APA’s failure to implement its own wetlands rules.
The marina does need a variance approved to add covers to a majority of the marina’s slips, citing the desires of boaters and the competitive pressures of other area marinas that offer covered boat berths.
The variance would allow 174 covered slips across two sites, a main marina location in Crescent Bay and an annex in Ampersand Bay. The redesigned plans concentrated covered docks at the main marina site and reconfigured docks and coverings to lessen impacts to wetlands.
The marina has also been the center of intense interest among Adirondack advocacy groups demanding that state officials study the “carrying capacity” of Lower Saranac Lake\ under the Adirondack Park State Land Master.
Former state Department of Environmental Conservation Thomas Jorling, who owns a lake house near the marina annex, sued to block the earlier permit and has continued to challenge the marina, most recently suing the APA for records related to a meeting between agency staff and marina representatives in March.
During a virtual public variance hearing held Monday, the marina owners and customers described improvements at the marina as a positive benefit to public safety, the local economy and shoreline ecology. They highlighted pictures of the previous marina structures falling apart.
“I saw the slow decay of the former Crescent Bay Marina and the desperate need for investors to bring it back to life,” said Mike Damp, a Lake Placid-area real estate agent and managing member of LS Marina.
Damp said the marina has paid to remove “truckloads” of invasive Eurasian watermilfoil from the water surrounding the marina. He said that the removal of shoreline structures has enabled revegetation of near-shore areas.
“We are the only lakeshore owner that has invested thousands of dollars annually over the last three years on [invasive] milfoil management,” Damp said. “We are already seeing the benefits.”
The marina’s argument that its upgrades are an overall improvement to the area and lake partly hinge on the developers’ right to rebuild the old structures as is. If they were not granted a variance and opted to rebuild the old structures, it would cause a more negative impact on the surrounding natural resources, Damp said. APA staff agreed with that logic in the previous approval, an analysis backed by the courts.
While others joined the remote public hearing, most commenters were supportive of the marina and its plans to cover the docks. Some of the commenters said they have used the marina for decades and appreciated the upgrades. Others cited summer jobs created by the marina. People with lakefront property enjoy access to the lake–and often a covered boathouse–and so should the marina’s customers, speakers said.
“Without this marina on Lower Saranac Lake, I simply would not have access to this lake,” said Thomas Ratigan.
Jorling and his attorney, Claudia Braymer, joined the hearing and signaled they planned to continue opposing the project. Jorling argued the state’s lack of a capacity study for the lake is a continuing problem, referencing the court’s declaration that it was “inexplicable” the state had failed to conduct the studies called for in the 50-year-old state land master plan.
“The court gave the APA a second chance to precede its decision on the marina with a carrying capacity study to prevent overuse and degradation of the resource,” Jorling said. “APA has not done so, so the court is likely to view the failure on a second try as more than ‘inexplicable’ but actually as unlawful.”
The new designs focused the variance request at the main marina site, bypassing the need for a permit or variance at the annex, the site that gave Jorling standing to sue over the earlier permit.
The APA has 45 days to consider the variance after the hearing is completed. Written public comments will be accepted through June 12, according to APA staff. The variance request is slated to go before the APA board at its June 15 meeting.