APA seeks more data on proposed expansion project
By Zachary Matson
Marina developers stirring resistance on both Upper and Lower Saranac lakes have filed a permit application to expand the former Hickok Boat Livery on Fish Creek Ponds, leaving the Adirondack Park Agency with multiple questions.
The USL Marina development team filed for an APA commercial use permit in September. The agency responded with a notice of incomplete application Oct. 18, seeking more information about parking, wastewater treatment, expected boat size, environmental protections and plans for other structures on the property.
The marina proposal has faced opposition from neighbors around Fish Creek Ponds who have raised concerns that the development will increase boat traffic on surrounding ponds and lakes, creating new safety issues. They have also contested USL Marina’s assertion the old Hickok marina housed upwards of 76 boats.
As the application makes its way through the APA, a broader question about how the state agency approves lakefront development hovers over the proposal. The same developers behind USL Marina were permitted in 2020 to expand a separate marina on Lower Saranac Lake, but that approval was challenged in court by former Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Tom Jorling.
In an appeal of a decision dismissing his suit, Jorling has argued the APA should not have approved that project without a study of what uses the nearby lakes can sustain. A trio of environmental groups in recent court filings contended that state agencies cannot know whether the project would cause an adverse impact on nearby state lands without first studying a water body’s “carrying capacity.” Detractors on Fish Creek Ponds have raised a similar argument in interviews and public comments about the USL Marina project.
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The proposal before APA envisions replacing the marina’s old docks with new covered, floating docks that would reach as much as 200 feet into Fish Creek Ponds from the shoreline.
The developers plan to remove one 4,050-square-foot covered dock and 17 smaller uncovered docks totaling 4,525 square feet, which stretch the length of the site’s roughly 910 feet of shoreline. The 8,575 square feet of removed docks would be replaced with over 34,000 square feet of new docks, including over 31,000 square feet of covered docks. The plan would add 22 new slips – a 29% increase – and triple the amount of dock space per boat slip, according to the application.
Dozens of property owners around Fish Creek Ponds and the narrow creek that connects to Upper Saranac Lake signed a petition opposing the project, citing worries the expansion will increase boat traffic beyond what the area can support. They also dispute how many boat slips the developers say the site has had historically, highlighting the former boat livery’s history renting canoes and row boats.
“There has never been anything like that,” Dick Gunthert, who has owned a property across the lake from the marina for 50 years, said of the expansion proposal.
Design plans show that while the docking footprint would shrink along the length of the shorebank, it would stretch much further into the water. The overall square footage of the docks would also increase nearly four times the current size, including over 20,000 square feet of new covered docks.
The plan does not show new parking spaces, which the APA asked for more details about. APA also asked if the marina could replace its wastewater treatment system, remove other structures or include other environmental protections in the final design. The application indicates the developers want to start construction in the spring and operate with the new docks by the summer boating season.
The application was signed by realtor Michael Damp and attorney Matt Norfolk, both based in Lake Placid. Norfolk on Thursday said the development team was reviewing the state’s requests and developing responses.
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He argued the marina renovations would improve safety on the pond, highlighting a no-wake zone that would surround the docks, and suggested few environmental concerns have been raised about the project. He said the design team counted the number of existing boat slips at the site and proposed to expand the size of the docks to meet current standards and boater expectations.
“The (proposed) docks are more conformed to modern day,” Norfolk said.
Norfolk said issues related to the carrying capacity of lakes should not be dealt with in the context of a private permit application, echoing arguments he has made in the Lower Saranac case.
Keith Stoltz, a Pennsylvania-based developer with property and philanthropic interests in the Adirondacks, controls the limited liability corporation that owns the property, according to records.
Fish Creek Ponds connect the sprawling Fish Creek Campground to Upper Saranac Lake through a narrow channel. Locals said the channel often clogs with boat traffic during the busiest weeks of the year and said the marina expansion would exacerbate the problem.
After the project was first proposed, the town of Santa Clara imposed a moratorium on commercial development to develop new codes for commercial marina projects. The town adopted the updates earlier this year and granted approval to the marina project this summer.
The project application remained incomplete as of Thursday, APA spokesperson Keith McKeever said. The agency will schedule a public hearing on the proposal after the application is complete.
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