Court battle looms over access to Adirondacks

Albany – A decades-old battle over whether float planes should
be allowed to land on remote lakes in the Adirondack mountains has
been renewed with a new federal lawsuit over the issue.

Six residents of the Adirondacks filed the lawsuit against the
state Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park
Agency on Aug. 23 in U.S. District Court in Albany.

They are not seeking monetary damages other than their court
costs, but instead want to re-open wilderness areas to
seaplanes.

They are alleging the state Department of Environmental
Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency are violating the Americans
With Disabilities Act by not allowing disabled anglers to use
seaplanes on more than 40 Adirondack ponds and lakes.

Seaplanes and other motorized vehicles are banned from
state-owned wilderness areas.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, former Warrensburg (Warren
County) Supervisor Maynard Baker, has been fighting for seaplane
access to wilderness ponds and lakes for more than three decades.
He is a seaplane pilot.

Baker, 78, was part of a group that sued the state in 1998,
alleging there was not sufficient access to state-owned land for
the handicapped. A settlement in that lawsuit resulted in the state
spending nearly $5 million to improve handicapped access to boat
launches, parking lots and camping areas and reopen roads in some
wild forest areas.

Baker said that effort was not sufficient, and the state is
discriminating against those with disabilities by denying them
access to wilderness lakes.

It’s a particular issue now, with a new generation of disabled
veterans returning home who should be able to access areas to fish
that others can, Baker said.

He said the APA’s recent effort to close Lows Lake in Hamilton
County to seaplanes played a part in the decision to sue, but was
not the only reason.

The group’s lawyer, Matthew Norfolk of Lake Placid, said the
state agencies are overstepping their bounds by regulating aircraft
use.

The state keeps adding land to wilderness areas and subsequently
adding lakes that are off limits to planes, which has made it
necessary to challenge the floatplane ban.

The DEC often uses planes, helicopters and other motor vehicles
in wilderness areas, Norfolk said.

“This isn’t going to be easy, even if we’re right on all
points,” he said.

There were bills introduced in both the state Senate and
Assembly last year seeking to open wilderness lakes to floatplanes,
but neither has made it through legislative committees for a
vote.

The Senate sponsors, Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, plans
to reintroduce the bill, her spokesman told the Press-Republican of
Plattsburgh. Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, sponsored
the companion Assembly bill.

Baker had initially received some support from some county
legislators in the Adirondack Park, with the Essex County Board of
Supervisors agreeing to pledge $2,500 toward legal costs. But
Norfolk said it was determined the board could not legally help the
effort’s finances.

The DEC and APA declined to comment on the matter, citing the
fact that neither agency comments on pending litigation.

No court date has been set in the case.

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