RAY BROOK - In a precedent-setting move, the Adirondack Park Agency Board of Commissioners overwhelmingly struck down a proposed state land ruling Friday that would have classified the waters and lakebed of man-made Lows Lake as wilderness.
It would have been the first time the agency had so classified a water body. Local government officials had argued that the APA was attempting to expand its authority and could set a precedent with sweeping ramifications throughout the park.
But the board designees from three state agencies - the Department of State, Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Economic Development - reversed their prior stances and killed the proposal.
Several APA commissioners said that they weren't comfortable with the proposal to classify the waters and lakebeds.
Art Lussi, who lives in the park, was one of the rogue seven who didn't think the move to classify the lake itself was appropriate - especially considering the several privately-owned parcels with grandfathered motorboat access on the shoreline.
"The chairman spoke about how the Boy Scouts are not going anywhere, and their continued non-conforming use of motorboats in this proposed wilderness area clearly violates this clause," Lussi said. "I don't see how we could ever approve this resolution with that fact."
The pending ruling that included the water and lakebed classification as wilderness was then defeated seven to four - with Chairman Curt Stiles and Commissioners Jim Townsend, Dick Booth and Cecil Wray making up the dissenting opinion.
A resolution to classify only the 10,000 acres surrounding the lake as primarily wilderness was adopted with the same seven-to-four vote.
The entire classification package - including the water and lakebed - was passed in September by the APA in September, but the decision was nullified after it was discovered that state Economic Development Corp. designee Chris Walsh was no longer a valid voting member of the board.
Adirondack Local Government Review Board executive director Fred Monroe, who argued against the wilderness classification for the lake itself - said he believes if the agency began classifying waters it could threaten riparian rights of land owners throughout the park.
The state Land Master Plan states that the agency has the authority to classify lands and waters on state-owned land, but the many non-conforming uses and the intense public outcry against the move didn't sit well with most APA commissioners.
Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth said Friday that the agency's failure to act is legally inconsistent with its statutory charter.
"If they thought it was a different classification - maybe they thought it should have been primitive because of dams - that's another issue," Woodworth said. "But to not classify it at all is in clear violation of the law."
Woodworth said this battle may not be over, as the APA could face legal action.
"I think we are going to look very closely at whether to sue about the lack of classification of the bed and waters of the lake," Woodworth said. "I think we take a look at the exact language of the resolution, but I think it's something we may have to litigate."
Department of State designee Riele Morgiewicz was particularly concerned with the potential of the water designation effects on DEC maintenance staff.
According to DEC Region Five Director Betsy Lowe, if the waters were classified it would have severely limited DEC staff's ability to transport maintenance equipment into the area because even DEC motorboats would not have been permitted on the lake.
Officials said that the lack of water classification doesn't change the fate of float planes on the lake - which will be no longer permitted on Lows Lake as of Jan. 1, 2012.
Throughout the lengthy proposal and review process of the proposed re-classification, the presence of two dams on Lows Lake, and its several easments and numerous state-operated campsites, weighed heavily on commissioner's minds.