The state of New York is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit which claims current environmental laws and regulations in the Adirondack Park violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The lawsuit, filed last summer, challenges state Environmental Conservation Law and Executive Law which bans floatplane and motorized access to certain wilderness areas inside the Blue Line.
The state plans to file a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed. That action comes after the plaintiffs proposed an amendment to the original lawsuit early last month.
In June 2009, Maynard Baker of Warrensburg announced he would sue the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency for allegedly violating laws designed to protect disabled persons by assuring them access to parks and wilderness areas.
Then, in 2010, Baker joined four other men in filing a federal lawsuit with the U.S. Northern District Court in Albany.
The lawsuit came on the heels of a lengthy and contentious debate over floatplane access to Lows Lake. The DEC ultimately adopted regulations phasing out floatplane access by early 2012.
Lake Placid attorney Matt Norfolk is representing Baker in the case.
Norfolk says the lawsuit does not specifically challenge the Lows Lake decision - rather, he says the suit is about "basic civil rights."
According to Norfolk, disallowing floatplane access to Adirondack lakes bars the disabled from enjoying wilderness areas in the same manner as the able-bodied.
The lawsuit remained dormant up until Feb. 4 - that's when Norfolk filed an amendment on behalf of the five plaintiffs.
"Looking at the complaint after I filed it, I had some concerns that I should have attacked the very statutes that created these rules and regulations," Norfolk said. "The statutes allow the state to put these rules in place, and while we take issue with how they are administered and enforced, we also need to take issue with the actual statute."
The amendment itself, Norfolk says, seeks to challenge DEC regulations, the State Land Master Plan, state Environmental Conservation Law, and the APA Act by arguing the state is interfering with federally regulated air travel.
Upon filing the amendment, the state promptly informed the Attorney General's office of its intent to have the entire lawsuit dismissed.
Norfolk says the state has not laid out its case for dismissal.
Meanwhile, an attorney with the environmental organization Protect the Adirondacks says the lawsuit won't be successful.
John Caffry says he does not believe that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires motorized access to all locations.
"There are other places in the Adirondack Forest Preserve that are accessible to people with disabilities by motors, so I don't think this case is going to succeed," he said.
Caffry says people with disabilities have other options for accessing remote areas besides floatplanes.
"There are plenty of people with disabilities who have no interest in using floatplanes to access wilderness lakes," he said. "They can access them by canoe and by other means, perhaps with some assistance. There are organizations out there that are, in fact, set up to assist people with disabilities to gain access to wilderness without motors. Many of them prefer that."
Attorney Matt Norfolk says in its attempt to dismiss the case, the state may try to argue there are existing accommodations for people with disabilities to access wilderness areas.
He adds that the lawsuit will also attempt to address the state's own use of floatplanes to access lakes in the forest preserve for research purposes.
"That's important because one of our arguments is, while the state is prohibiting floatplanes on remote lakes and ponds on one hand, on the other hand they are allowing their own staff and members of the private sector to use floatplanes and other motorized vehicles to access remote areas for non-emergency purposes," Norfolk said.
DEC Region 5 spokesman David Winchell turned down a request for comment on the lawsuit, noting that the agency does not comment on matters currently in litigation.
The Attorney General's office has set a March 28 deadline for the state to file its motion to dismiss.