The state Adirondack Park Agency says a 2009 ruling by former state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis jeopardizes the status of abandoned highways inside the Blue Line.
That's according to a legal briefing filed last Friday, the latest twist in the ongoing saga of an old town road that connects Lake Placid and Keene.
The figurative can of worms was opened years ago, when a Lake Placid man named Jim McCulley drove his pickup truck and snowmobile on the jackrabbit trail connecting the Essex County towns of North Elba and Keene.
Pete Grannis was commissioner of DEC in 2009 when he ruled that McCulley did not illegally drive along Forest Preserve lands in the Sentinel Range Wilderness, seemingly putting the issue to rest.
Then, late last year, acting DEC Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz granted a request by the DEC, APA, and an environmental organization to seek further clarification of Grannis's ruling.
Those state agencies and the Adirondack Council have now filed their various arguments with Louis Alexander, assistant commissioner of the DEC's Office of Hearings and Mediation Services.
At the core of the briefings is a belief that Grannis's decision could lead to the reopening of long-closed town highways across the Adirondack Park.
In the Park Agency's argument, APA legal counsel John Banta says the State Land Master Plan determined that a 3.5 mile stretch of the Old Mountain Road was "non-conforming" and should have been barricaded in accordance with wilderness guidelines.
Further, the 1987 version of the State Land Master Plan declares that Old Mountain Road "has been closed and the area now fully conforms to wilderness standards."
Officials with the APA now say that former Commissioner Grannis lacked jurisdiction when he ruled that the road was never properly abandoned by the towns of Keene and North Elba.
Additionally, the APA argues that the Master Plan determinations made in 1987 were never called into question by either town.
The APA says that the Grannis decision could result in a domino-effect, creating the potential for reopening other, similar roads, like the Marcy Dam truck trail in the High Peaks Wilderness Area.
According to the APA, the truck trail "illustrates a closure in fact that has been a long-settled issue between the state and the town of North Elba which is potentially reopened" by the May 2009 decision.
The APA's Keith McKeever says the Grannis decision could potentially lead to Adirondack towns pushing to reopen old roads like the Marcy Dam truck trail or the South Meadow road.
Matt Norfolk is an attorney from Lake Placid and has represented McCulley throughout the case.
"You've got to change this decision - this is how I read it - because the impact would be widespread and detrimental to all the APA and DEC has tried to accomplish, in that all of these roads, they say, could be reopened."
Norfolk questions why the APA is now crying foul over the Grannis decision, when in 2005, Essex County Court Judge Andrew Halloran levied a similar opinion.
In his 2005 ruling, Judge Halloran wrote that "the state had the burden at the trial of proving abandonment by non-use by the public for six years. It failed to meet that burden."
"That's law - that's actually a real court," Norfolk said. "A county court, on appeal, basically had the same decision as DEC - it's a town road, because you didn't close it properly. It doesn't just happen by osmosis. So the precedent has already been set and it's already out there."
The APA is arguing that South Meadow Road, the Marcy Dam truck trail, and Indian Pass were closed through the adoption of the State Land Master Plan, and that the DEC commissioner lacks jurisdiction on the matter.
But Norfolk counters that the State Land Master Plan is just that - a plan.
"Basically, what the APA is saying, is that if the State Land Master Plan state something on an issue, that's basically the word, the bible, and the DEC can't do anything about it," he said.
John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council says the DEC can, in fact, do something about it. He says the department's commissioner is uniquely qualified, under state highway law section 212, to determine whether or not a road is open.
"We're talking about roads that are on state land, under the jurisdiction of the DEC, and they should remain there," Sheehan said. "The DEC has every right to determine, for the people of the state, what is going to be done on that former road way."
The legal arguments submitted last week will now be reviewed by Assistant Commissioner Alexander and later turned over to DEC Commissioner Joe Martens - who ultimately has final say on the matter.