RAY BROOK - After years of controversy and lawsuits, the effort to reclassify roughly 12,500 acres surrounding and below the waters of Lows Lake has come to an end.
In a six-to-four vote, the Adirondack Park Agency Board of Commissioners approved the reclassification Friday of the recently acquired state land - and for the first time in agency history, classified nearly 2,000 acres of lake-bed as wilderness.
Some Adirondackers believe the decision represents an unwarranted expansion of the APA's jurisdiction and a further erosion of landowner rights.
Most of the terrestrial property will also now fall under the wilderness designation, while numerous non-conforming structures like bridges and access roads are now considered primitive.
While agency staff claims the move - although unprecedented - is an appropriate expansion of zoning regulation, detractors have called it dangerous and they worry about the future of private ownership of land on lake shores throughout the park.
Commissioner Lani Ulrich - who chairs the agency Regulatory Programs Committee - expressed some doubt about the push to classify a man-made lake bed as wilderness while questioning agency Counsel John Banta.
"Can we classify this as wilderness waters event although it's created by a man-made damn?" Ulrich asked Banta. "We can do this, it's not in conflict?"
Lows Lake exists because of two 100-year old dams and is encircled by numerous roads and private easements.
But Commissioner Jim Townsend countered stating that the move is not as precedent-setting as some believe.
"The precedent set here is narrow and specific to this location," Townsend said.
Local officials have blasted the move for months, arguing that is nothing short of the agency expanding its own authority.
But APA Counsel John Banta said that the State Land Master Plan "invites discussion" about the classification of lake beds.
The Lows Lake issue got especially ugly after a lawsuit was filed by the Adirondack Mountain Club against the APA and the state Department of Environmental Conservation stating that the agency was required to reclassify the land and ban motorized activities in accordance with the SLMP.
Due to the suit, the agency preempted the reclassification by disallowing float-plane access to the popular bass fishing destination as of January 1, 2012.
Several canoeists had claimed that the presence of the float planes was ruining their wilderness experience.
The two remaining floatplane operators in the park -Helms Aero Service and Payne's Floatplanes - have reported that flights to Lows Lake account for around 35 percent of their annual revenue.
But for Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth, the reclassification is essential in preserving one of the finest canoe corridors in the country.
"APA's action is a vital step in protecting the wild character of these canoe routes, which offer rare opportunities in the Adirondacks for quiet canoeing and kayaking," Woodworth said. "This is the proper follow-up to the agency's decision to phase out float-plane use on the lake by the end of 2011."
According to APA spokesman Keith McKeever, the agency is currently in negotiations with all of the stakeholders in an attempt to find an alternate location for floatplane access.
The move to reclassify the land will take effect immediately, pending the signature of Gov. David Paterson.