The fight over a proposed network of snowmobile trails on state Forest Preserve land is headed to court March 1. The case could have broad ramifications on proposed snowmobile networks across the Adirondack Park, including those in southern Essex County.
RAY BROOK — Legal arguments contending the fate of Class II Community Connector snowmobile trails will go to trial on March 1.
In a 27-page decision issued last week, Judge Gerald Connolly at Albany Supreme Court denied motions for summary judgment to both Protect the Adirondacks, as plaintiff, and to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency.
The case could have broad ramifications for the construction of snowmobile connector trails on state land, including those on and near the recently acquired Boreas Ponds Tracts in southern Essex County.
Protect sued over three years ago to stop construction on the 12.8-mile Seventh Mountain Trail in Moose River Plains Wild Forest, a central connecting snowmobile route designed by the DEC.
The environmental group contends the cutting of so many trees — some 31,000 trees across a 9 to 12 foot wide swath — create networks that are more akin to roads, and will fundamentally alter the character of the Adirondack Park.
Connolly said the plaintiff will “bear the burden of demonstrating that construction of the Class II trails ... constitutes improper use of the forest preserve impairing such ‘wild forest lands’ to an unconstitutional extent.”
DEC included statements from foresters asserting that the Class II trails are similar to foot trails, and further, that a “clear goal” in these inter-community trails was to “close snowmobile trails that penetrate to the more interior portions of the Wild Forest.”
Class II Connectors run in part along roadways in an effort to minimize forest fragmentation.
Connolly also said neither party had provided factual issues to entitle summary judgment on the number of trees being cut.
“The parties ... have provided conflicting evidence with regard to a number of material facts and the inferences they wish to be drawn from such facts,” Connolly wrote, finding the arguments either “unpersuasive or unnecessary to consider.”
Protect Executive Director Peter Bauer said they believe these new trails violate the Forever Wild provision of Article 14 of the State Constitution due to the cutting of over 31,000 trees, the clearing of over 50 acres of land (for all Class II trails encompassing 36.5 miles parkwide), and the “vast changes to the terrain and forest ecology of the affected areas.”
The purpose of the trial in court, he said, will be “to develop a complete factual record where there are serious matters in dispute over what constitutes a tree, the historic interpretation of what ‘timber’ means in the (New York State) Constitution, the ecological benefits of closing interior trails to snowmobiles, and whether the construction of Class II snowmobile trails constitutes an improper use of the Forest Preserve due to dramatic changes in terrain.”
The bench trial in Albany Supreme Court on March 1 could impact furtherance of Class II Connector trails pending construction in central Essex County state forest lands, including Essex Chain and along southern edges of the not-yet-classified Boreas Tract, among other areas.
“This decision shows the seriousness and merits of our arguments,” Bauer said of Connolly’s decision. “The court refused the state’s demand to dismiss our case.”
Preliminary injunction from the Appellate Division, Third Department, halted tree cutting on state land last fall, awaiting decision on appeal.
“The (injunction) remains in place until the appeal of an earlier denial by the Supreme Court is resolved,” Bauer said.
“This ban will likely extend into the field season in the summer of 2017 or longer. These injunctions have kept over 7,500 Forest Preserve trees alive, so far.”