LONG LAKE - After years of discourse, public hearings and lawsuits, the push 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 of the recently acquired state land on Sept. 11 and for the first time in agency history, classified nearly 2,000 acres of lakebed as wilderness.
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 of classifying lakebeds - although unprecedented - is an appropriate expansion of zoning regulation, detractors have called it dangerous and worry about the future of private ownership of land on lakeshores throughout the park.
Commissioner Lani Ulrich - who chairs the agency Regulatory Programs Committee - expressed some doubt about the push to classify a manmade lakebed as wilderness while questioning agency Counsel John Banta.
"We can classify this as wilderness waters event though it's created by a manmade damn," Ulrich asked Banta. "We can do this, it's not in conflict?"
Lows Lake exists because of two one hundred-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 lakebeds.
The Lows Lake issue got especially ugly after a lawsuit was filed by the green group 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 sun-setting floatplane access to the popular bass fishing destination as of Jan. 1, 2012.
Several canoeists had claimed that the presence of the floatplanes 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 floatplane 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.