WARRENSBURG - The debate over float plane access to Adirondack lakes has resurfaced after a Warrensburg man announced he intends to sue both the Adirondack Park Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Maynard Baker said the two agencies are in violation of laws designed to protect disabled persons by assuring them access to parks and wilderness areas. Baker has retained the services of Lake Placid attorney Matthew Norfolk.
"Once upon a time, there were approximately 40 lakes in the Adirondack Park open for float planes," Baker said. Now, he says individuals can only reach those areas by foot, canoe or bicycle.
"The able-bodied can still walk in," he said. "The disabled and disabled American veterans, the only way they had in there was by seaplane. They took that right away from our veterans and left it open for the able-bodied. That's discrimination, and that's my reason for suing."
No lawsuit has been filed as of yet, but Baker anticipates the action to occur this summer. The suit will claim DEC and APA have maintained policies that prohibit individuals with disabilities from accessing "a variety of lakes in select wilderness areas of the Adirondack Park."
Attorney Matt Norfolk, who's represented Jim McCulley in the Old Mountain Road case against DEC, will file the lawsuit on behalf of Baker. Norfolk stressed that the lawsuit was not about Lows Lake, where the state recently approved a plan to phase out float plane use.
"It's about basic civil rights," he said. "You or I may be able to hike in and enjoy the beauty of these areas - not just Lows Lake - but those who are ability impaired cannot."
Norfolk says allowing float planes doesn't have a substantial impact on the park's resources.
"We submit that these float planes will not materially alter the fundamental purpose behind the park," he said. "If you were to say, oh well everyone's got to be able to see the top of Mount Marcy, the next thing you know you've got a helipad in there - that's changing the fundamentals of the park."
Norfolk said the paperwork for the suit is almost ready, and he expects to present it to a judge sometime in July.
Baker said he has no financial stake in closure of Adirondack lakes to float plane access.
"I once owned three seaplanes," Baker said. "I don't own any now, so I have no personal interest in making money off of it.
"My interest is for seaplane access to these 40 lakes for the disabled. And I'm sorry if the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Animals and Earth First - if they don't like it, let them explain it to a judge, not me."
Baker is currently running for Warrensburg Town Supervisor. DEC officials had no comment on the proposed lawsuit. A spokesman for the Adirondack Park Agency did not return a call for comment.