RAY BROOK - The state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to solicit input from the public before making recommendations to the state Adirondack Park Agency on how to classify 69,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberland.
DEC officials briefed APA commissioners last week on the state's plan and timeline for purchasing the former Finch, Pruyn lands from The Nature Conservancy for $49.8 million, a deal that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in August. The APA will be responsible for approving the classification of the lands, determining whether they should become wilderness (the most restrictive), wild forest (some motorized use allowed) or some other state land classification.
DEC Forest Preserve Coordinator Karen Richards said the state plans to acquire the Finch lands in phases over the next five years using money from the Environmental Protection Fund. The Essex Chain of Lakes parcel and the Indian River tract, which total 19,262 acres, will be the first phase. The state expects to close on those areas by the end of the year.
Rob Davies of the state Department of Environmental Conservation takes a picture at the confluence of the Hudson and Indian rivers, an area that will eventually be open to public access through the state’s acquisition of the former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberlands.
(Enterprise file photo — Chris Knight)
"We don't know what will be phase two, three or four," Richards said, "but one of those phases will be the McIntyre Works (11,950 acres), one of those phases will be Boreas Ponds (22,081 acres), and one will be all the outlying parcels. That's how I understand it.
Richards said the state plans to provide some public recreational opportunities on the lands once they are purchased but before specific unit management plans are completed.
"Once the lands are classified, we can embark on the unit management planning process," she said.
In the meantime, Richards said DEC wants to know what the public, specifically the affected communities, thinks about how the lands should be classified.
"That's why we're having this dialogue early on," Richards said, "to reach out to all the constituents to say, 'What do you see as opportunities on these lands for public access, recreation, land protection?' There's no conception at this point about what these lands will be. There's a range of land classifications."
The discussion about involving the communities came up after Fred Monroe of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, who's objected to the Finch deal, raised concerns about losing the 1,600 building rights on the property, which is currently classified as Resource Management. He suggested transferring the building rights to the communities, "to be used for affordable housing and for facilities that are needed for tourism.
"This obviously is going to take time," Monroe said, "because the state doesn't have the money to do it all now, so there's an opportunity to deal with the impacts of the loss of the forest products jobs by replacing them with tourism jobs, but that's probably only going to happen if you can move some of that density off of the land, before it becomes state land, into the communities. It helps their economy and their tax base if you do that."
Commissioner Bill Thomas also raised concerns about losing camps and cabins on lands hunting clubs have leased from Finch, but Nature Conservancy spokeswoman Connie Prickett said the clubs were given the opportunity to relocate on the 92,000 acres of Finch lands the Conservancy sold to a timber investor in 2008.
"They had an opportunity to move if they wanted to, and many did, and a lot of folks consolidated, and lot of clubs told us they were dropping their leases in anticipation of the free access they'd be getting from the Forest Preserve," Prickett said. "The camps that are still on the land that will be transferred to Forest Preserve will be phased out over 10 years. So the camps will stay in place for 10 years and it's up to leaseholder to remove the camp."
Before the discussion ended, APA Commissioner Richard Booth suggested it might make more sense to classify the larger, more northerly parcels involved in the Finch acquisition (the Essex Chain, Indian River, Boreas Ponds and McIntyre tracts) at the same time, rather than doing it piecemeal.
"I'm not so sure it makes sense to divide up the parcels in the north," he said. "My sense is there there's an open policy question whether the agency should do this as one package or on an individual basis as these are acquired."
APA Chairwoman Lani Ulrich said concerns have been raised in the past that the agency hasn't taken into account nearby state land units when a specific unit management plan comes up for action.
"Do we do the whole picture, or do we do one piece at a time?" she said. "It's an old concern and one we should be talking about as these purchases are going through so we're clear about what we think is best when it comes to us."
The 69,000 acres the state plans to purchase includes more than 300 lakes and ponds, 90 mountains, 415 miles of rivers and streams, and 12 percent of the upper Hudson River watershed.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.