An Adirondack environmental group has been granted permission to continue its lawsuit against the state over the first "community connector" snowmobile trail in the Park.
The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court's Third Department, in Albany, granted a motion from Protect the Adirondacks on March 28 to proceed with the suit against the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency under Article 14 of the state Constitution, the so called "forever wild" clause.
Protect Executive Director Peter Bauer said he was pleased that the constitutional challenge can continue. It's one of two snowmobile-related legal actions the group has filed against the state.
"Anytime anybody sues alleging a violation of the state Constitution, you first have to get permission from the appellate court," he said. "It was largely procedural, but had the appellate court said, 'You can't bring this suit,' half of our actions would be gone."
In a separate legal action, Protect is also suing the state over its policy to allow the use of large-track snowmobile trail groomers on state land, which it says violates the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and DEC regulations.
In its Article 14 lawsuit, Protect alleges that DEC's cutting of more than 2,200 trees to build the new, 12-mile Moose River Plains community connector snowmobile trail violates the constitution's prohibition on tree cutting in the Forest Preserve. While it's limited to that trail, the case could also have implications for other areas of the Park where community connector trails have been approved but not yet built, including the Wilmington Wild Forest in Essex and Clinton counties, and the Jessup River Wild Forest in Hamilton County.
Another environmental group, the Adirondack Council, previously sued the state over the 2009 "guidance" it developed for siting and construction of community connector trails, but the suit was thrown out last year. The Appellate Division justices found, among other things, that the council "has not alleged any concrete injury."
Now that a community connector has been built, Bauer says his group's suit has a better chance of success.
"There were issues of ripeness (with the Council's suit), and not only do we have the first of these trails to be constructed, but there are a number of other trails in the works," Bauer said. "We don't think you can build these class II, community connector trails as wide and as flat as they want to build them, and comply with the state constitution's limits for tree cutting."
DEC officials have said they don't believe Protect's lawsuit has merit. In a statement last month, agency spokeswoman Lori Severino called the Moose River Plains community connector "the most significant trail project to be undertaken in the Central Adirondacks in decades.
"While there are a limited few who refuse to see the forest through the trees and how sustainable communities benefit both the Adirondack Park and the local economies, our many partners in this project demonstrate the broad-ranging support for this new trail," Severino wrote.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.