In the News  Archive

A deeper look at the Adirondack land swap proposals

November 4, 2013

by Brian Mann

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Nov 04, 2013 — When voters across New York open their ballots tomorrow, they'll find lots of local races. They'll also find a half-dozen statewide propositions dealing with everything from the age of judges to casino gambling.

Two of those propositions focus on small land deals in the Adirondack Park, one in the Essex County town of Lewis, the other in the hamlet of Racquette Lake in Hamilton County.

Brian Mann, NCPR Adirondack bureau chief, talks with news director Martha Foley about these two land swaps.

MF: Okay, Brian, first, refresh our memories. Why are folks in Brooklyn and Buffalo voting on land deals that involve chunks of land here in the North Country?

BM: These deals both involve chunks of the "forever wild" forest preserve in the Adirondacks, which is protected by the state constitution. So whenever anyone wants to do anything with that land that allows significant development or human use, it requires an amendment of the state constitution.

These deals have already been approved by the state legislature in Albany on a bipartisan vote in two consecutive sessions. Now voters across New York get the final say.

MF: Are voters really going to be able to figure all this out? I mean, a lot of people in New York City don't even know what the Adirondack Park is.

BM: I think there is real worry that confusion and muddle could decide the outcome of one or both of these issues. Clark Seaman is town supervisor in Long Lake, which includes the hamlet of Racquette Lake. The land swap there, known as the Township 40 deal, isn't really controversial. It just settles old property disputes. But he says it's unclear whether folks outside our region will grasp that.

"I'm told statistically that there's a significant percentage of folks that will just vote 'no' regardless, number one. And I'm also concerned that there is some confusion between props four and props five. I've seen it on some of the blogs," he said.

MF: Yeah, this is confusing, I think, even to folks here in the North Country. Again, proposition 4 involves this land dispute in Raquette Lake. Proposition 5 involves the more controversial land swap in Lewis, involving NYCO minerals.

Before we move on to talk about the NYCO minerals deal, what do local residents and seasonal homeowners in Raquette Lake think about this resolution?

BM: Well, it's a mixed bag. This all dates back to bad survey maps and bankruptcy proceedings that muddled everything up. This frustration and anger has lingered for decades.

People are really relieved that their community might finally be free of this terrible dispute that has complicated land sales and economic development.

But folks like Tom Mattice are also indignant at the idea of having to pay, about 3 thousand dollars a piece, to settle this.

"I can't say I'm satisfied, but I'm willing to do it, because it's the only way I'll ever get this clear title. And in my case it's not a huge amount of money, it's only a few thousand dollars. But I did buy it once, and now I'm buying it again," Mattice said.

MF Okay, so that's proposition 4, involving the township 40 settlement in Racquette Lake. Let's pivot and talk for just a moment about the NYCO land swap in Lewis. In addition to confusion, this one's just plain been controversial.

BM: Yeah, this is really messy. NYCO minerals wants to expand its wollastonite mine in Lewis to include roughly 200 acres of what is now forest preserve land. They say this will help them sustain around 100 really good, high paying jobs. In exchange, the company is offering to purchase roughly 1500 acres of land, expanding the Jay Mountain Wilderness.

MF: That idea has fiercely divided environmental groups and newspaper editorial boards across the state.

BM: The Park's two largest groups, the Adirondack Council and the Adirondack Mountain Club have backed this deal and actually campaigned to push it through the state legislature. The Council convinced the New York Times to back the deal in an editorial last week. Here's council spokesman John Sheehan, explaining why his group supports the deal.

"This is a different kind of a park, with 130 tiny communities scattered all over the place," he said. "Taking into consideration what happens to the communities, and how they can fit into the economic picture is always something that we want to do."

On the other side is a growing coalition of smaller, but fiercely committed green groups — including Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild — that have fought really hard to convince voters to reject this deal. Newsday and the Albany Times-Union are both urging voters to reject the deals. Dan Plumley from Adirondack Wild has helped rally opposition.

"Well I think we agree to disagree. And we are sympathetic, absolutely, to the need to preserve jobs and employment in Lewis and Willsboro, but those wilderness lands do provide jobs," he said.

MF: Okay, so green groups there with very different points of view about this. Voters across New York State will have to sort that out when they open their ballots tomorrow. Brian Mann, our Adirondack bureau chief, will have the results Tuesday night on-line where he'll be live-blogging about the vote — and then we'll have a full report Wednesday morning.

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