Press Releases

Cathead Emergency Tower Won’t Need Constitutional Amendment

Adirondack Council Says Alternative Solution Can Save Time, Uphold "Forever Wild"

BENSON, N.Y. – The Adirondack Council today called on the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, who say they need a radio tower for first responders, to work with state officials to develop a plan for an emergency tower on the summit of Cathead Mountain, without seeking a Constitutional Amendment.

“We have looked at this carefully, are sympathetic to the county’s desire to improve communications and have concluded that there are lawful ways to build and maintain a reliable tower without a permanent, new power line or the need to spend three years amending the forever wild clause of the Constitution,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “There are State Police radio communications on the summit now. Co-located self-powered county emergency equipment could do everything the county needs.  It can all be done this summer, not in 2023 or later.”

Nokomis Partners, a consultant expert in off-grid, electric-powered installations, evaluated the county’s stated power needs and recommended adopting the model used for the mountain top communications network for the U.S. Customs and Border Control in Maine. This system has been successfully operated since 2011 through harsh winter conditions.

Janeway said he was disappointed that the conversation about the tower has focused on amending the “forever wild” clause of the state Constitution rather than alternatives. The state and county need only on-site power, a communications link and emergency access, he said.

Janeway said that his organization’s policy calls for the Council to support amendments to the Constitution only after all reasonable alternatives have been exhausted. A consultant hired by the organization reviewed the technical options for the coverage sought by the county, and upgrades for the state. It concluded that better, faster alternatives to an amendment exist. Janeway said his organization has supported emergency towers and improved communications infrastructure in the past, but would oppose a Constitutional Amendment to solve Hamilton County’s emergency communications gaps if these better alternatives are available.

Few Months vs. Three Years

Constitutional Amendments require passage by two separately elected Legislatures and then the voters.  Implementation requires passage of legislation spelling out details, including which lands will be removed from the preserve and which new lands will replace them. The entire process can take three years or more.

“Our solution may not suit everyone’s personal preferences, but it surely solves the emergency communications problem,” Janeway said. “I thought that was what we all wanted.”

Construction of a tower on Cathead Mountain has been delayed by concerns expressed by county officials, local landowners and conservationists. The summit is part of a landlocked private parcel of land, surrounded by the Silver Lake Wilderness Area and other state lands held by the state for addition to the same Wilderness. Public motorized recreation and automobiles are prohibited on these state lands.

Summit is Private, Not Forest Preserve

A private organization, the Hatchbrook Club, owns the summit and some surrounding lands inside the Wilderness, but no right of way for motor vehicles to a public highway. For decades, the Club and its predecessors have been trying in various ways to get a road for motorized vehicles across the state-owned Wilderness to its clubhouse. About 15 years ago, the previous private landowner lost its lawsuit against the state in which it demanded to be allowed to cross the Wilderness Area by motor vehicle.  The Council has been involved in other lawsuits to stop the state from giving permits for illegal motorized passage over Forest Preserve lands.

The prior landowners then closed off public access to the summit and to the state-built fire tower atop it. They also embarked on a period of logging the tract via helicopter, prior to offering the land for sale.  The land was sold privately rather than being added to the wilderness area. At least one other party has stated publicly that they didn’t buy the inholding because it didn’t have legal motorized access. The club members can and do access their property, and bring in supplies, by foot, and with horse and wagon.

State Police Using Summit Now

Not long after the summit was closed to the public, the State Police placed their own radio equipment on the former fire tower – powered by solar panels and a small wind turbine. The State Police signed a lease with the new owners. The members of the Hatchbrook Club bought the tract knowing they didn’t have automobile access.

“The summit of the mountain is private land, so there is no prohibition against a tower on it,” Janeway said. “That tower could be powered by a solar array, batteries a back-up generator; and maintained by state helicopter, as it is now, and through the use of a road with a locked gate. Only the state and county emergency services office would have the key.”

However, if the county insists on opening the road to private access by the Hatchbrook Club -- then a Constitutional Amendment would be needed, Janeway said.

“The Adirondack Council believes that there has not been a serious enough investigation of alternatives, nor a reasoned elaboration of why alternatives are not a quicker, more certainly executable way to achieve the County’s goals,” concluded Janeway. “Should the quest for alternatives fail, after a good faith diligent study of them, the Council would consider a draft Constitutional Amendment to remove land from the Forest Preserve and replace it with other more valuable lands. We would need much more detail, as well as details on proposed implementing legislation and legal agreements, so the Adirondack Council and other interested parties can evaluate the proposal and determine a position.”

Adirondack Council has Supported Other Amendments

The Council has supported several Constitutional Amendments and land swaps in recent years that benefit public projects and local communities, and improve the Forest Preserve. The Council believes that any amendments should be protective of wilderness, wild character and ecologically integrity of the Forest Preserve and the Adirondacks.

And to the extent not inconsistent with this, the Council position is that amendments should be supportive of sustainable vibrant communities, clean water and clean air, working private forests and farms. The Adirondack Council board considers each proposed Constitutional Amendment individually.

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, as well as vibrant communities.

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy, and legal action. Adirondack Council advocates live in all 50 United States.

For more information:

John Sheehan, Adirondack Council, 518-441-1340 cell

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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