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Group renews legal efforts opposing wider snowmobiling trails in Adirondacks

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An environmental preservation group has renewed its motion to halt construction of community connector snowmobile trails in the Adirondack Park while a lawsuit is pending in the matter.

Protect the Adirondacks filed state Supreme Court action in February in Albany County against the Adirondack Park Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation claiming, among other things, that the trails violate a clause of the state Constitution mandating that the forest preserve remain “forever wild.” The suit also claims the state land master plan and DEC regulations are violated by the use of large groomers on trails.

On Aug. 22, Judge George B. Ceresia Jr. denied Protect’s motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to stop new class II community connector trail construction during the pendency of the litigation. The judge also denied APA’s and DEC’s motion to have the matter dismissed in its entirety.

Judge Ceresia ruled that Protect’s motion was untimely, as most of the trail work that Protect was citing in its suit, including the removal of thousands of trees, already had been completed. He said that while APA and DEC proposed the construction of additional trails at some point in the future, he did not view any additional construction or removal of trees as “imminent.” In denying the motion, he gave Protect a chance to renew its motion “if there is a change in circumstances.”

In its new motion for a preliminary injunction, Protect claims circumstances have changed, as DEC has announced its intention to construct the Catamount Snowmobile Trail in the Taylor Pond Wild Forest Area in Clinton County. Protect claims that DEC actually published notice of the planned construction in July, before Judge Ceresia made his ruling denying the injunction, and that DEC failed to present the information to the court. Protect claims that construction of the trail is not only “imminent,” it has begun.

Protect contends that 133 trees will be cut for the trail and that there about 150 more trees planned for cutting to complete three other community connector trails — Seventh Lake Mountain, Wilmington and Gilmantown — bringing the total number of trees cut down for the trails to more than 2,600. The group claims that if APA and DEC are allowed to proceed “in this piecemeal fashion,” more trees will be cut, presenting “imminent, irreparable harm” to the forest preserve, necessitating an injunction ordering the work stopped.

Peter D. Bauer, executive director of Protect, said the lawsuit is not about stopping snowmobiling from taking place in the preserve, but is meant to prevent excessive widening of trials that are shared with hikers and mountain bikers when the snow is gone and are designed for slower speeds than roads where snowmobiling is allowed.

“This is really focusing on the trails, to prevent them from becoming roads, which is what we see happening,” Mr. Bauer said. “The concern is, you get a new road in the forest preserve in an area that used to be a trail. The trail system is supposed to be a different kind of experience.”

Mr. Bauer said the lawsuit does not focus on trail systems in St. Lawrence, Lewis or Franklin counties as trails in these counties operate predominantly under conservation easements that do not contain the same restrictions as in other parts of the preserve.

Protect said in a prepared statement that lawyers for both sides are developing a schedule to complete the case. When that is done, APA and DEC will submit a formal response to Protect’s initial pleadings and Protect will conduct discovery on the constitutional part of the lawsuit. Final papers will be prepared and submitted by 2014, Protect said.

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