New York AG: Scare Tactics to Keep Paddlers Out of State Waters Illegal

ALBANY, New York, February 24, 2011 (ENS) – The State of New York today filed papers in Hamilton County Supreme Court to join in a lawsuit in order to defend the public’s right to travel on navigable waters in the Adirondack Park.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the State is seeking an order requiring the Hamilton County property owners, known as the Friends of Thayer Lake, LLC and the Brandreth Park Association to remove the intimidating signs, cameras and steel cables that they have placed across the Adirondack waterways that flow between Lilypad Pond and Shingle Shanty Brook in an effort to prevent kayakers, canoeists, and other boaters from traveling through their property.

“The public has a right to travel and enjoy this beautiful waterway without being stopped or harassed,” said Attorney General Schneiderman.

He said that under the law, a navigable waterway may be used as a public highway for travel, regardless of whether it flows over publicly or privately owned land.

“My office will work closely with the Department of Environmental Conservation, DEC, to ensure that the public can once again enjoy this waterway – which connects two state-owned wilderness areas in the Adirondack Park,” Schneiderman said.

In his filing with the court, the attorney general states that the DEC has concluded that the waterway is navigable-in-fact and that the attempts by the Friends of Thayer Lake to deny public travel along this state waterway are illegal and constitute a public nuisance.

Paddler Phil Brown on Shingle Shanty Brook (Photo by Susan Bibeau courtesy Adirondack Explorer)

The lawsuit in which Schneiderman has moved to intervene, Friends of Thayer Lake, LLC v. Brown, was brought in Hamilton County Supreme Court after Phil Brown paddled the route between Little Tupper Lake and Lake Lila, both located in the state-owned William C. Whitney Wilderness Area, in May 2009.

Brown, the editor of “Adirondack Explorer,” traveled along lakes, streams and ponds on state land as well as across a corner of the property owned by the Friends of Thayer Lake and in which Brandreth Park Association has an interest.

Brown says he wrote about his trip in the magazine to draw attention to the long-running dispute over the public’s right to paddle through private land in the Adirondacks and elsewhere in the state.

In November 2010, the Friends of Thayer Lake filed a complaint against Brown for trespassing in state Supreme Court. Earlier this month, the Friends of Thayer Lake requested that the court make a determination on their assertion that they own the sole recreational rights to the waters that traverse their property.

The case was referred to the attorney general by the DEC, and staff from both offices worked together to file the motion to intervene and counterclaim on behalf of the people of the State.

Environmental groups applauded the attorney general’s legal action in this case.

“For too long, paddlers have been hindered by unlawful navigation rules along Shingle Shanty Brook, compromising both the enjoyment and safety of one of the Adirondack’s most appealing wilderness destinations,” said Charles Morrison, project director for the Adirondack Committee of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

“New York’s lakes, rivers and streams are integral parts of our natural heritage. To the greatest extent possible, they should be open and accessible to everyone,” said Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

“We applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for intervening in this important case, and we look forward to having legal clarification that affirms the public’s right to travel – without blockage or harassment – on navigable waters that are held in the public trust throughout the state,” she said.

The New York Attorney General’s Office has a long history of defending the public’s right to navigate in state waters.

In 1991, then Attorney General Robert Abrams intervened to defend the public right of navigation in the case The Adirondack League Club Inc. v. Sierra Club. Three successive attorneys general oversaw that case to its conclusion in 1998 when the Court of Appeals issued its landmark ruling that recreational use of a waterway, and not just prior commercial use, could be considered in determining whether a waterway is navigable and thus open to public travel.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.