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June 10, 2008

Action Alert - Low's Lake Floatplanes

DEC Plan Would Allow Floatplanes on Lows Lake for 10 More Years

Despite a 2003 promise to phase out floatplanes on Lows Lake over five years, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has released a plan to allow commercial floatplanes to use the lake for up to 10 more years!

ADK is urging paddlers and others interested in protecting wilderness to write to DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency and urge them to abandon this illegal and unconstitutional policy.

Lows Lake, in the western Adirondacks, is part of the Bog River complex, one of the premier wilderness canoe routes in the Adirondack Park. About 85 percent of the lake's shoreline is in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area.

According to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, which is part of the state Executive Law, "preservation of the wild character of this canoe route without motorboat or airplane usage is the primary management goal for this primitive area." ADK urged DEC to prohibit floatplanes on the lake immediately upon approval of the Unit Management Plan (UMP) for the area. The final UMP issued in January 2003 stated that floatplane use would be phased out over five years, but DEC never acted to establish regulations for the phaseout. Now, instead of abiding by its earlier decision, DEC has proposed a permit system that would allow floatplanes on Lows Lake for up to 10 additional years.

DEC's proposed permit system would limit flights into the lake and allow DEC to designate specific areas for take offs and landings, but the plan creates a number of problems. For one thing, floatplane operators would be allowed to store canoes for use by their clients on Forest Preserve land designated as wilderness, an inappropriate and unconstitutional commercial use of public land. Floatplanes would also have to beach on the wilderness shore to drop off and pick up clients at the canoe storage sites.

During the peak paddling season, July through September, floatplanes would be prohibited from landing on and taking off from Lows Lake on Fridays and Saturdays and on Sundays before 2 p.m. This would increase pressure on the area because visitors coming in by floatplane would have to camp for at least three nights on weekends during the busy season. Floatplane customers would also be coming in on Thursday, allowing them to quickly fill up camping sites before weekend paddlers have a chance to get there.

DEC attempts to justify the proposal by manipulating the results of a survey of paddlers who visited Lows Lake in 2007. Generally, the survey results do not support continued use of floatplanes on Lows Lake. For example, 68 percent of the paddlers surveyed said they believe it is inappropriate for floatplanes to use the lake and 85 percent said floatplanes diminished their wilderness experience. These figures are consistent with the hundreds of letters the state received in 2002 supporting the floatplane ban.

 At 3,122 acres, Lows Lake, which straddles the St. Lawrence-Hamilton county line, is one of the larger lakes in the Adirondack Park. Floatplanes were rare on Lows Lake until recently. Sometime before 1990, non-native bass were illegally introduced into the lake, and as public awareness of the bass fishery grew, floatplanes and motorboat use increased. Motorboats, except those for personal use by the few private landowners on the lake, are now prohibited on Lows Lake.

A recent analysis by the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks shows that only 10 of the 100 largest lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks are "motorless," and three of these are in remote areas that are not easily accessible. The vast majority of lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks are overrun with floatplanes, motorboats and personal watercraft.

ADK has joined the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the Sierra Club and the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks in filing a lawsuit to compel DEC to ban floatplanes on Lows Lake. (Read more about the lawsuit at www.adk.org.)

But public pressure could convince DEC to rethink its position. Also, supporters of floatplane operation are well organized and are conducting their own letter writing campaign. The voice for wilderness needs to be heard!

DEC is accepting public comments on the proposed permit system until June 30. A copy of the proposal is available online at www.dec.ny.gov/lands/22579.html. Comments should be addressed to

 Peter Frank
NYS DEC
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233

Copies of your letters should also be sent to the Adirondack Park Agency, which will make the final decision on this issue. (Please e-mail us a copy at adkadvocacy@nycap.rr.com.)

 Adirondack Park Agency
P.O. Box 99
1133 Route 86
Ray Brook, NY 12977

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