APA: Sorry, no more float planes

RAY BROOK Airborne access to waterways in the Adirondacks was dealt a blow Friday as the Adirondack Park Agency voted to reject a state Deptartment of Environmental Conservation plan that would allow commercial float planes to provide service to Lows Lake. Spanning the border of Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties, Lows Lake is a popular, remote Adirondack fishing and canoeing destination. In a move contrary to the prevailing opinion of local and area officials, the APA commissioners voted 6-5 to scuttle the DEC plan. The APA agreed with environmentalists that the DEC was ignoring its 2003 management plan that stated it would phase out float plane access before 2008. The decision is another milestone in the ongoing struggle between those who prefer or need motorized access to remote Adirondack regions, and those who enjoy backwoods areas quiet, rustic and primitive. The controversy over motorized vehicles began with the APAs founding in the 1970s, and has continued ever since. Decades ago, there were seven float plane businesses in the Adirondack Park. At present only two exist, Helms Aero Service in Long Lake and Payne Seaplanes and Air Service in Inlet. Environmental organizations, including the Adirondack Mountain Club, forced the float plane issue via lawsuit, claiming that continued float plane access to Lows Lake is inconsistent with the state land Master Plan. However, business owners and local government leaders said they see the action as an attack on the economic viability of otherwise-isolated Adirondack communities, as well as an erosion of local citizens rights. Tom Helms, owner and pilot of Helms Aero Service on Long Lake, said Monday that flights into Lows Lake account for more than 40 percent of his business revenue. The decision is a serious hit for us, he said. With that kind of loss, it may just become impossible for a business to sustain itself. Adirondack Local Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe, who is also Town of Chester Supervisor, said such APA rulings seriously threaten the regions economy. Long Lakes identity is closely tied to float planes, Monroe said. It is one of the primary reasons people visit Long Lake. Monroe said that conservative estimates indicate that the float plane trips and its economic spinoff generates $250,000 in total revenue yearly, constituting a large percentage of Long Lakes economy. There is clearly a multiplier effect as the money that comes into the community circulates through it, Monroe said. $250,000 may not be a large amount for urban areas, but for Adirondack communities, which have already lost so much of their economies, its significant. In a statement released by APA Spokesman Keith McKeever, the agency contended that the DEC plan was inconsistent with the goals of the State Land Master Plan. The action to reject the DEC proposal, effectively outlawing float planes on Lows Lake, will work to protect a sensitive ecological area, McKeever said. Also, Fridays ruling is consistent with the state Master Plan, which is essentially determines the states land use policies, the APA officials said. The Master Plan states that non-conforming uses such as commercial float planes should be eliminated as soon as possible, McKeever said. It goes further stating that the preservation of the Lows Lake-Bog River-Oswegatchie wilderness canoe route without motorboat or airplane usage is the primary management goal for this Primitive Area. But Helms Aero Services Owner and Pilot Tom Helms disagreed Monday. The APA needs to realize that the Master Plan should take into consideration the needs of the citizen as well, he said. Helms said he is not surprised by the decision, stating that it simply represents a trend in denying access to Adirondack lands to those who live and work within the Park. Also he contented that Lows Lake is hardly pristine, thus rendering the APA decision absurd. The lake is man-made, surrounded by road access and is a temporary home to 300 boy scouts per week in season, he said. He said that APA might follow the land-use policies the federal authorities use in Alaska, where motorized vehicles have their role. I find it troubling that the vision of people who do not live within the park overrides everything else, he said. McKeever said that the APA invited the DEC to submit a proposal that would more consistently align with the Lows Lake primitive management plan. Monroe said he remains unconvinced. I think the statistics indicate that the state government should be trying to help Hamilton Countys business rather than hurting it, he said. Among those voting Friday to support float plane access were former Johnsburg Town Supervisor Bill Thomas, Frank Mezzano of Speculator, Leilani Ulrich of Old Forge and Arthur Lussi of Lake Placid.

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