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Lawsuit looms over float plane access

WARRENSBURG - The debate over float plane access to Adirondack lakes has resurfaced after former Warrensburg town supervisor Maynard Baker announced he intends to sue state agencies for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Maynard Baker contends that both the Adirondack Park Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation are violating federal laws designed to protect disabled persons by assuring them access to parks and wilderness areas. Baker has retained the services of Lake Placid attorney Matthew Norfolk to prepare the suit.

Until recent years, there were about 40 lakes in the Adirondacks open to float planes, but now, individuals can only reach those areas by foot, canoe or bicycle, Baker said.

"The able-bodied can still walk in," he said. "The disabled and disabled American veterans, the only way they had access in there was by seaplane. They took that right away from our veterans and left it open for the able-bodied. That's discrimination, and that's my reason for suing."

No lawsuit has yet been filed as of yet, but Baker anticipates the action to occur this summer. The suit will claim DEC and APA have maintained policies that prohibit individuals with disabilities from accessing a variety of lakes in select wilderness areas of the Adirondack Park, Baker said.

Baker's attorney Matt Norfolk stressed that the lawsuit was not merely concerning Lows Lake, where the state recently approved a plan to phase out float plane use.

"It's about basic civil rights," he said. "You or I may be able to hike in and enjoy the beauty of these areas - not just Lows Lake - but those who are ability-impaired cannot."

Norfolk says allowing float planes doesn't have a substantial impact on the park's resources.

"We submit that these float planes will not materially alter the fundamental purpose behind the park," he said. "If you were to say, 'Oh well, everyone's got to be able to see the top of Mount Marcy, the next thing you know you've got a helipad in there' - that's changing the fundamentals of the park."

Baker said he has no financial stake in closure of Adirondack lakes to float planes, although he once owned three seaplanes, which he has since sold.

Baker is currently running again for town Supervisor.

DEC officials had no comment on the proposed lawsuit. As of Monday, a spokesman for the Adirondack Park Agency did not return a call for comment.

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