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Disabled veterans sue for float plane access

LAKE PLACID - Six North Country veterans have filed a federal lawsuit in an effort to restore float plane access to remote Adirondack lakes.

Maynard Baker, Douglas Irish, Mark Schumaker, Ronald Dixon, Richard Kenny and Joseph Franklin, filed suit Aug. 23 in United States District Court alleging state policies restricting float planes from landing and taking off from dozens of Adirondack lakes amount to discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Baker, a former town supervisor of Warrensburg, said he has a list of 40 remote lakes, all of which were open to seaplanes prior to 1972, when the State Land Master Plan was implemented, banning the use of motorized vehicles, including seaplanes, on lands classified as Wilderness, Primitive, or Canoe.

"The DEC and Adirondack Park Agency have said, 'you able-bodied people can still walk in and enjoy those lakes,' but the only means the disabled had, they took that away from them," said Baker. "That's discrimination."

All six plaintiffs in the case "are classified as qualified disabled persons under the ADA," the suit says, and all have served in the military.

Baker said the suit was filed mainly with disabled veterans in mind, including those returning from recent service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Our veterans deserve a lot more than they're getting," Baker added. "There shouldn't be a square foot of the United States off limits to these special people, but they've done it."

The lawsuit names the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Adirondack Park Agency, APA Chairman Curt Stiles, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, and Governor David Paterson as defendants. It seeks an injunction against state regulation of aircraft operations within the Adirondack Park and the award of legal fees if the case is successful.

Controversy surrounding the use of float planes on Adirondack Lakes was evident in recent discussions within the DEC and APA regarding the Wilderness classification of Lows Lake, a man-made reservoir 10 miles southwest of Tupper Lake.

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