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Disabled veterans sue for float plane access

In April 2009, after two years of debate between preservationist groups, seaplane operators, and officials from the DEC and APA, the two agencies agreed to ban float planes from the lake after 2011, claiming their use violated the SLMP.

Baker said Lows Lake is not among the 40 on his list, however, and the lawsuit makes no mention of Lows Lake.

DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said the agency would not comment on the pending litigation. APA spokesman Keith McKeever also declined comment.

New revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act that became effective July 23 may prove to be a major turning point in the case. The added regulations require state and local government programs to "make reasonable modifications in their policies" to allow access to individuals with disabilities through the use of "other power-driven mobility devices," including those powered by a fuel-driven engine, so long as such modifications do not violate "legitimate safety requirements" or pose a "substantial risk of serious harm" to natural or cultural resources in the immediate area.

The plaintiffs are being represented by attorney Matt Norfolk of the Lake Placid-based Briggs & Norfolk firm.

"We just want to be able to have our day in court to say, 'What are the impacts of float planes compared with what's already being allowed?'" he said.

Allowing people with disabilities the use of float planes to access the remote lakes and surrounding regions would not "fundamentally altar" the way wilderness lands are currently being utilized, Norfolk said, claiming state agencies allow the unnecessary use of helicopters and other motorized vehicles to transport supplies and researchers into some remote wilderness areas.

The complaint also claims that the re-utilization of float planes will have less of an impact than "the tens of thousands of hikers and campers that each year continue to devastate those lands already classified as Wilderness."

"The only thing that the preservationists and the Park Agency have complained about is the noise of a seaplane taking off," said Baker, noting the planes make very little noise when landing. "It's just 60 to 90 seconds of noise when the plane takes off, and then it's gone."

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