Budget crisis threatens fire towers

ALBANY - The state budget crisis could pose a threat to the fire towers atop Hurricane and St. Regis mountains, even as the Adirondack Park Agency considers ways to allow the historic structures to remain standing.

The APA Board of Commissioners' State Land Committee decided unanimously May 13 to move forward with public hearings regarding potential classification alternatives that could allow the towers to stay.

But even if APA finds a solution to the problem in the coming months,the fire towers' continued existence is anything but a sure bet - because the towers are the property of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, according to DEC Region 5 Chief Forester Tom Martin.

"The department has the care, custody and control of the Forest Preserve and the facilities on it," he said. "At one time there were 52 towers in the park and for management reasons the department removed a bunch of them. "

He said that despite the fact towers are allowed in certain classifications, DEC removed them anyway.

Assuming the figures from Gov. David Paterson's executive budget remain unchanged, DEC is poised to lose over 30 percent of its funding, compared to the 2009-10 budget.

Over the last two years, the DEC's budget allocation for supplies and contracting has plummeted 70 percent.

Both the Hurricane and St. Regis towers are in relative disrepair, and state officials estimate a single restoration could cost $50,000. Continued maintenance costs would also be a likely expense.

And Martin said cost is surely an issue.

"The biggest concern today are the budget issues and the long-term implications of the costs of these things," he said. "We would certainly look to private groups and local governments to assist us with tower restoration as they have with towers throughout the park."

Various expenses associated with maintenance and repair are substantial, he said, noting that helicopters, employed to transport labor and supplies to the sites, cost $1,500 per hour to operate.

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