APril 18, 2024

The Honorable Kathy Hochul
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Letter to APA Re. USL Marin

Dear Mr. Burth,

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is very concerned about the size and scope of the proposed USL Marina on Lower Fish Creek Pond (APA Project No. 2022-0218) in the Town of Santa Clara. This project should not be characterized by the Agency as an expansion of a preexisting use as a marina. Hickok’s was not a marina, but a boat livery in disuse prior to its acquisition by the applicant. Hickok’s should be considered by the Agency as discontinued or abandoned.  Further, the former boat livery is of such small size in comparison with what is proposed that Project 2022-0218 cannot be rationally described as a mere expansion of preexisting use.  USL Marina should be reviewed by APA as a new commercial business in a shoreline classified Moderate Intensity Use.

In fact, this proposal is a radical departure from the size, scope, and complexity of the former Hickok’s boat livery. That radical departure includes a vast increase in the area of water and shoreland irrevocably disturbed and devoted to commercial use. If approved as proposed, the project will be on an order of magnitude not previously seen  on this system of interconnected lakes and ponds.  It has the potential for very significant adverse impacts upon enjoyment of the lake system by boaters and other users of the Saranac Lake Wild Forest. 

This project, taken together with the applicant’s Lower Saranac Lake Marina and  State of New York boat launch facilities at Fish Creek, Second Pond, and Upper Saranac Lake, as well as the 640 combined campsites at Fish Creek Pond and Rollins Pond State Campgrounds, has the potential for triggering significant impacts upon the ecology and recreational use of these tranquil, beautiful, and natural waters.

With the intensity of existing boating activity, this new commercial marina adds significantly to that intensity and should trigger studies to determine the impacts upon the carrying capacity of this interconnected system of lakes, ponds, and channels. The failure to date to produce such studies was considered by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court as “wholly unexplained and, indeed, inexplicable” (Matter of Thomas C. Jorling v. Adirondack Park Agency, 214 A.D.3d 98, 105 (3d Dept. 2023).

An adjudicatory hearing should be called on Project 2022-0218.  The USL Marina meets all of Agency Part 580 regulatory list of criteria for holding an adjudicatory public hearing, including:

  • Project size and complexity measured by cost, area, effect on localities or uniqueness of resources affected.
  • The contrast between existing and proposed conditions is extreme. Former Hickok’s boat livery docks are under 10 feet in width and extend 30-50 feet into Lower Fish Creek Pond. The proposal for USL Marina extends the length of docks between 160 and 200 feet into the Pond, with each dock being 50 feet in width inclusive of lateral projections, or a 4-5 time increase from what exists today. 
  • By way of contrast, The Lake George Park Commission, which has studied the issue of docks and their impacts for many years, limits their length to no greater than 100 feet from the highwater mark, and to no more than 40 feet in width inclusive of lateral projections. Lake George’s surface waters constitute approximately 28,000 acres. Lower Fish Creek Pond’s surface waters are approximately 80 acres in size.
  • The number and size of watercraft is also increased considerably from existing conditions, from existing 71 small sized boats to proposed 92 boats, inclusive of many 22-foot craft. The effects of this increased size of the marina’s docks and number, size, and behavior of its boats on Lower Fish Creek Pond and its channels is acknowledged in the several Notices of Incomplete Application by NYS DEC.  
  • Degree of public interest as evidenced by communication in Agency files.

There is a very high degree of public interest. 130 community members have already commented to the Town of Santa Clara Planning Board and to the APA concerning this proposal since 2022. This completed application will receive many more comments. Also, there has been extensive local and regional media coverage of the issues raised by this application.

  • The presence of significant issues.

There are many significant issues in the USL Marina application. According to Agency Notices of Incomplete Application, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) may be impacted by the proposed size, scope, and location of the docks.  SAV and other wetlands, as well as the wildlife habitats in those wetlands may also be directly and indirectly impacted by the increased boat traffic through the channels caused by this application. The applicant’s response to the APA’s wetland concerns lacks any study or analysis. The applicant simply denies there will be any impact from USL Marina to wetlands, stating that evidence for such a conclusion derives from their claim that there are no impacts to SAV at its LS Marina at Ampersand Bay, Lower Saranac Lake. The fact that LS Marina and APA have to date failed to study and evaluate potential impacts to SAV and Value 1 wetlands at Ampersand Bay’s marina does not mean that there are no impacts.

Also, the Fish Creek Pond channel is narrowed by over 100 feet by the proposal, affecting boating safety and shoreline conditions. Furthermore, the carrying capacity of this 80-acre waterbody to accommodate the increased size and scope of this marina has not been examined, including the additive effect of this marina to nearby, existing boat launches. A portion of this waterbody lies within the Saranac Lake Wild Forest. The 2019 SLWF Unit Management Plan endorsed by the Agency as compliant with the State Land Master Plan states such a carrying capacity study shall be done.  

  • The possibility that approval be conditioned only upon major modifications or substantial conditions, andthe possibility that information presented at a public hearing would be of assistance to the agency in its review;

NYS DEC’s second Notice of Incomplete Application, dated January 4, 2024, continues to ask for better documentation about baseline, pre-existing conditions and number of watercraft at the former Hickok’s boat livery, and continues to question the accuracy and completeness of applicant’s boat traffic study. In particular, DEC seeks more complete and accurate information concerning boat traffic impacts of the proposal within the Fish Creek Pond channel. This information is needed by the Agency in its review, and is among the many pieces of information that should be presented and analyzed through a hearing.

Boat Traffic Study: The November 2023 Boat Traffic Study response from the applicant left many issues unanswered or inadequately addressed. For these reasons, DEC issued a second Notice of Incompleteness in January of this year. 

In its Boat Traffic Study, the applicant may have significantly underestimated peak usage because it applied standard peak use factor averages (16% of berthed boats at any given time) instead of actual, documented boat use during peak times of the year such as July 4 and Labor Day.  Yet even the stated factor of 16% is contradicted by the applicant’s August 1, 2023, submission to the APA which stated that “Marina industry standard is that typical watercraft use does not exceed 25% of the docked watercraft at peak usage.” Which is the correct factor?

In assessing the average number of boats going through the channel at any given time, the applicant failed to account for the nature of many of those boats, meaning the increased length, overall size, and wake of the boats proposed to be berthed at the marina. The application’s 92 boat slips can accommodate, on average, 22-foot boats, with many accommodating up to 36-foot pontoon craft. The type, size, uses, and wakes of these new craft comprise a significant change from historic baseline conditions, and an additional impact on the lakes, on the channels, boat traffic and safety, and on waterbody environmental conditions which DEC and APA are obligated by their regulations to consider. 

DEC’s regulations for Use and Protection of Waters (6 NYCRR Part 608.7) also must consider the environmental impacts on aquatic, wetland, and terrestrial habitats; unique and significant habitats; rare, threatened and endangered species habitats; water quality, including such criteria as temperature, dissolved oxygen, suspended solids; hydrology, including such criteria as water velocity, depth, discharge volume, flooding potential; and water course and waterbody integrity, including such criteria as erosion, turbidity, and sedimentation; as well as natural resource management objectives and values.

Given the cited problems of inadequate and insufficient information from the applicant, a public hearing with sworn witness testimony is necessary to provide sufficient information to render a determination of no undue adverse impact.

Waterbody Carrying Capacity Study: The proposal’s location on a small waterbody, its close proximity to DEC’s Fish Creek and Rollins Pond Campgrounds, the number of proposed boat slips (92), the size, types and impacts of watercraft proposed, and the distance the slips, buoys, and lights would extend into the narrow channel  all pose substantial impacts on existing aquatic uses, aquatic resources, aesthetic resources, water quality, neighboring private and public landowners, and public safety.

The APA Act is intended to address the interconnectedness and mutual dependence between the private lands and the public Forest Preserve in the Adirondack Park. This interconnectedness requires that potential impacts from a major private land development on the Forest Preserve must be evaluated.  This can only be done through public hearing evidence, properly analyzed to render a determination of no undue adverse impact.

The SLMP directs that “[a] comprehensive study of Adirondack lakes and ponds should be conducted . . . to determine each water body’s capacity to withstand various uses, particularly motorized uses” (SLMP at 4). The Master Plan does not differentiate between waterbodies wholly surrounded by public land and those that partially include private lands on the shoreline. Lower Fish Creek Pond connects to Square, Follensby Clear, and Little Square ponds, and to Upper Saranac Lake, which connects to Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes and adjacent waterbodies. Together, this array of interconnected lakes and ponds comprise the “Saranac Lakes Complex.” The Saranac Lakes Complex includes both waterbodies surrounded by State-owned Forest Preserve lands and waterbodies with a combination of State-owned and privately owned shorelines. Regardless of the type of shoreline ownership, the waterbodies comprising the Saranac Lakes Complex are part of the SLWF that must be protected by the APA.

The Saranac Lake Wild Forest Unit Management Plan (SLWF UMP) explains that motorboats “have the potential to cause a greater variety and more significant impacts than non-motorized watercraft.” (page 75). To address these impacts, the SLWF UMP identifies the need for “a comprehensive [carrying capacity] study” of the waterbodies in the Saranac Lakes Complex (page 112). The SLWF UMP recognizes that the Saranac Lakes Complex in the vicinity of the project site is already experiencing substantial increases in boat traffic.  The proposal to add even more motorboats to an already heavily used system of lakes, ponds, and narrow connecting stream channels must be evaluated in the context of the carrying capacity of those waterbodies.

Adirondack Park Forest Preserve Carrying Capacity of Water Bodies Study, Phase 1, was

delivered to the DEC in 2011. For twelve years that report has been available to inform the DEC and the APA about how to proceed with this necessary and legally mandated study and evaluation. Through adjudication, the APA must call for the implementation of the waterbody carrying capacity methods and procedures set forth in the 2011 study.

For all these reasons, APA must call for an adjudicatory hearing that addresses the presence of many significant issues raised by such a large, complex, and new commercial business on a very small waterbody connecting by narrow, wetland channels to other lakes within the Saranac Lake Wild Forest Complex.

Thank you.

David Gibson, Managing Partner
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve
Cc: David Plante, APA
Barbara Rice, APA
Members and Designees, APA
Joe Zalewski, DEC
Erin Donhauser, DEC

Adirondack Wild
P.O. Box 9247
Niskayuna, NY 12309