Jim McCulley - Did the NYS DEC Have the Right to Prohibit Motorized Vehicles from an Adirondack Road?

"Courts: Snowmobiler Wins Access, But DEC says, 'No Way", Lake Placid, NY - March 2011

10 year battle with New York State and DEC over access to Old Mountain Road.

This series of videos tells the compelling story of the struggles of Lake Placid resident and snowmobile access advocate Jim McCulley to continue public access by snowmobile on Old Mountain Road in the Adirondacks.

His story has an interesting historical background.

In 1810, the U.S. was beginning to consider war with Great Britain. The Royal Navy was conscripting unarmed American merchant sailors. Great Britain had formed alliances with American Indians and armed them to resist American expansion into the Northwest Territories. President James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution, author of the Bill of Rights and a party to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison which established the power of judicial review (“It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is”) began to see war as inevitable. In 1812 he urged Congress to declare war on Great Britain. The War of 1812 began.

Also, in 1810 the New York state legislature saw the need for a road through the Adirondack Mountains linking northwest bay on Lake Champlain to the Town of Hopkinton in the St. Lawrence River valley near the Northern border with British controlled Canada. The New York legislature enacted a statute on April 5, 1810 which directed the towns of Keene and North Elba to construct a portion of that road in their towns and to maintain it. The towns complied and constructed that road which is now known as the Old Mountain Road.

John Brown’s body was brought across the Old Mountain Road in 1859 for burial at his home in North Elba near Lake Placid after his failed raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in an attempt to free slaves which led to the secession of Southern states and the Civil War.

Beginning in 1868, New York State began to acquire large tracts of land in the Adirondacks. In 1885 the legislature enacted a statute which created the Forest Preserve. In 1894 it adopted the “Forever Wild” clause of the New York Constitution.

By 2000, the state had acquired lands on both sides of the Old Mountain Road in the Towns of Keene and North Elba for the forever wild forest preserve. The Adirondack Park Agency (APA), created in the early 1970s, classified those lands as Wilderness. Motorized access is prohibited in Wilderness areas.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) placed signs at the beginning of a portion of Old Mountain Road prohibiting motorized access, without municipal approval, or any due process under the New York State Highway Law.

Jim McCulley, believing the road was not legally closed under New York Highway Law, drove his snowmobile on the road and requested and received a ticket. He was convicted in the Town Court of the Town of Keene after a trial in which he represented himself.

Former Essex County Judge Andrew Halloran reversed McCulley’s conviction in town court on appeal. Judge Halloran ruled that DEC had not proved that the road had been legally closed by DEC. DEC indicated that it would not recognize that court decision.

McCulley responded by driving his pickup truck on the road, requesting and again receiving a ticket. DEC prosecuted him in its own administrative proceedings, to avoid further court review. McCulley filed a federal court action which resulted in the case being returned to a DEC administrative law judge who ruled in McCulley’s favor. Former DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis issued a ruling concurring with the administrative law judge. DEC paid McCulley’s legal fees in the amount of $58,000 in 2009.

Now, DEC staff, the APA and the environmental advocacy group, the Adirondack Council, all seek to re-visit the Grannis ruling in a proceeding for “clarification”, without seeking to reinstate the prosecution of McCulley and without the involvement of the towns of Keene and North Elba, which are responsible for the maintenance of the road by the 1810 law which has not been repealed, and without regard to legal principles established initially by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, in a case involving George Washington, which require the involvement of adverse parties with a stake in the outcome and a true “case or controversy,” and which disfavor requests for advisory opinions by advocates for only one side of an issue.

The McCulley story is told in the series of videos described below at the links above.

Chapter 1 – Introduction and Background

  • Lake Placid Attorney Matt Norfolk and client Jim McCulley.
  • DEC posts Old Mountain Road, illegally placing signs: “No Motorized Access”
  • DEC erroneously relies on State Land Master Plan (SLMP) as Law.
  • Snowmobiling in the Adirondacks is Big Business.
  • When the State acquires land in the Adirondacks, businesses are lost.

Chapter 2 – “Class Dispute”

  • Classes of users – Motorized (snowmobiles) v. Non-Motorized (Adirondack Ski Touring Council.)
  • How DEC aided Ski Touring Council and excluded motorized users.

Class warfare:

  • Adirondack Council seeks to intervene after McCulley wins …. “We’re doing it for our members.”
  • There’s so much for all to share.

Chapter 3 – “Collusion”

  • Evidence of Pressure on DEC by Environmental Groups.
  • Communications from top level DEC officials to Environmental Groups asking them to challenge DEC Commissioner’s decision favorable to McCulley.
  • What is going on at DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests??

Chapter 4 – “The ends justify the means”

  • How can an Agency seek clarification of its own order?  Why?
  • $58,000 in legal fees awarded by New York State to McCulley.
  • On the last day of the Paterson administration, DEC Commissioner allows Adirondack Council and APA to intervene to clarify the DEC Commissioner’s decision two years earlier.

Chapter 5 – “You’ve got to Follow the Law”

  • Why does DEC post roads without following proper procedures?
  • Because the Townspeople would not allow it, if they knew.

Chapter 6 – Why was Jim McCulley entitled to Legal Fees?

  • Civil Rights Act Section 1983.

Chapter 7 – What is this all About?

  • Concerns about radical environmentalists within DEC.
  • Personal agendas dictating government policy.
  • Overreaching – David vs. Goliath.
  • “They do it because they can get away with it.”

Chapter 8 – Conclusion