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Chuck Clusen’s Blog

Vote Yes on Proposition 4 in New York

Chuck Clusen

Posted October 24, 2013 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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On the ballots of voters across New York State this November, in addition to whatever local contests there are in your community, will be several proposed amendments to the New York State constitution.  Many voters often overlook such proposals, which usually appear at the bottom of the ballot.  But several of this year’s constitutional amendments could have significant impacts on the state’s environmental quality and its natural resources. 

Propositions 4 and 5 deal specifically with the state’s Adirondack Park – which along with Yellowstone National Park are America’s first protected wilderness areas. In this blog and in a companion blog, I discuss why NRDC is supporting Proposition 4 and opposing Proposition 5.

Proposition 4, known as the Township 40 amendment, would allow the Legislature to settle a century-old title dispute involving over 200 parcels totaling slightly over 1,000 acres on the shoreline of Raquette Lake in Township 40 of Totten and Crossfield’s Purchase, Town of Long Lake, Hamilton County.

This situation has bedeviled attorneys for generations and court decisions have gone both in favor of the state and in favor of private landowners. Proposition 4 clears up this mess and provides clear title to the landowners in question while providing a monetary fund to buy replacement Forest Preserve lands at another location. 

All the environmental groups have lined up to support this amendment.

The State acquired title to many parcels in the “Forever Wild” Forest Preserve in the 19th century as a result of tax deeds conveying escheated lands. A number of private parties did as well, and in some cases there exists a “double chain of title.” Since the State has no authority to stipulate to compromise an action involving title to lands in the Forest Preserve, it has in the past sought to litigate to establish its claimed superior title, at times winning, and at other times losing.

Under the Proposition 4 agreement, in brief, the persons who claim ownership of disputed parcels are to be afforded an opportunity to opt in to a settlement by which they are to pay the Town of Long Lake (a) $2,000 plus (b) the total assessed value of the parcel, less the assessed value of any portion of it provided to the Town in fee simple as a gift, divided by the total assessed value of all disputed parcels multiplied by $200,000. This formula provides for a total payment far less than equal value.

The Town is to use the payments to acquire land purchased without the use of state-appropriated funds, and suitable for incorporation in the Forest Preserve within the Adirondack Park, which shall be conveyed to the state on the condition that the Legislature shall determine if the property to be conveyed to the state provides a net benefit to the Forest Preserve as compared to the Township 40 lands subject to such settlement.

Those who occupy the disputed parcels may also convey, by gift, a conservation easement restricting development over all or part of such a parcel to the Town. The State is given a “secondary right of enforcement” as to such easements. Once the acquisition by the State is complete, the state will be prohibited from suing to prove title to the lands of those who opted in. Lastly, the Attorney General is required to sue to determine title to any disputed lands outside the settlement.

Vote Yes on Proposition 4.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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