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Stone Valley Rec Area members listen to suggestions Monday night

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COLTON - Critics say if all-terrain vehicle users are still going to be banned from the Stone Valley Cooperative Recreation Area (SVCRA) management than accomodations shouldn’t be made for mountain bikers.

Owners and managers of the Stone Valley Cooperative Recreation Area are updating a twenty-four year old management plan for the Recreation Area.

A draft plan dated December 2013 is available on the Adirondack Mountain Club / Laurentian Chapter website (http://adklaurentian.org/). The plan outlines management goals and objectives. Appendices include a number of associated maps and project descriptions.

Users and other interested people attended a Monday night session at the Colton Town Hall to learn more about the revised management plan. Members of various St. Lawrence County based recreation groups shared their views on the plan.

The Stone Valley Cooperative Recreation Area was dedicated by representatives of the Adirondack Mountain Club / Laurentian Chapter, Niagara Mohawk and the Colton Historical Society along with the St. Lawrence County forester, the Colton town supervisor and fellow council members in 1989. Lewis Weeks of the Adirondack Mountain Club is credited with having the vision for the Recreation Area and bringing interested groups together to make it a reality.

Now representatives of Brookfield Renewable Energy, St. Lawrence County, the Adirondack Mountain Club / Laurentian Chapter, St. Lawrence County Mountain Bike Association, American Whitewater, and the towns of Colton, Parishville and Pierrepont are working together to update the management plan.

“We are going to take the comments that we hear today, meet again once more and put the current agreement together and then send it out to the various partners for essentially the sign off on it, which we haven’t done yet. We won’t call it final because it’s never final,” Adirondack Mountain Club Representative John Omohundro said.

Reviewers are invited to provide comments and suggestions for the agreement through Friday and are directed to contact Mr. Omohundro via e-mail at omohunjt@northnet.org.

St. Lawrence County Trails Coordinator Deb Christy questioned the draft’s proposal to allow bicyclists to use the area, saying that if that is the case ATV users should be permitted as well.

“I just know in the original plan, biking wasn’t part of the original plan, but it seems to have been added. So if that can be added, why can’t other things be added? (That) was my wonder as trail coordinator,” Ms. Christy said.

“I can’t comment on that now because that came over from the Raquette River Advisory Council. The current land use policy of Brookfield does not mention bikes one way or another, either permitted or disallowed. I understand that that document is being revised in the near future, and we have asked them to specify bicycles as permissible, so we shall see. If it’s not, then there will be no bike trail,” Mr. Omohundro responded.

Ms. Christy added that ATV users utilized the access road until 2006 before it was disallowed and asked Brookfield Renewable Power Compliance Specialist Daniel Daoust about that decision.

“The biggest changes, and I don’t have a tremendous amount of history with the company, FERC has changed their rules with what they expect from us as far as public safety and access and critical infrastructure. We also have the flexibility to pull out public access in areas or not in areas where we deem it to either be sensitive or too close to infrastructure,” Mr. Daoust answered.

“Part of the issue is it’s too close to the penstock. It becomes a security issue. It becomes a health and safety issue. Those are the biggest things. That’s our primary road, up and down through there, so there could be vehicle conflicts having to maintain that road above and beyond what we already do. There could also be speed limit conflicts.”

Art Wilson agreed with Ms. Christy’s sentiment that ATV usage should be allowed. “My feelings are if it’s unsafe for snowmobiles and ATVs then it ought to be unsafe for mountain bikers,” Mr. Wilson said. “I’ve seen them glide, going speeds that are unbelievable, and I think if it’s unsafe for snowmobiles and ATVs then it should be unsafe for everybody,” he said.

Mr. Omohundro stated that he believed bicyclists would not be able to bike on the specified route, but rather on a built in trail in the woods between the water and penstock.

Because the partners for SVCRA only started working on the current draft of the agreement in 2013, long after Brookfield’s regulations were set, the renewable power agency has no obligation to listen the SVCRA, according to Mr. Omohundro.

New York State Conservation Council Specialist Walt Paul read from a written statement, notifying the partners of some of his concerns.

“If Brookfield is considered a partner and they are asked to sign this prior to it being reviewed by the RRAC (Raquette River Advisory Council,) that would be a violation of the settlement agreement. In my view, what should happen here is the public comment and hearing are complete, the plan is revised, the plan is reviewed by the RRAC, the RRAC makes its recommendations to Brookfield, and then Brookfield moves things forward as they see fit. But the RRAC is the governing body in this issue, in terms of recommendations and recommendations to Brookfield,” Mr. Paul said.

“... Furthermore, the New York State Conservation Council believes the collective improvements that Brookfield lands in the area are significant enough to warrant a GEIS. We’ve had that conversation a couple of times and as the build up continues here, at what point is an environmental impact study necessary? Sometimes lands get loved to death.”

Mr. Paul added that despite his different concerns he is very supportive of the SVCRA and believes it is a “great asset for people.”

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