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South Colton man questions Blueway Corridor designation

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COLTON - South Colton property owner Walt Paul is questioning the legitimacy of the Raquette River Blueway Corridor Steering Committee and charging town officials have ignored the legal he has raised over the issue.

Colton Town Supervisor Dennis B. Bulger though says that Mr. Paul’s allegations were supposed to be dropped in 2012, after he told the town official sthat he would not pursue the matter any longer.

Earlier this week, Mr. Paul approached the town board with another round of accusations, stemming from his concern that despite a combination of documents, a website, funds being solicited to develop a Raquette River Blueway Corridor (RRBC) and more, the Raquette River is not an officially designated “Blueway Corridor.”

Mr. Paul, reading from a prepared written statement, shared his concerns with Colton Town Board members at their meeting this week.

He said the RRBC Steering Committee was formed by a group of volunteers as an evolution of a town of Colton initiative.

“I was with that group until September 2012 when I resigned, after observing what I believed were actions being taken by a group, with no statutory authority, that far exceeded the intent of the Raquette River Corridor Blueway Trail Plan,” Mr. Paul read.

“I have continued to monitor the actions of that group since I resigned and I have seen a website under the name of (RRBC) reference to the town of Colton Tourism committee’s great work on the recently designated (RRBC) in the Adirondack Council report. I have seen the (RRBC) posting on the LinkedIn website, many, many, headings on letters, notices, etc. and last but not least, the erection of a kiosk in the town with a picture of the Raquette River entitled ‘Raquette River Blueway Corridor’ and with 14 others to be built,” he told the town board.

“There is, however, one small problem... no let me rephrase that. There is a big problem. That problem is based on the results of a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request with the Department of State. The results of the FOIL read as follows: ‘The Raquette River is not an officially designated ‘Blueway Corridor’ as such designation, as referenced in your FOIL request, is not provided for in state law.’”

Mr. Paul reminded board members that he had shared his concerns with past Town Supervisor Larry Patzwald, twice with Mr. Bulger, and with nearly all of the board members.

Mr. Bulger did not respond to Mr. Paul’s statement at Wednesday night’s meeting.

“It’s an old issue with him. When I first took over as the town supervisor, he came to me with his concerns. At the conclusion of that meeting he said he wouldn’t pursue it any further,” Mr. Bulger said Friday. “A lot of this is being driven because it’s a Raquette River Blueway Corridor, which implies in his mind that it will limit motorized vehicle usage in the area. I don’t think it’s intended to be that way. That’s what in my mind is driving this thing.”

Tourism and Beautification Coordinator Ruth T. McWilliams agreed with Mr. Bulger, saying that she did not think the Blueway title takes away from motorized vehicle usage.

“I do believe a Blueway is defined as a small boat and paddling route. I don’t think it precludes people from using motorized boats or vehicles in the corridor,” she said. “I think Denny hit the nail on the head when saying that people are misconstruing what the River Corridor Blueway Trail Plan is.”

Mr. Bulger also pulled up an e-mail from Sept. 11, 2012, soon after he began his tenure as supervisor, where he claims that Mr. Paul said he planned to halt his pursuit of the topic.

“Walt said in the e-mail: ‘As we discussed, I do not intend to pursue the matter further.’ That’s when he was identifying his concern over the naming of the Blueway Corridor,” Mr. Bulger said.

Mr. Paul noted he had copied his resignation notice to Danny Labruzzo of the Department of State, outlining a number of his concerns.

“I FOILed the town of Colton to try to provide you with information that should have raised some red flags. Yet the RRBC Steering Committee was left unsupervised and unaccountable, falsely representing themselves as the RRBC at meetings, in social media and on the web, to the public, and last, but not least ,for the purposes of soliciting in-kind funds, donations and actual funds for the development of the RRBC that does not exist,” his statement read.

“Other information obtained from the FOIL that is very concerning is the fact that after three years the Inter-Municipal Coordinating Committee that was to be the cornerstone of the project and responsible for implementing the action items in the project was never formed,” he added.

“The example of that agreement implied that the partners were elected officials. One of the things we talked about was that there is a lot of land in the River Corridor that is not owned by municipalities or local governments per se,” Ms. McWilliams said.

Mr. Paul also recently sent documentation sharing his correspondence with the Department of State to Division of Coastal Resources Director George R. Stafford, as well as the Department of State attorney Kari Gathen. His statement also says that he is considering sending a letter to the state Attorney General’s Office, requesting an investigation into the matter.

“I do want to say that I am a supporter of the town of Colton, and I am a supporter for waterfront and community revitalization. However, I cannot allow a group with no legitimate authority to represent or position themselves in such a way that might impact my recreational preferences or property rights,” Mr. Paul concluded.

The town of Colton will be holding a special meeting at 10 a.m. Friday to discuss Mr. Paul’s concerns. Town Attorney Eric J. Gustafson and St. Lawrence County Trails Coordinator Deb Christy have been invited to attend the session.

“I don’t intend to take any action or make any decisions at that meeting. I will get the town attorney to give his input and then we will go from there. I’ve taken the input that he provided during the courtesy of the floor and am studying his notes and that will be it until we hear more about his concerns and get many of our questions answered,” Mr. Bulger said.

“This whole thing fails the ‘so what’ test. I don’t see any statues that have been violated.”

Raquette River Blueway Corridor Advisory Group Chairman Fred J. Hanss declined comment.

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