Is DEC afraid of the public?

To the editor:

I attended the rail-trail public meeting at the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 5 headquarters in Ray Brook on Tuesday, Sept. 10, and was very disappointed with how the DEC conducted what was billed as a public meeting.

Apart from selecting a most inappropriate time for this public meeting, the middle of a workday, the DEC hopelessly miscalculated how many people would show up, even though the issue of revising the unit management plan has become a heated matter. More than 70 people tried to cram into a room with a 50-person occupancy. More disturbing to me was the format for the meeting that the DEC selected. Rather than being a truly public meeting with an open microphone allowing members of the public to express their positions, the “informational stations” where the public were to present their “comments and ideas” to indulgent DEC staff members gave the proceedings more of private, confessional nature than that of a truly open public forum.

Was the DEC concerned that, given how controversial the future of the Remsen rail corridor has become, the people of the Adirondacks would not be able to conduct themselves in an adult fashion at a truly public meeting? Such events can result in much repetitiousness and drag on if they are not well moderated. On the other hand, they do provide an invaluable measure of public feeling and give those with less knowledge the opportunity to gain insights from listening to different opinions. Unfortunately, nothing like this happened in Ray Brook.

This was the second unsatisfactory DEC public meeting I have attended. Last summer I attended the public meeting of the Saranac River Second Pond boat launch upgrade plan, also held in Ray Brook. Much of the meeting was taken up with an interminable presentation on the need to redefine the status of the land on which this upgrade will take place. The significant number of fishermen in attendance meant that the hot-button issue of parking had to be discussed, but then, to my amazement, there was to be no discussion of what the new boat launch would actually be like. I had heard that it was to be a floating dock and wanted to make sure that the mistakes that the DEC had made in the construction of the recently constructed canoe and kayak access area at the Crusher on the Raquette River were not repeated. I basically got no response to my questions but have subsequently learned from Nick McKay of the DEC that there will be no floating dock for canoes and kayaks, only a beach, which will be a step backward from what already exists.

With this experience in mind, it is hard to be optimistic about what will happen to the “comments and ideas” that were laboriously scribbled down on butcher paper at the meeting last Tuesday. Inevitably, the devil is always in the details. A boat launch is a fairly straightforward affair. The future of the Remsen rail corridor is significantly filled with many more devilish details. Unfortunately, the rail/trail Ray Brook meeting was a missed opportunity to begin the process of exorcising some of those devils.

Roger Gocking

Saranac Lake