State moves toward settling Township 40 dispute

RAQUETTE LAKE – More than 200 property owners here will receive letters asking if they want to resolve title issues to their properties as part of the Township 40 settlement, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Monday.

The letters include a notarized statement form that must be returned to DEC within 90 days by any landowner who wants to be included in the settlement.

New York state voters approved a constitutional amendment last November that allows owners of the disputed properties to notify DEC whether they want their land parcel to be included in the Township 40 settlement. The state will release claims on properties whose owners opt into the settlement. Those owners will have to sign a notarized statement, included with the letter, and will then be required to make a payment to the town of Long Lake within one year.

In Raquette Lake, a hamlet located in the town of Long Lake, there are 216 properties with unclear titles to land totaling more than 1,000 acres. Ever since a series of possibly illegal tax sales in the 1870s and 1880s, these parcels have been doubly claimed by the state as well as by private entities that include homeowners, a fire department, a school district and a utility company.

“The passage of the Township 40 constitutional amendment was an important step to resolve land disputes dating back more than 100 years,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a press release Monday. “Property owners receiving this letter will have the chance to settle the land claims or they may choose not to be part of the settlement. We encourage people to review the letter, along with the additional information, so they can make an informed choice.”

Under the approved constitutional amendment and implementing legislation that took effect Jan. 1, owners of the disputed parcels can make a payment to the town of Long Lake to obtain clear title to their property. The payments will be used to purchase lands that will be added to the state Forest Preserve.

The letter explains the process, asks if the property owner wants to be part of the settlement, and includes forms to opt in or out of the settlement. If the form is not returned to DEC within 90 days of its receipt, the owner’s parcel will automatically be opted out of the settlement and referred to the state attorney general’s office. The settlement requires the attorney general to file legal action to determine who has title to opted-out properties.

A list of frequently asked questions about the settlement and settlement process is included with the letter. DEC has also set up an e-mailbox at township40@gw.dec.state.ny.us so people can submit Township 40-related questions, or they can contact DEC’s Rob Morrell at 518-402-9442.