LAKE PLACID — Tree-cutting to make way for new amenities at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex included work in the state Forest Preserve, with special permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The state constitution says the Forest Preserve must be forever wild and that timber may not be sold, removed or destroyed, but a court interpretation from 1930 allows state agencies some exceptions.
The state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which is overseeing an estimated $60 million upgrade to the venues for Nordic skiing, biathlon, bobsled, skeleton and luge at Mount Van Hoevenberg, received authorization to cut trees in the Forest Preserve earlier this year with approval from a regional forester and the director of the DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests.
In 2018, a management plan amendment for the area stated that no tree cutting would be necessary on Forest Preserve lands.
But ORDA later told DEC it needed to cut 3,528 trees to make space for an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant drop-off lane to serve its new base lodge, according to documents obtained by the Enterprise.
Environmental advocacy groups opposed the cutting, and ORDA pared the number down to 1,500 trees.
The authority completed all its tree-cutting on the Forest Preserve before July 3, according to the DEC. That is when a state appellate court issued a decision in a separate case on a snowmobile trail, ruling that cutting trees in the Forest Preserve, regardless of their size, is not constitutional.
After the cutting was pared down, two environmental groups — Protect the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Council — agreed not to sue the state as long as the DEC and ORDA would help to prepare, and support, a constitutional amendment that would apply to Mount Van Hoevenberg.
The amendment would authorize certain activities at Mount Van Hoevenberg, similar to those already allowed at Gore and Whiteface downhill ski areas, according to Peter Bauer, head of Protect the Adirondacks.
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“There have been long-standing violations of Article 14 (at Mount Van Hoevenberg) that go back to the 1980 Olympics,” he said.
“Those violations need to be cleaned up in a constitutional amendment that authorizes activities on Forest Preserve so ORDA can manage a competitive sports complex,” Bauer said.
ORDA has not yet confirmed whether any of the trees have been chipped, but huge piles of chips have been seen on the site, at one point alongside logs that are no longer there. Bauer said the authority told him that all of the trees were chipped in place, ground up and spread along the trails.
By chipping the trees in place, they aren’t being removed or sold, which would be outlawed in the state constitution. But “one could argue,” Bauer said, that chipping the timber is destroying it.
Janeway said, in the past, courts have interpreted minor cutting for trails or bridges to be consistent with managing Forest Preserve land.
The new base lodge at Mount Van Hoevenberg will include lounges, a cafe and gift shop; space for the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation; and amenities for hikers, recreational skiers and competitive athletes.
The tree-cutting will open space for a streamlined access point, according to ORDA Communications Director Jon Lundin.
“It makes for easier access to the base lodge for a formal drop-off area, meeting ADA compliance, and it also gives easier access to the Nordic center’s trail system for the recreational guest,” Lundin wrote in an email. “Finally, it allows better access for maintenance to the bobsled track.”
Construction is projected to last roughly 26 months. The base lodge is expected to open in the winter of 2021, and the other work is scheduled for completion in 2021 or 2022.