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Indian River tract part of Finch deal

February 2, 2013
By CHRIS KNIGHT ( , Lake Placid News

The Essex Chain of Lakes tract isn't the only former Finch, Pruyn and Co. parcel the state will acquire in the first phase of its $49.8 million deal with The Nature Conservancy.

The state is expected to close soon on the purchase of the roughly 1,000-acre Indian River tract, which will provide paddlers with access to a remote, 12-mile stretch of the Hudson River south of Newcomb.

"We are working hard with the state to get it closed in the next couple of weeks," Mike Carr, director of The Nature Conservancy's Adirondack Chapter, said in an email.

Article Photos

Photo by Chris Knight
Rob Davies of the state Department of Environmental Conservation takes a picture in August 2012 at the confluence of the Hudson and Indian rivers, which the state is close to acquiring from The Nature Conservancy.

In late December, the state bought the 18,294-acre Essex Chain of Lakes tract in the towns of Minerva and Newcomb. It paid $12.3 million using money from the state Environmental Protection Fund.

The Indian River tract will cost the state $638,383, according to a copy of the state's contract with TNC, which the Lake Placid News obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.

The contract documents spell out, much more clearly than previously reported, the order in which the state plans to acquire all 69,000 acres of former Finch lands. They also show that the Conservancy agreed to sell the land for much less money than its appraisers valued the property.


Indian River tract

Located just south of the Essex Chain in the towns of Indian Lake and Minerva, the Indian River tract is completely surrounded by state Forest Preserve lands. It includes the confluence of the Indian and Hudson rivers.

"It is critical public access to the Hudson - primarily as a takeout for the 12 mile stretch of flat water and low-level whitewater upriver toward Newcomb," Carr wrote.

Without the takeout, paddlers would have to brave the challenging rapids in the Hudson River Gorge downstream. Access to the takeout would be via what is now a gated dirt road off of Chain of Lakes Road, north of state Route 28 in Indian Lake.

It's unclear how soon the state could open up the Indian River tract, including the takeout, to public use. State Department of Environmental Conservation officials didn't respond to an Enterprise email on the pending acquisition.

The extent of public access to both the Essex Chain and the Indian River tracts hinges on the state's classification of the parcels. State Adirondack Park Agency Executive Director Terry Martino said earlier this month that she expects the process could be completed for both tracts by the end of the summer.



State officials have said the Essex Chain and Indian River tracts would be the first former Finch, Pruyn tracts to be acquired, but how the deal would play out beyond that has been up in the air, with the state saying it will depend on the amount of money in the EPF.

"We don't know what will be phase two, three or four," DEC Forest Preserve Coordinator Karen Richards told APA commissioners in September.

A month earlier, however, the department had drawn up a purchase schedule for the property. It's included as an addendum to the contract.

The second phase of the deal, at that time, was scheduled to close in 2013 for a total of $10.7 million. It would include 19 small parcels spread across several counties as well as large ones like the 2,800-acre OK Slip Falls tract, which is home to one of the state's largest waterfalls, the 3,800-acre Benson Road tract in Mayfield and the Saddles tract near Whitehall.

Phase three of the contract would close in 2014. It includes the 11,950-acre McIntyre Works tract near Newcomb for $8 million and the 1,400-acre Casey Brook tract in North Hudson for just over $1 million. The Nature Conservancy acquired the Casey Brook tract in December in a land swap with the owners of the Elk Lake Lodge and preserve.

The final phase of the deal features one of the biggest tracts, the 22,000-acre Boreas Ponds parcel, which borders the High Peaks and Dix Mountain wilderness areas. It wouldn't close until 2016. The documents say the state would skip a year in order for it to accumulate enough EPF funds to close on this last phase, the price tag of which is set at $14.4 million.

If funds become available sooner, the contract allows DEC to close on tracts sooner than the purchase schedule outlines.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed increasing the state's allocation to the EPF by $19 million, from $134 million to $153 million, in the Executive Budget he released Tuesday. He would raise the EPF portion for land protection, including purchases, from $17.5 million to $20 million.



The contract documents also show that the state's appraisal of the 69,158 acres pegged its value at $47.3 million, while TNC's appraisers put it at $53.7 million. The Nature Conservancy had appraised it at $62.2 million if it was sold over time in multiple transactions, as is now planned.

Nevertheless, the Conservancy agreed to make a concession and accept the state's price.

"The state made an offer that we felt was fair," Conservancy spokeswoman Connie Prickett wrote in an email. "We accepted it in the interest of moving the project forward and getting these lands open to the public as soon as possible."

In addition to the purchase price for the property, TNC also received $1.2 million to cover some of its expenses. That includes the cost of surveying and mapping work, GIS services, ecological assessments and title charges.


No profit

The state's purchase of these tracts is the final step in a complex land deal that began in June 2007, when the Conservancy bought 161,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn timberlands for $110 million. Then in 2009, it sold 92,000 of the acres to ATP Timberland Invest, a Danish pension fund, for $32.8 million, with conservation easements to prevent development. At the end of 2010, the nonprofit group sold the conservation rights on all but 3,000 acres of that property to the state for $30 million.

Prickett said the Conservancy had to raise $30 million to cover its costs and won't make any money on the deal.

"To the contrary; we have made a very significant financial contribution to the success of this project," she wrote. "The bulk of the Conservancy's substantial unreimbursed costs, such as interest on loans and payments of municipal taxes, are being covered through our successful capital campaign."



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