NY’s Township 40 and the battle for property rights
posted at 8:01 am on November 5, 2013 by Jazz Shaw
I’ll be the first to admit that this story doesn’t apply to everyone… but it could. As you have no doubt been reminded numerous times, election day has arrived, and even though it’s an “off year” for the majority of us, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be getting out there casting your ballots for what you believe in. Many states don’t have a lot of big ticket races taking place, but local and state elections are going on, and that’s where so much of the real electoral power resides. (Particularly when it comes to setting electoral lines after the next census.) Here in New York we don’t have any high profile races outside of New York City (and honestly… who cares?) but like many other states, we have some important ballot initiatives up for consideration.
Particularly if you’re in the Empire State and heading out to vote today (but also for others who could someday find themselves in this position), I’d like to call your attention to one measure up for a decision. It’s called Proposition 4 and it involves a patch of land in Upstate which you’ve probably never heard of and may never hear of again. Hidden well up in the Adirondack Mountains, this patch of real estate is so renowned that it’s known only by the name, “Township 40.” Many years ago, the state decided to take this particular section of lake and mountains and declare it wild and vacant state land. Many states do this to preserve uninhabited wilderness areas for future generations, but in the case of Township 40 there was one problem… the land was occupied, and had been since the 1800’s.
Generations of families have been fighting for the right to their own property in the Adirondacks for over 100 years.
“The state entered the whole Township 40 as wild and vacant state land even though there’s people living there, even though there’s people paying their taxes,” said Ken Hawks, who owns property on the north shore of Raquette Lake in Township 40.
His family has been paying taxes on the property since 1949 and the title chain goes back to the 1800’s. But, as long as Township 40 is part of the forest preserve, 216 properties will have conflicting claims.
“There’s always this threat of the state coming in and saying ‘ejectment, you’re out,'” said Hawks.
Township 40 can be removed from the preserve through individual court cases or a constitutional amendment. That’s where Proposition 4 comes in. If it passes, “It becomes my property. It becomes my land free and clear and that’s what this is about. There’s this cloud that’s over people’s heads,” said Hawks.
Full disclosure: As long time readers of Hot Air know, particularly those who read my completely pointless fishing updates every summer, I have a dog in this fight. I have family and friends in this area and it’s where we go camping every year. But the people who live there have had a generations long battle going with the state over their right to retain their historical rights. The state, frequently abetted by environmental groups, has been trying to variously inconvenience or outright eject these families from their land, deny them electrical and phone service, and otherwise make matters miserable on and off longer than the living memory of most. And yet that same state has happily collected untold millions of dollars of taxes at the same time. This irony is not lost on the residents.
By getting this initiative passed, they can finally have clear title. (And even then it’s coming at a price no other homeowner would face in “normal” residential areas. Read the article for full details.) This is nothing short of a clear, real life example of the state vs the private land owner, where the state has traditionally held all the cards. This is a chance to recognize the rights of these taxpayers and set a very old wrong to rights. So even if you weren’t aware of this before, if you are voting in New York today, please consider tossing a vote in favor of Prop 4.