Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Showdown over Snake Mountain: How a New Local Government Was Formed to Resolve a Land-Use Dispute

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Showdown over Snake Mountain: How a New Local Government Was Formed to Resolve a Land-Use Dispute

Article excerpt


"Local land-use control," while something of a political shibboleth, is an issue that nonetheless remains in the forefront of New York State politics. Recently, residents of the Rensselaer County Town of Nassau fought bitterly with a large corporation, with one another, and with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) over a local land-use issue. (1) The "bone of contention" was whether a Connecticut corporation would be permitted to open a hard-rock quarry in the Town of Nassau despite the objections of a majority of Nassau residents who would be adversely affected by the environmental effects of the mine. (2) In addition to the dispute over the mine itself, these citizens faced another issue that came to equally define their struggle: whether to form a new local government--the Village of East Nassau--when the citizens perceived that their existing local government--the Town of Nassau--no longer seemed willing to address their concerns.

The case in question is In re Lane Construction Co. (3) Beneath this innocuous-seeming title lies a story some might view as a "David and Goliath" tale of local citizens successfully resisting what they believed would be an unacceptable change in the essential character of their community. Others, however, will interpret the story differently--as evidence to support the view that New York's industrial peak lies in the past rather than the future. This Note will explore both sides of the Snake Mountain Mine dispute, and will focus in particular on the events surrounding the incorporation of the Village of East Nassau in Rensselaer County, New York.

Regardless of one's viewpoint, the Lane case is remarkable for several reasons. For one, that because of the Lane mine issue, local citizens in Upstate New York made the decision for the first time in over thirty years to create more rather than less local government gives the story a degree of historical significance. (4) Second, the Lane decision is noteworthy simply because the corporation's mining permit ultimately was rejected; (5) this happens so infrequently as to be remarkable in-and-of-itself. (6) Third, the fact that the mining permit was rejected due to concerns as arguably ephemeral as the visual impact of the mine on the "character of the community"--especially in light of the fact that the NYSDEC had no standards for visual impacts at the time of the Lane decision (7)--distinguishes this story from similar ones with dissimilar endings. Indeed, many notable commentators have ranked the Lane decision among the most significant SEQRA decisions of recent years. (8) In the final analysis, though, the Lane story is almost undeniably a tale of the underdog victorious; it is this that makes the story seem to the author worth telling, and, hopefully, to the reader, worth reading.

Part II will discuss the background of the dispute over the Lane Corporation's Snake Mountain mining permit application and will present an overview of the adjudicatory hearings and decisions associated with this application. (9) Part III will explore the founding of the Village of East Nassau, and will discuss the ways that its founders used village incorporation as a political tool in their opposition to an unwanted land use. (10) Part IV will discuss the specific reasons for NYSDEC's denial of the Snake Mountain mining application. (11) Finally, Part V will discuss the possibility of a resurgence of village incorporations in New York State after the East Nassau/Snake Mountain Mine dispute. (12)


Citizens of New York State are subject to at least four layers of government: federal, state, county, and either town, village, or city. (13) In fact, there are at least "131 levels of government" in New York's Capital Region alone. (14) A monolithic state government and the literally thousands of municipal entities in New York intermesh in what must to citizens seem something of a Byzantine maze--especially for those seeking to petition "their government" for control over local land use issues. …

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