Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Forever Wild Advocates Seek Study of Planned Resort

Citing the lack of wildlife and ecological information in the hearing record, Adirondack Wild, a nonprofit membership organization which advocates on behalf of the New York Constitution’s “Forever Wild” clause, petitioned the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) on Friday to reopen its hearing on the Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) “to secure additional evidence.” ACR is proposed development of 719 dwelling units spread across 6,200 acres near Tupper Lake.

Adirondack Wild, a party to the adjudicatory hearing reviewing the large Adirondack resort project in Tupper Lake issued the following statement via press release: “The hearing should be reopened to obtain substantive information and assessment without which the members of the Agency cannot make the requisite findings of ‘no undue adverse impact’ to the Park’s ‘natural, scenic, aesthetic, ecological, wildlife, historic, recreational or open space resources, or upon the ability of public to provide supporting facilities and services.'”

“Every expert witness, as well as Agency staff, found the ACR project application seriously flawed due to the lack of on-site studies of wildlife, sensitive habitats or rare, threatened or endangered species,” Dan Plumley, partner with Adirondack Wild. said. ”Our motion also highlights the fact that Agency staff admit that the applicant failed to sufficiently examine alternative project designs, as the law requires.”

“Moreover, the project’s purported economic benefits have been put forth with no factual data, or other basis upon which the Agency can make an informed judgment about commercial and other benefits of the project. The lot value and sales projections were pulled out of thin air,” Plumley said. Adirondack Wild argues that the APA Act states that such benefits must be taken into account in order to evaluate possible burdens on the local community to provide supporting facilities and services to the development.

Agency Regulations permit any party, or the Agency itself, to move to reopen an adjudicatory hearing to secure additional evidence. The Agency has been deliberating about the ACR hearing since November, and is expected to render a decision on the permit at its January 20 meeting in Ray Brook. The Agency’s Executive Director informed its members in November that it has three choices: to deny the project, approve the project with conditions, or send the project back to hearing.

“The APA executive staff are trying to persuade the Agency board to make a blind inductive leap by purporting that open space, natural and wildlife resources are adequately protected with no basis for this conclusion in the evidentiary record given the failure of the applicant to complete the requisite wildlife studies,” Bob Glennon, Adirondack Wild’s advisor on the motion, said.

“The applicant bears the burden of proof that the project will be compatible with the character, description and purposes of Resource Management lands, will not have an undue adverse impact, and that reasonable alternatives have been thoroughly examined. The applicant has completely failed to meet all of these burdens,” states Glennon, who is a former APA Agency Counsel and Executive Director. ”The Park Agency cannot legally make their required finding of no undue adverse impact without substantial evidence that is competent, material and relevant. Instead, the staff is offering mere speculation that adequate habitat protection can be assured.”

“The Agency should deny the project without prejudice to resubmission, or reopen the hearing so that the applicant finally conducts the natural resource inventory and assessments, and the alternatives analysis that he should have provided years ago,” according to David Gibson, Partner with Adirondack Wild and a regular contributor here at Adirondack Almanack.

“Collecting this evidence will not require years of study,” Gibson said. “While two full field seasons would be preferable, one full field season of work by qualified experts would gather a considerable amount of information about the presence of wildlife and sensitive ecosystems that is presently not available to Agency Members as they seek to render an informed determination whether this is an approvable project or not.”

The project developers have not yet completed applications for permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, NYS Department of Health and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or for a proposed payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan (PILOT) with Franklin County. Developers are proposing taking out approximately $36 million in taxpayer supported bonds to finance the construction.

“Reopening the hearing to obtain vitally needed new evidence will not be holding up progress on the project at all. The applicant can pursue these other permit applications while he is obtaining the additional evidence we believe is essential for the hearing record and for an intelligent, well-reasoned, legally-defensible decision by the Agency,” Gibson said.

Photo: The view over the proposed development area from the summit of Mt. Morris, with Cranberry Pond and Lake Simond in distance.

John Warren

John Warren

John Warren founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and oversees the day-to-day operations of the site in addition to editing The New York History Blog.

He has worked in media for 30 years as a print journalist, a documentary television producer, and now in new media. He's on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and is the author of two books of regional history.

John's weekly Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report airs across the Adirondack North Country Region on the North Country Public Radio network.

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