In a field bordered by forested hills and rocky ridges, Dan Plumley unfurled a zoning map of the Adirondack Park. The color-coded map was a reminder of how much private land lay before him, and how potentially fleeting the natural views from Marcy Field could be.
He pointed to a bald patch on Corliss Point above the valley, where lights from a house inconspicuous by day blaze into a flying saucer at night, one of many signs that growth in the backcountry is creeping higher.
“Hundreds of thousands of people drive by on this road every year,” said Plumley, gesturing toward Route 73. “They see this view and think it will always be there. I’m here to say that the way this land-use plan is being implemented, the transcendental beauty and ecological integrity of this scene is in jeopardy.” » Continue Reading.
At the Bar Association’s Environmental Law Conference in Lake Placid on October 13, Pace University Law School professors Nicholas Robinson and Philip Weinberg released twelve edited papers – eleven by their law school students – that review the history, and relevancy today of New York’s Article 14.
Effective since 1895 and known as the “Forever Wild” provision of our State Constitution which protects the State’s Forest Preserve in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, Article 14 states that “the lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” » Continue Reading.
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve will present an awards program tomorrow, Friday, September 28, at its Annual Meeting at VIEW, the arts center in Old Forge.
The awards recognize individuals from the area who have made outstanding contributions to the conservation and stewardship of wild lands, to ecotourism based upon the area’s wilderness, and to educating others about the importance of safeguarding wild nature in the Adirondack Park. The annual meeting begins at 10 AM. The awards program begins at 11 AM. The public is welcome to attend. Those being recognized are: » Continue Reading.
This Thursday, August 16 beginning at 1:30 PM there will be a public tour of the river restoration project now taking place along the East Branch of the Ausable River in Keene Valley.
The tour will be at Rivermede Farm. For more information, contact Dave Reckahn of the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District, 518-962-8225, email@example.com, Corrie Miller at the Ausable River Association, firstname.lastname@example.org or Dan Plumley at Adirondack Wild’s regional office in Keene, email@example.com. » Continue Reading.
At the 40th Anniversary of the State Land Master Plan (SLMP), Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve has issued a report that calls upon Governor Andrew Cuomo and state agencies “to advance and expand upon the many positive values of wild lands in our Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve.”
“The Forest Preserve was placed into state laws and its Constitution. It is where wilderness preservation began,” said Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson in a prepared statement (Gibson is a regular contributor at Adirondack Almanack). “However, government often approaches such an important landscape with a muddied sense of mission, and in an uncoordinated and shallow way. We are urging parties to venture deeper, and with greater purpose.” » Continue Reading.
Rivers policy and history, stewardship of our Forest Preserve, and positive interactions with young people from Albany came together on Arbor Days, April 27-28, north of Lake Luzerne. Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve was pleased to play a role. First, let’s review some history.
The role of Paul Schaefer’s Adirondack Hudson River Association: Many years ago, the utility giant Niagara Mohawk power company owned land along the upper Hudson River in Luzerne, Warrensburg and North Creek. One of their goals was to create large hydroelectric dams at Hadley-Luzerne, and the shoreline was considered flowage, where water levels would fluctuate up and down 50 feet or more during power generation, and reservoir filling. Other mega-dams on the Upper Hudson were being planned by the Army Corps of Engineers, which would flood the river as far north as Newcomb. » Continue Reading.
1988 was a long time ago, and not just in years. It was a different time in America. It does seem like yesterday in my life, but that’s because I’m in my mid 50s and time is speeding up. In the Adirondack Park of 1988, as in the rest of the country, a real estate boom had been underway for some time. Speculators were getting into the game. At the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), the number of permit applications was way up.
The park’s Resource Management and Rural Use lands – the “backcountry” – were under considerable real estate pressure. The Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century would be established by Gov. Mario Cuomo the following year. In contrast with today, in 1988 a majority of Agency commissioners viewed themselves as agenda setters. » Continue Reading.
Will New York build upon its historic leadership as a steward of our protected Adirondack Park, home to people and wild nature, exhibiting the highest standards for ecosystem management? Or will that promise be lost to the lowest common denominator, where the most specious claims to the economic bottom line win the argument, a “go along-to-get along” mindset? Following the issuance of a permit by the Adirondack Park Agency for the sprawling Adirondack Club and Resort, citizens around the state are wondering.
Remember what APA permitted in January: 706 residential units, 332 buildings, 39 large “great camps,” 15 miles of new roads, sewer, water and electric lines, fences and posted signs spread across 6,200 mostly undeveloped forest acres – 75 % of which is in the most protected private land classification in the park, Resource Management. Remember what this permit jettisons: a variety of traditional backcountry recreational uses, including hunting leases as well as forestry operations. The permit sanctioned real estate estimates shown to be highly exaggerated and completely unreliable. The applicant’s payments in lieu of taxes scheme is probably illegal. This is speculative development at its worst. » Continue Reading.
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.
What follows is a recent press release from Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, a not-for-profit, member supported organization devoted to wilderness and wild nature. Adirondack Wild seeks to advance New York’s Forever Wild legacy and promote policies and land stewardship consistent with wild land values through education, advocacy and research. Adirodnack Wild has been among the most vocal opponents to the Adirondack Club and Resort project now under review by the Adirondack Park Agency. The group argues that the resort development “threatens to undermine 38 Years of Adirondack public policy to preserve backcountry for forest management and open space recreation”. What follows is a press release issued by Adirondack Wild, in its entirety. This Thursday, the NYS Adirondack Park Agency (APA) began its review of the adjudicatory hearing record of the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) near Tupper Lake. That review is expected to take several months, and poses a severe test for APA Chairwoman Lani Ulrich and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The test is whether APA commissioners will seriously examine the public hearing record, honor their statute, and the APA’s past track record for addressing similar large subdivisions. If the commissioners do all three, they will deny a permit for this damaging, illegal and precedent-setting project.
ACR is the largest subdivision and development proposal to come before the APA in 35 years. It’s comprised of 719 residential units, 332 buildings, and 15 miles of new roads, sewer, water and electrical lines spread all over 6235 mostly undeveloped acres with sensitive water resources on rugged terrain several miles from Tupper Lake in the heart of the Adirondack Park.
As a party to the hearing, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is asking the APA to deny the project a permit without prejudice to the applicant’s resubmission of an alternative, conservation design which would be compatible with the conserved character of the Adirondack Park and would minimize risks to local taxpayers and service providers.
“The Adirondack Park Agency has served as an institutional advocate for the protection of large tracts of private forest land since 1973,” stated Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley. “This is fully in keeping with the APA Act’s requirements for the park’s back country lands. The ACR project, however, if approved in its sprawling, fragmenting design would drastically change all that. If approved during Governor Andrew Cuomo’s watch, this one project would radically upend the protection of the park’s open space resources that all other Governors before, including Governor Mario Cuomo, sought to protect.”
“The 125 conditions listed by the APA hearing staff do not make this an approvable project,” added Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson. “They do nothing to materially alter the subdivision design, or to protect a large contiguous block of the backcountry, or to avoid many undue adverse impacts on the Park’s sensitive natural ecosystems, water resources and iconic wildlife.”
The adjudicatory hearing record is replete with evidence that ACR will cause undue adverse impacts to the Park’s natural resources, and undue financial risks to the community, including:
– ACR is deficient and defective in its required survey of biological resources.
– Wildlife characteristic of the Park, but either uncommon or not found elsewhere in NYS would be seriously impacted.
– ACR violates the purposes, policies and objectives for land classified Resource Management, 77% of the project site.
– ACR is unmarketable as presented, speculative, fails to take its competition into account, can not be completed as projected, understates fiscal vulnerabilities to the community and overstates employment and economic benefits.
– The application fails to present meaningful alternatives, as required by the APA regulations.
Adirondack Wild wrote in its closing statement: “Not once in our professional experience has the APA contemplated permitting 82 new principal buildings, and associated roads, driveways (some as long as half a mile), guest cottages, outbuildings and infrastructure spread all over 4800 acres of Resource Management land…A permit for APA Project 2005-100 risks violating the fundamental purposes and objectives of Resource Management…constituting well over a million acres of the Park’s private backcountry.”
In its closing statement, Adirondack Wild described seven large-acreage subdivisions reviewed by the APA between 1988 and 2009. These were:
1. Patten Corporation, 1988-89 2. Butler Lake, 1991, APA Project 89-312 3. Veteran Mountain Camp, 1992 4. Whitney Park, 1996, APA Project 96-138 5. Oven Mountain Estates, 1995, APA Project 91-110 6. Diamond Sportsmen’s Club, 2001, APA Project 2001-217 7. Brandreth Park Association, 2009, APA Project 2007-117
All of these projects were located either on Resource Management or Rural Use land classification. All were substantially reconfigured or modified by the APA as a result of information revealed through public hearings or staff review. All ensured that large, contiguous forest acreages were preserved for open space recreation and forestry, and all concentrated housing within one relatively small area on the project site. These past projects reveal an APA responsive to its legal mandate to protect areas which the legislature directed to be reserved largely for open space recreation and forestry in order to conserve the special character of the Adirondack Park.
The Adirondack Club and Resort application stands in stark contrast with these past projects. None of the proposed “open space” is contiguous, and large housing developments fragment natural resources by spreading across all 6200 acres, making forest management infeasible, hunting impossible, and threatening those species of native wildlife which require large, undeveloped blocks of forest. Resort housing is not concentrated where the law says it belongs in the Moderate Intensity Use areas near the Big Tupper Ski Area. Furthermore, there is no adequate wildlife inventory or assessment. A respected conservation biologist, Michael Klemens, testified at the hearing that “the club and resort is classic sprawl on steroids. It spreads negative ecological impacts out across the landscape. It is a train wreck resulting from a process that does not allow for understanding natural systems in the first place.”
Hearing evidence also showed highly inflated sales projections. The application alleges that annual sales of raw forest lots in Tupper Lake would exceed those in well-established Stowe, Vermont. An independent ski and resort development expert, David Norden, said the project is founded upon the applicant’s promises and “does not possess the primary characteristics of resorts most likely to succeed as we come out of the recession.” With sales likely to fall well below projections, Norden and others said the tax revenues projected to be reaped by local taxing districts are also likely to fall well below the applicant’s projections. Investment in Big Tupper Ski Area, the most broadly supported local objective, has been relegated to latter phases of the development. Funding for project infrastructure and payments in lieu of taxes also remain highly problematic aspects of the proposal.
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve will host an annual meeting of its members, donors and friends at the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center this Saturday, September 17.
The meeting begins at 10 AM with an overview of Adirondack Wild’s achievements in its first year, a report on its programs, and a brief business meeting to elect officers and directors. The annual meeting is followed by keynote presenter Michael Klemens at 11 AM, and a guided walk of the VIC trails with Ecology Professor Celia Evans of Paul Smith’s College at 1 PM. Participants are asked to bring their own box or bag lunch. Morning refreshments will be provided. The meetings are free of charge, but reservations are appreciated. To reserve, please contact Ken Rimany by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 518-928-4501. The Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (formerly the Adirondack Park Agency VIC) is located off State Rt. 30 one mile north of Paul Smith’s College.
The public is invited to attend a keynote presentation by Michael Klemens, Ph.D. at 11 AM, who will address the question Does Science Matter? Dr. Klemens will offer his thoughts and promote a dialogue about the role of science in advocacy and conservation, and explain why conservation biology is a critical discipline needed to assess the health of wild lands. Dr. Klemens is a conservation biologist with three decades of experience in assessing biodiversity and the impacts of various land use practices and patterns of development on sensitive wildlife species and their habitats. Dr. Klemens founded a not-for-profit that works with planning boards and other local government agencies to increase ecological literacy among local land-use decision makers and to deliver tools to make land use choices that better protect and sustain ecosystem functions.
In the spring, Dr. Klemens was Adirondack Wild’s expert consultant at the Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) public hearing in Ray Brook and Tupper Lake. He conducted a rapid assessment of amphibian populations in the western portion of the ACR site, and found many salamanders, frogs and habitats that could be negatively impacted by the proposal before the Adirondack Park Agency. For more about his testimony at the ACR hearing, go to www.adirondackwild.org.
Paul Smith’s College’s Celia Evans will help lead a walk along the VIC trails at approximately 1 PM. She teaches General Ecology and Winter Ecology among many other courses at the college.
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is a not-for-profit, member supported organization devoted to wilderness and wild nature. Adirondack Wild advances New York’s Forever Wild legacy and promotes policies and land stewardship consistent with wild land values through education, advocacy and research. For more information visit them online.
What follows is a story of some young men from Albany learning to fly fish on the West Branch of the Ausable River, and who for the first time experience the pull of the river, its rocks and pools, a trout on the line, and in their hands. I start with some background.
When Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve organized one year ago, we decided to seek out non-traditional allies and educational partners in our efforts to broaden aware, informed support for wild nature. One of those partners is Brother Yusuf Burgess of Albany. For many years, Brother Yusuf has been helping young urban youth to discover discipline, teamwork, self-awareness and self-worth in the great outdoors. As often as time and funds allow, Yusuf brings youth from Albany to the Adirondacks, Catskills, Hudson Valley and beyond to learn outdoor skills such as boat-building, fishing, skiing, camping. He understands young people and the streets. He has walked their walk.
A former counselor at the Albany Boys and Girls Clubs, Yusuf is employed as Family Intervention Specialist with Green Tech Charter High School. He is an experienced kayaker and fisherman, founder of the Environmental Awareness Network for Diversity in Conservation, and is also New York’s representative on the Children and Nature Network. For several years, Yusuf worked for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to recruit more children and families of color into DEC’s Summer Campership program. His successful efforts to create teen “eco-clubs” in urban America have been noticed at home and internationally, and he is widely sought as a speaker. Some of the young men and women whom Yusuf influenced have gone on to professional careers, and some have returned to help Yusuf mentor today’s teens.
Yusuf and his students are featured in the acclaimed 2010 documentary film, Mother Nature’s Child (Fuzzy Slippers Productions, Burlington, VT), which explores nature’s powerful role in children’s health and development. To quote from the film’s promotional materials, “The film marks a moment in time when a living generation can still recall childhoods of free play outdoors; this will not be true for most children growing up today.” For more, go to www.mothernaturesmovie.com.
Recently, Yusuf brought six young men from Albany’s Green Tech Charter High School to learn fly fishing from Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley, to apply what they learn on the West Branch of the Ausable River, and to camp out at Dan’s oak grove in Keene. Yusuf had each boy equipped with fly rod, poncho, and camping gear. Dan worked tirelessly to improve their casting technique, where the thumb and tip of the rod work together to drop the fly where it wants to be – right where the hatch is rising and the fish biting. Few other sports require the wrist and shoulder to be so still. Slowly, with Dan’s careful guidance some of them got the feel for it.
On the river, Dan explained about the Forest Preserve and its significance, and taught the boys that this particular section of the West Branch was a “no kill” conservation area, where fish are “catch and release” only. He showed them how to tie a fly, how to hold the hook to avoid being punctured, and how to read the river for the best places to fish.
One boy got in the waders, took Dan’s favorite rod, and immersed himself in the life of the West Branch. Completely absorbed, he moved upriver to an unoccupied pool, casting by himself. About 2 pm, we heard him. He had a trout on his line! His friends joined him as he unhooked a nice brown trout, proudly held it for the cameras, and released it. This was one of many special moments where these young men exchanged self-consciousness for independence as they explored a completely new and challenging outdoor world.
As other fishers left a pool unoccupied, Dan moved the group to that very spot and found that within minutes the trout were rising to a hatch, perhaps the black flies which were beginning to harass us on the bank. Dan positioned the young men for success, but their casts were just falling short of the constantly rising fish. Finally, Dan took his rod and practice-cast upstream, and then dropped the fly perfectly. After several attempts, he had a trout on the line. He called for one the boys to bring it in slowly and very soon in their hands was a handsome, small brook trout which tolerated a photo-shoot, and then shot from their hands back into the river: a magical conclusion to the afternoon’s “edventure,” a term Yusuf uses frequently.
Back at their camp in Dan’s oak grove, the boys settled in to tend and watch their camp fire, joke and laugh, and also to think on the day and what they had accomplished. “I am thinking about how far I am from home right now,” said one young man very quietly as he stared into the fire’s light. I knew he was not merely referring to road miles, but to inner miles. Next morning, Dan asked another about his overnight experience. “It was my first time camping, and it was extremely fun!”
It is remarkable to see how Yusuf works with these young men who, without the guidance and opportunities for growth he provides, might easily fall under many negative influences close to their homes. Yusuf participates in their camaraderie, knows these young men, and knows how to bring out their best qualities, put them to work, and to earn their respect. I am pleased we are playing a small role in Yusuf’s determined campaign to transform the lives of several generations of urban youth through exposure to nature in the wild Adirondacks.
Photos: Brother Yusuf Burgess with the young men he brought with him to the Ausable; Brother Yusuf; Dan Plumley coaches from mid-stream; Trout in the hand.
The Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) adjudicatory public hearing is finally underway. The ACR project was first introduced as a conceptual Adirondack Park Agency (APA) application in 2004. Seven years later, it is still massive, involving 719 dwelling units spread over 6,200 acres near Tupper Lake.
Hearing witnesses gave ample evidence last week that show APA’s staff decision to deem the ACR application complete in the fall of 2006 to have been premature. In reference to the applicant’s repeated failing to produce any kind of serious wildlife or natural resource studies, a key witness for APA, retired director of regulatory programs Mark Sengenberger, noted that APA can only ask for additional information and not receive it so many times. Wildlife habitat was a key piece of that missing information, Sengenberger said. As other witnesses revealed, also missing was any rigorous assessment of alternative designs of the development. The costs of not requiring comprehensive data before deeming such a complex and controversial application complete are considerable. Between the applicant, the APA and the hearing parties, millions of dollars have been spent over six years in pre-hearing phases of the ACR without arriving at any deep understanding of the site to be developed. There are also big gaps in understanding the reliability of infrastructure and financing data in the application. Countless person hours have been spent at APA struggling to get information out of this applicant. I suspect that several legitimate requests from citizens to send other Park projects to hearing were denied, in part, because APA is such a small agency and ACR has consumed too much of its human and economic resources since 2004.
Dr. Michael Klemens, a conservation biologist and witness for Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, stated last week at the hearing: “we are forced to spend time at this hearing debating the lack of biological data, which should have been compiled and assessed before deeming the application complete, while instead this hearing should be discussing the implications of a robust set of ecological information that actually informs how and where to site development.”
In characterizing the proposed layout of development on the ACR site, Dr. Klemens stated “this is classic sprawl on steroids.” The ACR spreads negative ecological impacts out across the landscape, he stated. He added that by compacting the design to be less fragmenting of the landscape, many objectives would be met, both economic and ecological. Less money would be spent simply reaching the site with infrastructure, for example, while the impact or zones of influence of development on sensitive areas would be smaller. His testimony revealed a well known process to successfully build housing in sensitive landscapes that involves developing a complete understanding of the project site first, mapping that information, and only then developing plans for housing which avoids the most sensitive areas and maintains the integrity of ecological processes.
This could have happened for ACR, but unfortunately this application does the very opposite, he noted. Only the APA can determine why they allowed this to happen, he stated. Asked whether or not there is sufficient biological and ecological information in the application for the APA to reach a determination of no undue adverse impact, Dr. Klemens stated “there is insufficient data to make such a determination.”
Asked whether the APA could merely place conditions on a defective application which purport to “mitigate” adverse impacts, Dr. Klemens said “a defective application should never be conditioned. It should simply be denied without prejudice, and the applicant given time to develop that information, and resubmit the application.”
Dr. Klemens is the Planning Board chairman for a town in Connecticut. In that capacity, he said he often imposes expectations on developers working within a complex, ecologically important site to identify and map sensitive resources prior to laying out development sites. “Understand the site first, and from that understanding develop plans for housing or other development.” In fact, he noted, in his experience fast-tracked applications are those that have developed good biological and natural resource data. That way, conflict is reduced, development occurs in the less sensitive places, and money is saved. The “train wrecks” result when a process does not allow for understanding natural systems in the first place, like the ACR.
In responding to cross examination, Dr. Klemens took time to explain his view that his testimony is not about whether or not development should or can take place on the ACR site. It is very likely that development is compatible with areas on the site, he said. The “real issue involved in this hearing is the amount, intensity and lay-out of that development. That’s the key.”
How can the APA use the ACR experience to improve its project review? One way is to mimic the way its sister agency, DEC, as well as many town and county planning boards utilize the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) Act. After determining that a project may have one or more significant environmental impacts, a step known as a positive declaration of impact, the lead agency in SEQR must require an environmenal impact statement (EIS) of the developer. Project scoping invites the public to comment on the proposed topics to be covered by the EIS. “The purpose of scoping is to focus the EIS on the most relevant issues and potential impacts, including means to avoid or minimize those impacts; the lead agency may thereby ensure that the draft EIS will be a concise, accurate and complete (emphasis mine) document adequate for public review” (from: www.dec.ny.gov).
Think of the APA application process as a version of SEQR, and the APA’s review as a kind of EIS. Before deeming an application complete, the agency could invite the public to help APA undertake project scoping in order to ensure that an application actually and thoroughly answers key questions, and provides the information required for a comprehensive review of impacts. If that process were used, there might be more meaningful constituent participation with APA and fewer “train wrecks” like ACR, where so much time is spent at an APA hearing debating the paucity and reliability of information and data needed by the commissioners to reach a sound, post-hearing decision. In fact, I remember several APA commissioners suggesting this very reform of their own project review of large projects in 2008, following their approval of the FrontStreet application in North Creek. I have yet to see positive results from their suggestions.
Photo: Dr. Michael Klemens points to a map of ACR during his testimony at the public hearing last week.
It is noteworthy to read local supporters of the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort expressing their full faith in the NYS Adirondack Park Agency’s ultimate review of that proposal. The Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce and ARISE (a Tupper Lake nonprofit) were quoted this week as saying “let the agency do its job.” Meanwhile, these organizations deride the efforts of others – “outsiders” – in the public hearing as obstructing the agency’s work.
Four years after it was ordered to adjudicatory public hearing by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), the proposed subdivision and second home development known as the Adirondack Club and Resort encompassing 6400 acres near Tupper Lake may finally get the close scrutiny it merits. The hearing, encompassing a dozen interrelated issues and over three dozen parties, should begin this spring. The group I work with, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, is one of those parties. The Chamber’s apparent embrace of the APA Act and its implementation through this public hearing is both interesting and gratifying: interesting because Tupper Lake rejected sharing local land use controls with the APA in the early 1990s because it might lend legitimacy to the APA legislation that the Chamber now apparently embraces; gratifying to hear because the APA Act mandates the very statewide concerns that “outsiders” can help to bring to the table.
The APA Act states “continuing public concern, coupled with the vast acreages of forest preserve holdings, clearly establishes a substantial state interest in the preservation and development of the park area. The state of New York has an obligation to insure that contemporary and projected future pressures on the park resources are provided for within a land use control framework which recognizes not only matters of local concern but also chose of regional and state concern” (Section 801, APA Act)
Reflecting as it does 150 years of statewide concern for the Adirondacks, the Act and its regulations anticipate statewide interest in the upcoming ACR public hearing, and mandate that the APA take those interests into account in its review. One of the biggest statewide concerns is that two thirds of the ACR proposal involves large second homes across Resource Management lands “where the need to protect, manage and enhance forest, agricultural, recreational and open space resources of paramount importance because of overriding natural resource and public considerations” (Section 805, APA Act)
That public can come from Tupper Lake and from anywhere else within the boundaries of the state, or beyond. Adirondack Council, Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks and others seek to help represent the broader public’s interests to “protect the delicate physical and biological resources, encourage proper and economic management of forest, agricultural and recreational resources and preserve the open spaces that are essential and basic to the unique character of the park” (Section 805).
There are still many others who want to focus on the local benefits and burdens of this proposal. The proposal if permitted and carried out to its full extent would carve out a new, sprawling development hub miles from current service providers in the village.
All need to bear in mind that whatever comes out of the hearing and agency review will have an effect on the entire Adirondack Park. This may be a precedent setting decision, and hundreds of thousands of people around the state will watch and examine its results carefully. The last time such a large subdivision and second home development was proposed in 1972, APA was a new and untested agency. I suspect the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce back in 1972 viewed the Agency as “outsiders.” Judging from the Chamber’s news release this week, the Agency and local perspective on the Agency from Tupper Lake has matured since then. The local and regional economy is rough today, but it was also rough in 1972. Second home subdivisions consume more of the environment, demand far more services and draw far more energy than they did in 1972. Meanwhile, one big thing hasn’t changed since that year – the APA Act, which has been amended just once in 38 years.
Photos: Hearing parties at the ACR field visit, May 2007; and visiting the beaver dam holding back Cranberry Pond.
Taking a look at the discussion on Phil Brown’s piece yesterday – largely a debate over whether we should open roads in wilderness areas to mountain bikes and other uses – I found myself thankful that there are still a few people like Dan Plumley and Adirondack Wild who have a larger and deeper understanding of what wilderness is and why it’s important. Here’s some of what Plumley had to say in that discussion:
“It is all too easy for us to think of our own recreational desires first and forget about the long term goals of gaining, over time, truly wild conditions of relatively intact wilderness protected by law and our state constitution. Given the biodiversity values, the potential for moose, possibly wolf and mountain lion recovery eventually, watershed preservation and truly remote – by foot and paddle – experiences without mechanized vehicles (including like it or not, mountain bikes), these rare opportunities are too important for the future to short cut.” » Continue Reading.
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