A small group of the usual opponents of smart development have raised another ruckus with the help of some local media. It was reported in the local daily press (“APA hears citizens’ rage“, “APA critics blast board“), and followed up by Denton Publications, (including video!). It was one of a regular stream of media campaigns orchestrated and carried out by some of the same folks who have opposed smart development planning for the Adirondack Park since it began 40 years ago.
As if on cue, the Glens Falls Post-Star then launched another of its – this time particularly vicious – attacks on the Adirondack Park’s regional planning board, the Adirondack park Agency (APA). That nasty editorial ran on the same day some 120 people from all perspectives and sectors of the Adirondacks were meeting in Long Lake to find ways to set aside their differences and work together for a better Adirondacks.
It started July 15th with what appears to have been an organized protest at an APA business meeting, and may have been result of leaked information that APA Chairman Curt Stiles would step down the next day. The usual suspects were on hand, including Salim “Sandy” Lewis, Carol LaGrasse, Frank Casier, Mike Vilegi, Howard Aubin, and Bob Schulz. Insults were hurled at the “un-American”; cries for “liberty” and an end to “tyranny” and “repression and fear” were heard – Lewis and his entourage stormed out. Here’s a quick look at those who were there:
Salim “Sandy” Lewis is the former Wall Street trader who recently won a $71,600 settlement from state taxpayers after arguing that the APA had no jurisdiction over farms (he had sought close to a quarter million). “You are hated by a significant portion of this community,” he told the APA’s commissioners. Lewis believes the APA restricts local farming operations, despite the fact that local farming is up considerably amid a national decline (1, 2). [He believes there are two kind of farmers: "real farmers" who have capital to invest in their farms, and "phony farmers" who don't]. Apparently, Lewis’s Wall Street experience has led him to believe that no none should have a say in the impacts large businesses have in the Adirondack Park. During a litany of threats against a variety of enemies, Lewis claimed he was asked to attend the APA meeting by the Governor’s Office. “I’ve been asked to name five new board members to this group by the Governor’s office,” he said.
Carol LaGrasse is the leader of the one-woman Property Rights Foundation who has called the APA “anti-family”. Among her more ridiculous assertions was the prediction that massive forest fires would follow the blowdown of 1995 if the state didn’t allow logging on Forest Preserve land (1). She was wrong then, but continues to appear regularly in local media reports whenever they need to trot out a rabid anti-environmentalist, Adirondack Park or Forest Preserve opponent.
Frank Casier is a former real estate developer. Now 92, Casier was a co-founder of Tony D’Elia’s Adirondack Defense League, described by Kim Smith Dedam as “an early order of resistance to the institution of the APA Act in 1973.” Casier, who said “The APA destroyed three of my housing projects,” was on hand with a 12-page pamphlet entitled The Theft of the Adirondacks. According to LaGrasse, Casier hasn’t been to an APA meeting in decades, but he said he has a new anti-APA book forthcoming. Casier was once the publisher of the anti-APA Adirondack Defender, funded by Alpo Dog Foods founder and Lake Placid summer resident (now deceased) Robert F. Hunsicker. The first Adirondack Defender was published as an supplement insert in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (then led by Will Doolittle‘s dad), and subsequently run in the Tupper Lake Free Press, Ticonderoga Sentinel, and Malone Telegram. The Denton newspapers, then numbering ten weeklies and owned by William Denton, refused to run the Defender.
Mike Vilegi was a passenger in the truck James McCulley drove down Old Mountain Road in an effort to have the long-abandoned wilderness road reopened to motorized vehicles. Vilegi is a Lake Placid builder who was leader of the “Adirondack Porn Agency” effort to taint the reputations of APA staff and commissioners. According to the Press-Republican, Vilegi once attended an APA meeting “wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘Adirondack Porn Agency’ written across the chest and a less polite phrase written on the back”. Vilegi has a flair for the dramatic; he’s a producer of YouTube videos showing how damaging hikers are.
Howard Aubin is a businessman who found his way to the Big Tupper Resort hearings to proclaim that 100 percent of Tupper Lakers support building the Adirondack Club and Resort, the largest residential development ever proposed in the Adirondacks. In an affidavit in support of the Lewis case, Aubin claimed “There is a general fear among the Bar in the North Country that participation in a dispute against the Agency will harm their practices.” Twenty years ago Aubin helped organize the Adirondack Solidarity Alliance, the folks who brought us the 1990 “freedom drive” which attempted to block Northway traffic between exits 20 and 28.
Bob Schulz, now in his 70s, is the Queensbury founder of We the People Foundation who launched the “Revolution Project” in 2008. Schulz is a longstanding proponent of the idea that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Before that, he was the subject of several federal investigations, including his alleged failure to file Federal income tax returns for years 2001 through 2004. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice successfully sued Schulz to stop the sale “of an alleged tax fraud scheme reported to have cost the U.S. Treasury more than 21 million dollars.” Last year the Internal Revenue Service revoked We the People’s tax exempt status.
Trying to force logging of the Forest Preserve, subverting the APA Act for financial gain, blocking traffic, wearing obscene t-shirts to public meetings, promoting the refusal to pay taxes – these are the folks who enjoy standing with the local media.
Meanwhile, 120 private citizens, business, education, and nonprofit leaders, environmentalists, state and local economic development professionals and government leaders, and anti-APA property rights advocates were joining together in Long Lake to try and foster a sense that we’re all in this together. What coverage did that get? None that I can find.
Instead, we’re treated to a malicious anti-APA diatribe by the Glens Falls Post-Star that includes a number of personal attacks on APA staff and commissioners, all civil servants doing their job to help protect the Adirondack Park, a park for all the people of the state.
Unfortunately we need to constantly rehash the wrong-headed arguments expressed by the Post-Star‘s editorial board, even though they’ve been shown time and again to have no basis in fact. They claim, for example, “In its zeal to crack down on every potential encroachment of civilization, real or imagined, the agency has tipped the balance against the interests of individual rights and against economic development.” How any reasonable person can make that claim is beyond me – but they repeat it again and again.
First, the APA regulates about 40% of new buildings and 20% of total development activities. Second, the APA has declined just .8% of the projects that have been brought before it since 1973. And while we’re at it, there is also no basis whatsoever for the argument that the APA somehow coerces people to withdraw their applications – there simply aren’t that many withdrawn applications. There is no need to withdraw an application because the APA approves nearly all of them. This is what the Post-Star calls a “zeal to crack down on every potential encroachment of civilization”.
It is simply ludicrous to continue to argue that an agency that has power over just 20% of development activities and only 40% of new buildings, and has blocked only the tiniest fraction of those, is responsible for “overzealous enforcement of state regulations and an unwavering support of restrictive environmentalist policies over reasonable economic growth and development in the Adirondacks.”
The Post-Star‘s editorial board, which includes Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Carol Merchant, should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to divide Adirondackers, especially on the same day those of us with an actual stake here were trying to make efforts to come together.
One final issue which really gets to the heart of the Post-Star‘s project to discredit reasonable environmental protections and smart growth planning in the Adirondack Park. The entire tone of their editorial is couched in terms of government openness, yet they don’t expect the same from the Local Government Review Board (LGRB). To my knowledge the paper has never once investigated the LGRB despite the fact that the APA-funded body is headed by Fred Monroe (and its one employee, his wife), who until very recently collected a paycheck from New York State, Warren County, and the Town of Chester (more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded salary).
The LGRB, which frequently meets at private restaurants on the public’s dime, issues no notices that a meeting is being held, no agendas before the meeting, no meeting minutes, and no online audio or video recordings of meetings. I signed up for the LGRB’s e-mail newsletter several years ago, I’m still on the list, but I’ve never received any information from them whatsoever. By the way, the APA does all these things and more.
When was the last time anyone had a say in who is on the LGRB? They are county backroom appointments, not elected, and there is no public discussion whatsoever. At a meeting I attended recently it was not even clear who was on the board and who wasn’t. They have never held a public forum or public hearing that I’m aware of. And despite the LGRB’s budget of over $110,000, it appears they haven’t produced anything in a full year.
It’s time these folks stop constantly disrupting our mutual progress for their own personal gain. As Adirondack Daily Enterprise Publisher Catherine Moore and Managing Editor Peter Crowley wrote this week in an editorial about their community’s recent division over the Adirondack Club and Resort:
“We all love nature and people, and we all want a balance between economic viability and environmental protection. It shouldn’t be shocking that people differ on where the balance point should be. Be realistic and grounded, be respectful, and don’t go looking for enemies – that’s our advice.”
And mine too.