The Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC) has purchased 140 acres on the east side of Lake George, part of the South Mountain range in Putnam, Washington County, for $210,000. The closing took place on December 15, 2015.
Contrary to its name, South Mountain is in the northeastern corner of Lake George, stretching between Mount Defiance in Ticonderoga and Anthony’s Nose in Putnam.
The acquisition of this 140-acre “Reed property” is part of LGLC’s South Mountain Initiative, a project that aims to protect the entire South Mountain ridge, with the goals of ridge-line and wildlife habitat protection, and recreational connectivity. » Continue Reading.
The Pinnacle, the Bolton landmark visible from Lake George and the Cat and Thomas Mountains Preserve, may be protected from development after all. More than five years after Ernest Oberer first proposed building houses on the ridgeline, the Lake George Land Conservancy intends to purchase the property, said Jamie Brown, the Conservancy’s new executive director. » Continue Reading.
The Town of Bolton has agreed to purchase two forested lots wrapped in a conservation easement near Edgecomb Pond, adding another layer of protection to the source of its drinking water.
“This is a $200,000 piece of property that we’re getting for a fraction of that price. Nothing is more important than our water supply, and we’re protecting it through a wonderful partnership between the town, the Lake George Land Conservancy and a local resident,” said Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover.
The Lake George Land Conservancy’s easement on the property, which protects it from any development, reduced the price to the town by more than $100,000, said Nancy Williams, the Conservancy’s executive director. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Park Agency’s policy that keeps cell towers “substantially invisible” has been good for public safety and scenic vistas for 12 years now. A proposed federal rule change threatens that policy and the wild beauty of the landscape it protects.
People who care about scenic beauty and historic preservation are joining forces to persuade the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) not to impose new rules that would allow cell phone companies to increase the height and visibility of communications towers without seeking permission from state or local regulators.
The FCC’s proposed rule would grant automatic approval for applicants seeking to increase the height and/or width of any existing communications tower, regardless of local policies and ordinances. » Continue Reading.
In this 40th anniversary year of the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan, experts from the Adirondack Park and around the country will convene at the Paul Smith’s Visitor Interpretive Center on September 26, 2013 to assess the progress and unfinished business of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA).
The conference hopes to identify ways the agency can be strengthened, based on successful examples here and elsewhere of preserving water quality, wildlife habitat, and scenic beauty, while also bolstering the regional economy. The principles of conservation design will be a theme of the conference. A $25 registration fee covers coffee, lunch, and a reception following the event. » Continue Reading.
In the Adirondacks, we often point with pride to the extraordinary oddness of the Adirondack Park. From Manhattan’s Central Park to California’s Yosemite, Americans have gotten used to parks with neat boundaries enclosing a domain wholly owned by the people. Because the land within the boundary is public and that outside private, when you walk or drive across that boundary, you’ve gone from one sort of place to another. You have certain expectations outside that boundary, which are different from those you have inside.
But as we like to say up here, the Adirondack Park is a park like no other. Aside from invoking this peculiarity as an interesting factoid, however, what do we do with it? What defines this Park? Is it something other than a collection of all the acres (almost 6 million of them, roughly half in the public Forest Preserve and half in private hands) inside a blue line on a map of New York State? » Continue Reading.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens was atop Prospect Mountain this morning to announce the state’s purchase of more than 2,460 acres that will help protect the world-renowned scenery and water quality of Lake George and its tributaries.
The purchases, made through the Environmental Protection Fund, include the Cat and Thomas Mountains parcel, a 1,900-acre property in the town of Bolton (Warren County), previously acquired by the Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC), which was sold to the State for $1.5 million. The State also purchased the 565-acre East River Road Tract of the former Finch lands in the Town of Bolton from The Nature Conservancy for $381,000. This parcel is adjacent to the Cat and Thomas Mountains parcel. The parcels will be added to the State Forest Preserve. The State will pay full local property and school taxes on the newly acquired land. » Continue Reading.
As the proposed Adirondack Club & Resort in Tupper Lake wound its way through the approval process, two planning consultants separately recommended in 2008 that the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) require clustering of homes in the backcountry. Under a draft clustering policy written by one consultant, the resort’s “Great Camp” estates would have consumed 280 acres of forest instead of 2,800 acres.
“The same number of homes could have been constructed, but the project would have been largely concentrated near the [Big Tupper] ski area,” said Jeff Lacy, a consultant in Shutesbury, Mass., who proposed the policy on behalf of the Adirondack Council. “My guess is it would be under construction today rather than under review by a court.” » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Park is more than double the size of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined, but its greatness is not always apparent. Silver lakes and dark woods beckon from some roadsides, while lawns and driveways interrupt the wild scenery from others. With its mix of private and public land, the Adirondacks have always had something of an identity problem.
Four decades after the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) was created to oversee development on private lands, the Park is still in search of a coherent look. Brown road signs with yellow lettering suggest to visitors they are in a special place. But are signs enough?
“The Adirondacks mean nothing if you don’t know you’re in a park,” said George Davis, who led the state’s Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century in 1990. “Where else do you have six million acres of [largely] forested land? Not this side of Minnesota.” The commission proposed a series of recommendations to make the Adirondacks more park-like, including establishing an Adirondack Park Administration to oversee planning of both private and public lands and an Adirondack Park Service that would manage the public lands. » Continue Reading.
This fall the Lake George Association (LGA) has been at work along waters that flow into Lake George, including Foster Brook in the hamlet of Huletts Landing, and English Brook in Lake George Village. The LGA also partnered with the Warren County Conservation District (WCSWCD), and the towns of Hague and Bolton to remove over 1300 cubic yards of material from eight sediment basins in the two towns, the equivalent of about 110 dump truck loads.
At Huletts, Foster Brook was severely eroded during last year’s Tropical Storm Irene. Lots of unwanted material was deposited along the banks and within the stream, interrupting the natural flow of the water. This material was removed, and some was used, along with new stone, to stabilize the streambanks. In October, dozens of native plants and shrubs were planted along English Brook near its mouth at Lake George. » Continue Reading.
A newly constructed 2.5-mile trail to the western end of the Jay Mountain Ridge is complete and available for public use the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced. The trail bypasses the steep and eroded sections of an existing herd path that had been the primary access to mountain’s summit.
“The new Jay Mountain trail is safer and easier to hike and will allow more people to hike to the summit and enjoy the views. It should also serve to attract more visitors to the nearby communities of Jay, Elizabethtown, Keene and Keene Valley,” DEC Regional Director Robert Stegemann said in a statement issued to the press. » Continue Reading.
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.
The outcome to approve the Adirondack Club and Resort was not a surprise. The ten to one margin of the vote was a surprise. Nor was it surprising that Commissioner Richard Booth assembled the reasoned arguments why this massive, speculative real estate subdivision should be denied. He has an excellent mind, an articulate voice, and a logician’s ability to arrive at the kernel of a matter in relatively few words, readily dispensing with the “dead wood” of an argument to arrive at the heartwood at its core.
The vote went in alphabetical order, so Mr. Booth went first. Here is what he forcefully and passionately argued, in ascending order of importance:
1. Independent experts testified at the hearing that the project sponsor’s sales projections and real estate valuation estimates were completely unrealistic. Since it is the Agency’s job to take into consideration the possible economic and community benefits of an application in judging whether or not there are undue adverse impacts to the Park’s sensitive ecological and physical resources, the failure of the applicant to come up with even remotely reliable quantitative figures (it was shown in the hearing that the applicant derived the projections himself without aid of a professional appraiser or market analyst), means that the Agency must in rendering its judgment, as a matter of the law, largely discount the claims of large or even significant economic benefit;
2. Despite numerous requests to do so by the Agency, the project sponsor failed to conduct a wildlife inventory and assessment, something that is rather routinely done for smaller development projects elsewhere in the state. This failure, in and of itself, is not the central problem. The central problem is that such an inventory and assessment is crucial to judge whether the proposed project design poses adverse impacts to wildlife habitats and migratory pathways. If you don’t know what lives on the site, and where their habitats are, how can you determine the impacts? That is the “big hole” in the application that “never got filled.” This hole can not be corrected with project conditions, he said. To emphasize his argument, he reminded his colleagues that a single hearing expert (Dr. Michael Klemens) who was never invited to tour the property found in a matter of one day and night in a very small section of the project area more species than the project sponsor identified in seven years;
3. Most importantly, the project is not consistent with the description, purposes, policies and objectives of Resource Management land because it spreads houses across thousands of forested acres contrary to the letter and intent of the law. The ecological integrity of Resource Management, and the paramount importance of protecting its delicate biological and physical resources under the APA Act, is violated. A yes vote would send a negative message to other applicants that this type of development on Resource Management is acceptable. Furthermore, given the acreage involved there are many alternative ways to design the project which would avoid this violation, alternatives that the applicant failed to analyze.
The other Agency members followed, many either agreeing with Mr. Booth or sympathizing with his arguments, but concluding that “the process had worked,” the numerous project conditions would adequately protect natural resources, while a permit would lead to a better future for Tupper Lake. “It’s been an education for me,” said Mr. Lussi. “The sponsor has been receptive to some of the sensitive issues, and removed a number of upland developments. The plan is thoughtfully done.” Ms. McCormick of the State’s Economic Development Corporation gushed: “I am happy to vote yes. We’ve protected the land, and achieved tremendous economic benefit.” This is all in line with Governor Cuomo’s program for job growth, she noted. Mr. Wray was the last vote, and he “agonized” over his decision, nodded to Mr. Booth’s arguments, then concluded that “notwithstanding my discomfort, we can justify this.” How he justified it remained unsaid.
Mr. Booth’s logical arguments failed to carry the day because other members largely ignored the hearing evidence (upon which their decision was to rely on) and the law in order to fall into line with one or more of the following leaps of faith:
a. the project sponsor’s assertions of great economic benefit, hearing evidence to the contrary notwithstanding;
b. the feeling that our staff are the experts, we trust them and they say this is OK. Staff concluded that numerous project conditions would satisfactorily protect the park’s delicate physical and biological resources, and that this is an “ever so carefully regulated design” (to quote APA Chair Ulrich);
c. this development seems to fall into line with Governor Cuomo’s economic development program, the APA law and hearing evidence notwithstanding.
There is a large cultural sympathy for Tupper Lake that must also be acknowledged as a factor. “We have to do something for Tupper” is an undercurrent from many in that town and beyond it which, while hardly constituting evidence justifying ten votes in favor, does play with an Agency that craves public acclaim. Tupper Lake does need and deserve plenty of help to develop as a community, I readily agree. However, in this case the fact that “doing something for Tupper” may actually mean taking the same speculative gamble with the community’s resources, services and taxpayers that Mr. Foxman and Mr. Lawson and the project boosters are taking did not seem to overly concern these members.
A critical factor in the outcome of the vote, in my opinion, is that the APA staff performed badly (I could use a stronger word) in their summaries of the adjudicatory hearing evidence for the Agency’s members. On numerous occasions the staff downplayed what they considered “bad” evidence, and emphasized what they saw as evidence favoring the project. For instance, bad evidence that the project posed undue risk to the area’s natural resources from Drs. Glennon, Kretser and Klemens, was often given a sentence on a summary slide, and then members were invited to read the relevant pages of testimony for more. Good evidence, for example staff conclusions that deed covenants adequately constituted project alternatives and satisfactory resource protection, were spelled out in their entirety on a slide.
A particularly egregious example is that in the final project permit order APA staff chose to illuminate a positive April, 2007 letter from the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency “taking official action toward the issuance of PILOT bonds on behalf of the Project Sponsor finding that the Project constitutes an appropriate ‘project’ within the New York State Industrial Development Agency Act.” The staff ignored “bad” evidence in the form of an FCIDA communication dated Feb 1, 2011 which so clearly makes its 2007 letter irrelevant and dated: “It has been four years since ACR’s application to the IDA in February 2007, and nearly that long since an inducement resolution was passed in April, 2007. The board that approved the project has since turned over four times and the project has changed….we have not determined the legal basis, precedent or workability of it (the PILOT) (emphasis mine)…it is premature for the IDA to provide testimony or opinion in the case of the ACR.” Why wasn’t this 2011 letter quoted in the final project order?
Another badly flawed project “finding” that the staff reached is this: “Site investigations to evaluate wildlife and wildlife habitat on the project site followed standard Agency guidelines and procedures.” This statement is utterly at variance with the hearing evidence. APA’s witnesses Sengenberger and Spada, along with outside experts, all found that the applicant failed to do what the Agency asked it to do, repeatedly, and that it was the applicant’s burden and responsibility to conduct the wildlife studies, not APA’s. At the last moment in the Agency’s deliberations this week, staff distributed to the members a 1993 APA staff memorandum titled “Guidelines for Biological Survey” which had not been disclosed during the hearing. Staff described the memorandum as supporting their finding that standard Agency guidelines and procedures with respect to wildlife and habitat had been performed. In fact, a close reading of this memorandum and its tables satisfies me that the Adirondack Club and Resort easily reached the threshold required for a comprehensive, quantitative biological survey – precisely the opposite conclusion reached by the staff. Agency members did not have adequate time to study this memo, and made no objection to the way staff characterized it.
1. The hearing’s evidence, upon which the members were legally and solely bound to consult in rendering their decision, actually played a relatively insignificant role in that decision. Witness Mr. Lussi’s closing comment that the land has been heavily logged, and is therefore not pristine – seemingly deaf to abundant hearing evidence, even from the Agency’s staff, that a history of logging in no way compromises the ecological integrity and functioning of this Adirondack landscape, while housing development can and does.
2. The facts emerging from the hearing that the applicants failed to carry their burden of proof on wildlife, alternatives and fiscal and economic impacts, and that this did not sufficiently bother more of the members calls into question how and why this Agency performs adjudicatory hearings;
3. The staff was not impartial in the way they chose to present the evidence, and in the evidence they chose to emphasize for the members;
4. Too many staff findings of fact and conclusions of law were not faithful to the hearing evidence and official record;
5. Many if not all of the “significant changes” to the original site plan (applauded by the members as something new) had been decided four years ago.
6. The Agency’s press release issued shortly after the vote was self-congratulatory to an extreme, cited all of the economic and employment benefits shown in the hearing to be highly exaggerated (Mr. Lussi even lectured the applicant about these exaggerations), and could have been written by the applicant himself.
7. There are some good project conditions, such as the after-the-fact wildlife studies and the independent environmental monitors, but these are wholly inadequate to correct such a deficient and defective project application.
I have interacted with the APA for twenty-five years. I readily admit to a point of view. I also have had and expressed great respect for the Agency and its staff over the years, and stood up for the Agency’s mission, budget, policies and staffing levels on many occasions. My final conclusions are, therefore, hard ones for me to express: they are that the Agency voted to give away the park, failed in its duty, failed the public’s confidence, and deserves to be chastised and investigated in the way it is currently performing its statutory mission to protect the “unique scenic, aesthetic, wildlife, recreational, open space, historic, ecological and natural resources of the Adirondack Park” (Sect. 801, APA Act).
Photo: From the summit of Mt. Morris and Big Tupper Ski Area looking down at the ACR site, Tupper Lake in the distance.
The Lake George Association (LGA) has announced the completion of a project to build a new sediment basin at the mouth of English Brook, one of the eight major streams entering Lake George. Tropical Storm Irene changed the route of the brook near its mouth, returning the stream to the path it took 50 years ago, prior to the construction of the Adirodnack Northway.
English Brook has been of high concern for over a decade. Land development in the watershed has increased the volume and velocity of stormwater runoff, leading to increased pollution entering the brook and creating one of the largest deltas on the Lake. English Brook has high levels of total phosphorus, chlorides, total suspended sediments, lead and nitrate-nitrogen. The new basin is expected to slow the flow of water and allow sediment to fall out prior to entering the Lake. The basin is expected to be cleaned out every one to two years, when it reaches about 50-75% capacity. Each time it is cleaned out, roughly 300-400 cubic yards of material is expected to be removed.
The 150-foot long sediment basin was designed by the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District (WCSWCD) with financial assistance from the LGA.
English Brook is located just north of Lake George Village at the Lochlea Estate. Earlier this summer, the LGA installed a $49,500 Aqua-Swirl stormwater separator on the property, as part of a $100,000 stormwater project. This system is collecting previously untreated stormwater runoff from both the east and west sides of Rt. 9N, as well as the bridge between the two exits at Exit 22 on Interstate 87. The majority of the runoff in a 48-acre subwatershed is now being captured and treated.
Now that much of the upland work is complete, lake advocates believe the final step should be the removal of the sediment that has built up in the delta over the course of generations. The nutrient-rich sediment in deltas supports invasive plant growth, hampers fish spawning, harbors nuisance waterfowl, impedes navigation and property values have been reduced.
Photo: The new sediment pond at English Brook. Courtesy LGA.
Adirondack towns and villages have a unique opportunity to be included in a project that seeks to improve wireless cell and broadband availability in the Adirondack Park.
The goal of the Wireless Clearinghouse project is to create an inventory of existing structures in Adirondack Park towns that are suitable for housing a wireless antenna. The database will be a resource for private wireless companies, with the goal of encouraging them to expand wireless telecommunications across the region, a key to economic development. The inventory produced is expected to be a significant planning asset available through a secure website and featuring a GIS database with maps and images. Right now, municipal officials are being asked to respond to an email sent by the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) that contains instructions for listing their community’s structures in the online inventory. All communities who provide feedback by May 31 will be publicly acknowledged when the final results of the project are published and will be entered in a drawing to win a free customized online mapping application.
Fountains Spatial Inc., a GIS consulting firm based in Schenectady, has been contracted by SUNY Plattsburgh and ANCA with project methodology, data collection, and development of an interactive web-map application to access the data collected in the project.
The data being collected this month will identify existing tall structures within Adirondack Park municipalities, such as churches, water towers, and other tall structures. To start, Fountains Spatial combed tax parcel data for information on property class codes such as churches, public services and government structures that could be considered suitable sites for a telecommunications antenna.
The project is due to be completed this summer. In the process, one of the goals is to inform community leaders of the opportunities provided by these technologies.
“DEC, SUNY Plattsburgh, Fountains Spatial and ANCA hope that the Wireless Clearinghouse database will encourage wireless carriers to provide service in additional Park communities. People today want to stay connected 24/7 using their mobile device or computer, and better wireless service will support municipal services, and benefit year round and seasonal residents, and visitors may stay longer,” said Howard Lowe, project manager.
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