#10 Nature Conservancy Purchases 161,000 Acres – Dubbed “The largest conservation and financial transaction in the history of The Nature Conservancy in New York,” the plan will protect former Finch and Pruyn wild lands in the heart of the Adirondacks, and perhaps more importantly, includes sustainable forestry. The land includes “more than 90 mountains and over 250 miles of rivers and shorelines, the lands hold great promise for public recreation sometime in the future for hikers, paddlers, campers, birders, and shutterbugs.” The New York Times provided a slide show of the purchase area in November. Let’s hope that the state will make next year’s top stories list by purchasing a further 70,000 acres being sold by Lassiter Properties and Clerical Medical Investment Group.
#9 Adirondack Tourist Industry Exploiting Labor – It’s been known for a long time by people close to the action that area businesses have been exploiting immigrant labor. At the same time they’ve been claiming they can’t get locals to do the jobs they’ve been hiring foreign workers for – and now the truth (or at least some of it) is out. According to local reports, the operators of several local restaurants and hotels “exploited foreign workers and cheated them of proper wages” including “breaking child labor laws, refusing to pay required overtime and deducting rent from wages.” According to Irena Lyahkanova from Russia, she “worked like a ‘slave’ at Taste of Poland restaurant [in Lake George] for ‘nothing.’ The owners did not pay any of its tipped employees, the 10 to 12 waitresses and bussers through the summer, Lyahkanova said. Many went back to Russia and Poland with no money.” After a little hubub, the issue has apparently been dropped – the workers will face the same problems next summer.
#8 The (Kinda, Sorta) Return of Regional Air Service – What was promised as the panacea of solutions to the lack of regional air service, Big Sky Airlines (of Billings, Mont. under Delta Connection) has turned out, not so good. “As bad as we thought CommutAir was,” Harrietstown Councilman Barry DeFuria said recently, “they are looking real good now.” Big Sky was the was the sole bidder on service to Lake Clear according to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, “on a $2.4-million agreement with the U.S Department of Transportation to provide Essential Air Service to the Adirondack Regional and Plattsburgh International airports. Essential Air Service is a federal program that was created to ensure that rural communities have access to affordable flights. Big Sky took over from CommutAir, a Continental Connection airline, at the Adirondack Regional Airport on Oct. 31.” In late December, Big Sky pulled out apparently taking the federal money with them despite owing $75,000 locally. Congressman John McHugh said Big Sky is violating the terms of its federal subsidy and he and Senator Hillary Clinton urged the US Department of Transportation to maintain subsidized flights to Massena, Ogdesnburg, Watertown, Plattsburgh, and Saranac Lake. The DOT demanded Big Sky do just that, but it looks pretty unlikely. Adirondack Base Camp has moreon the issue.
#7 Adirondack Hermit Alan Como – For nearly twenty years Alan Como lived a spartan life in the wilds of the great northern forest of the northeastern United States – his last known address was on a drivers license that expired in 1989. In 2002 he was living in an earth and log mountaintop hut in New Hampshire. Then, after a two-year string of minor thefts near Brant Lake in Warren County he was captured near the Pharaoh Mountain Wilderness Area; police believed he had stolen a few blankets, tarps, and other small items, but left valuables alone. He was convicted of criminal mischief for cutting trees on private land to build his latest mountain ridge home and was sentenced in June to one-third to four years in state prison – with time served, he’s eligible for parole in January 2008.
#6 NCPR’s Lake Placid Signal Under Threat – North Country Public Radio (NCPR) has been serving the Lake Placid community for 21 years, but that didn’t stop Albany based NPR station WAMC from making application to the FCC in an attempt to force NCPR from it’s 91.7 fm frequency. A late agreement between broadcasters left NCPR with only one other media conglomerate attempting to take it off the air, Northeast Gospel Broadcasting, Inc., a religious station that features the likes of Oliver North and evangelical christian right wing programming. If NCPR loses access to Lake Placid, it could also affect frequencies in nearby communities such as Keene Valley which rely on the Lake Placid signal. Northeast Gospel has until early early January 2008 to stop coveting thy neighbor and back-off – after that it will up to the FCC. Adirondack Almanack has been covering this story in depth.
#5 Global Warming Impacts – It started with wacky weather: Record warmth in December 2006, then came record snow falls in February and exceptionally heavy rains in August and September followed by near-drought conditions during an unseasonably warm October. In the southwest corner of the park Hinckley Reservoir reached it lowest level since it was created in 1915 and drought was the impetus for closing the Erie Canal early. Wildlife was seriously affected this year with a mice explosion and the spread of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease in deer. EHD is normally seen in southern deer populations, but for the first time was discovered in New York. While the Wild Center held a regional global warming conference and many locals gathered to Step It Up in April and November, that was about all there was on the ‘actually doing something about it’ front. Meanwhile the local right-wingnuts could care less because the world is going to end soon anyway – says so right in the bible.
#4 Changes in DEC, APA, and ORDA Leadership – Newly elected Governor Eliot Spitzer made important appointments in several state organizations including Pete Grannis as head of the DEC, Curt Stiles to chair the APA, and Joe Martens to chair ORDA. Perhaps more significant was the subsequent appointments (by Grannis) of Betsy Lowe as Director of DEC Region 5 , who will also represent Grannis on both the ORDA board and at the APA. DEC Region 6 also got a new leader this year in long-time local attorney Judy Drabicki. Then the Residents Committee to Protect The Adirondacks said goodbye to Executive Director Peter Bauer.
#3 Adirondack Healthcare – On a number of fronts healthcare in the Adirondacks reached the headlines this past year. First there was the news that the U.S. Army unit which was one of the just two providers of med-evac helicopters (that don’t charge patients) was pulling out leaving one copter from North Country Life Flight in Saranac Lake. Then came the apparent and astounding lack of leadership from both Representatives Gillibrand and McHugh just as news broke that the region faces a “desperate doctor shortage.” The one bright spot was Hudson Headwaters Executive Director John Rugge who forced major health insurance plans to pay their share of local health costs.
#2 Judge Throws Out State Tax Payments – In December a New York State Supreme Court Judge threw out payments in lieu of taxes for state lands. The move could have a huge impact on towns, schools, and taxpayers in the region. Town of Inlet Supervisor J.R. Risley, said his town has about 400 year-round residents, 10,000 summer residents, and that 93 percent of the land is state-owned. The ruling is expected to double the town’s tax rate. Twenty-two percent of the Saranac Lake Central School District tax levy comes from taxes on state land – the number is fourteen percent in Tupper Lake. The ruling has been stayed and is waiting appeal.
#1 Cell Towers Along The Northway – When two men died on the Northway in late January and early February, right-wingers, downstaters, and anti-environmentalists offensively used their deaths to go on the attack. Never mind these unfortunate folks were traveling through isolated mountain passes in what was certainly the worst weather of the season, and in one case, the worst ice storm in at least several years – a collective cane was raised that resulted in the APA’s recent approval of one 94 foot tall cell tower. Verizon already has 20 towers inside the park and is seeking another 11 or 18, depending on who you believe. Verizon, the APA, and our elected officials make absolutely no attempt to mitigate the impacts of these towers through new techniques and technology.
Here is a link to The Top Adirondack Stories of 2006
Links to local news that we found interesting enough to add to our “Latest Adirondack News” column (above right) can be found here.