Monday, December 13, 2010

Commentary: The Truth About Property Rights

They’re at it again. A small number of so-called “property rights advocates” are spreading falsehoods about development in the Adirondack Park, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), and our local economy to further their wider anti-conservation political agendas.

This time it’s a column by Karen Moreau, a Hudson Valley attorney who is president of the newly-formed Foundation for Land and Liberty. You remember them, the group Plattsburgh Press-Republican reporter Kim Smith-Dedam called “a new legal resource founded to protect one of the oldest American rights.”

It turns out that Karen Moreau, and apparently her Foundation for Land and Liberty, has no hesitation about misleading the public when it comes to the Adirondacks. Take a look at her commentary at the NY Post (surprise, surprise, Fred Monroe’s go-to tabloid). It’s full of lies, obfuscations, and what NCPR’s Brian Mann calls “goofy” accusations. Pull up a stool and let’s review a few:

Claim 1: There is a “de facto ban on development in the Adirondack Park.”

On what planet does one have to live on to make this claim? Most of the men I know have spent the last ten to fifteen working in the housing construction industry. Until the last year or so they were busy building thousands of first and second homes. NCPR’s Brian Mann, who called Moreau’s commentary “full out flat out errors,” offers a more accurate perspective: “Over the last decade, in-Park communities have seen a massive influx of private capital, investment and development to the tune of billions of dollars. Investors have built and bought their way to one of the most robust second-home markets in the US. Literally thousands of homes have been built, many with APA permits and many more in parts of the Park where no permits are required.”

Claim 2: “Approval for nearly any kind of land-based investment in the “park” lies chiefly with a single agency — the Adirondack Park Agency.”

As Brian Mann indicated in the quote above, the APA is responsible for oversight of a small portion of development in the Adirondack Park. The APA reviews applications on only about 20 percent of permit-requiring development activities in the park. Not to mention the fact that the APA overwhelming approves those projects, and by that I mean the APA approves nearly every single application it sees. In other words, the APA simply works to keep development activities in some general bounds of good environmental stewardship (and not very effectively at even that). The APA very rarely reject projects – almost never.

Claim 3: “APA enforcement actions, with the threat of millions of dollars in fines against ordinary citizens, has literally ruined lives and contributed to a stagnant and declining upstate economy.”

I challenge Moreau to provide the evidence that our economy is anymore stagnant or declining than any other rural area around the state. To the contrary, as Brain Mann noted, “the state of New York spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the Adirondacks — far more per capita than in any other part of the state.” The single case she uses to back her “threat of millions of dollars in fines against ordinary citizens” claim is the Sandy Lewis case. A millionaire financier who fought tooth and nail and won his case against the APA, including legal fees – no life ruined there. Civil penalties in 2009 ranged from $100 to $4,000 – that is the fact. Enforcement is down overall from 496 cases in 2008, to 467 in 2009, and just 392 cases as of the end of October this year. And by the way, the APA has won against more than 100 lawsuits, and has lost less than five.

Claim 4: An alliance of green groups, the DEC, and the APA “has delayed for seven years the approvals to develop the Adirondack Club and Resort [ACR] in Tupper Lake, which would create hundreds of jobs.”

Apparently our great defender of property rights doesn’t care to mention that the ACR developers have won the right to SEIZE the private property of others for their own profit. Forget for a minute the “hundreds of jobs” nonsense, according to Brian Mann: “A significant part of that delay (not all, to be sure) was caused by the developers, who asked repeatedly for the permitting process to be delayed, took long periods to respond to requests for information, and then asked that the process be diverted into alternative mediation.”

Claim 5: “The notorious bureaucracy has deterred anyone from even bidding on Camp Gabriels.”

This is an unbelievable assertion, and frankly, laughable. The APA has nothing to do with the sale of Camp Gabriels. This claim really makes me wonder just how woefully misinformed Moreau and the Foundation for Land and Liberty are about the Adirondacks.

Claim 6: “The state’s been fueling the APA’s power by buying up land and rewarding the wealthy and powerful Nature Conservancy with millions in profits for their role in facilitating the transactions.”

This has already be shown to be a baseless assertion, one that even the editorial board of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (ADE) couldn’t accept. Repeating it shows Moreau to be dishonest and clearly not interested in the facts. As the ADE editorial put it, that assertion “smacks of gossip.” I second their call: “if it’s true, prove it with a credible source.” Moreau won’t because it’s not true. Just ask Fred Monroe, who told the ADE: “I don’t know if that’s true at all.”

All that aside, you’d think a “property rights” advocate would accept that people have the right to sell their land to whoever they like – including the state and the Nature Conservancy. If you think the state shouldn’t acquire more land, fine, but don’t make up lies to bolster your opinions.

We deserve more honesty from those who oppose outright, or seek to scale back, the Forest Preserve system and Adirondack Park conservation. Considering the track record lately, I don’t think we’ll get it.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.




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  1. Anthony F. Hall says:

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