Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fiscal, Public Services Issues Plague ACR Project

There are many important issues for adjudication of the Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) when the public hearing eventually begins, but perhaps the most telling will be ACR fiscal, public services, energy, housing and community impacts. These issues are incorporated in two questions which the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) ordered to go to adjudicatory public hearing way back in February, 2007. And that was a year before the great recession started to be deeply felt.

Here are two of the ten issues for adjudication which the APA ordered three and a half years ago:

Issue No. 5: What are the fiscal impacts of the project to the governmental units should any phase or section of the project not be completed as proposed? What is the public vulnerability should the project either fail or not proceed at its projected pace related to on and off site infrastructure? Or on private infrastructure that may be subject to eventual operation by the town? What is the ability to provide to provide municipal or emergency services to any section in light of the road design or elevation?

Issue No. 6 requires the consideration of the burden on and benefits to the public. What are the positive and negative economic impacts of the project (including fiscal impacts) to the governmental units? What are the impacts of the project on the municipal electric system’s ability to meet future demand? To what extent will conservation mitigate demand impacts? What are the assumptions and guarantees that the Big Tupper Ski area can be renovated and retained as a community resource? What are the current and expected market conditions related to available housing for the project workforce? What are the impacts of the project on the local housing market?

Any one of these questions deserves to be the subject of a lengthy report, and hopefully each of them will be deeply plumbed and closely scrutinized by the APA and others during the hearing. Remember that in 2006 – a full two years before the recession hit – Tupper Lake retained a number of independent experts on these subjects to advise the Town about burdens and benefits from the ACR. The developer was to pay for their services. These were good moves on the town’s part. Collectively these consultants were known as The Hudson Group, and each individual in that consulting group had a particular expertise. I am confident the APA and the Town have kept their reports and will enter relevant parts into the hearing record. I do recall reading them in 2006. The consultants poured over the original ACR application which, despite the applicant’s assertions, in my opinion has not substantively changed much over the course of five years. The consultants found, at least preliminarily, serious deficiencies or concerns. Some of the consultant concerns I remember reading about were:

1. the applicant’s analysis of market demand for the resort
2. The applicant’s math when it came to underestimating project cost and overestimating developed property values and sales.
3. the high tax burdens posed by the high level of public services which the resort would impose
4. Payments in lieu of taxes, which could shortchange Tupper Lake taxing districts in favor of bond holders.
5. Reduced state school payments that could result based on the state formula which rewards areas with overall low property valuations (which the high values of resort homes would skew upwards).

There were many other topics and concerns raised by the consultants. The Hudson Group was never allowed to finish their work. As I recall, Michael Foxman didn’t appreciate a lot of what he was reading in the preliminary reports and stopped paying the consultants. While the Town did try to get him to release more funds, that effort was mostly fruitless. The media, as I recall, devoted little coverage to The Hudson Group reports. It was left to concerned citizens and organizations to delve into them.

Given three years of recession, one wonders how The Hudson Group would respond now to the current ACR application. Just 50 or so housing units have been cut from the ACR project since 2006. There are at least twelve additional Great Camps proposed now than were proposed in 2006. Further, in a letter made public this fall, the NYS DEC has raised innumerable concerns about ACR’s incomplete and deficient descriptions and assessments of stormwater and sewage treatment. There still is no certified professional engineering study of how sewage will get to the village plant miles and a causeway away from ACR. It is probable, therefore, that the costs of sewage and stormwater have just gone up dramatically, along with the potential future burdens on the town for operating and fixing this infrastructure as it ages.

With housing and market demand still deeply impacted by the recession, we find the developer of the FrontStreet resort in North Creek – permitted by APA in 2008 – cutting way back on his commitments for upfront infrastructure construction and service payments, original demands wisely made by the Town of Johnsburg which contrasted markedly with the absence of demands made by Tupper Lake on Michael Foxman et.al. According to the current Adirondack Explorer, FrontStreet developers have completed only one building out of the 149 units approved by the APA in spring, 2008.

One of the municipal topics given the least attention when the ACR was sent to hearing in 2007, and one given the most attention in the FrontStreet permit issued by APA a year later, were energy costs and demands, a carbon budget for the development, energy efficiency and energy performance. Here is a very rich area for investigation at the ACR hearing. What is the “carbon footprint” of the proposed ACR? How much carbon dioxide would be released simply from clearing the trees and bulldozing the soils around the building and road/driveway sites, to say nothing of heating, cooling the homes over time? How much carbon dioxide would be absorbed if development were clustered, and forests preserved intact, or harvested and sustainably managed as a source of alternative biofuel to displace use of heating oil? Even if built to LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) standards, how much electrical power would these resort dwellings really draw from the new 46-kV line to Tupper Lake, and thus what are its real impacts on future demand and electric capacity?

I urge the APA and others to give all these questions a hard look with expert testimony at the hearing. I think that was the expectation of Agency commissioners in 2007 and I hope it remains so today.

Photo: From summit of Mt. Morris, looking at chairlift, Tupper Lake marsh, Rt. 30 causeway, Raquette River and in center mid-distance, Cranberry Pond. This was taken on the only field trip offered by the applicant – in spring 2007.

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David Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve

During Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history.

Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.




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