Monday, June 6, 2011

Dave Gibson: ACR Economics and Fair Reporting

The region is fortunate that the Adirondack Daily Enterprise is covering each session of the Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) adjudicatory public hearing. Their reporter, Jessica Collier, is doing a good job writing multiple, interesting stories about each day’s testimony and cross examination.

One of the witnesses reporter Collier covered this week (see Adirondack Daily Enterprise’s June 2nd edition) was Shanna Ratner. I’ve known of Shanna Ratner and her firm, Yellow Wood Associates, for many years. Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley contacted her to testify at this hearing during 2007 when he worked for the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks because he knew she was not just smart and accomplished, but a thorough, deep thinker, and analytical. We were glad that she was retained by Protect the Adirondacks.

Among many other projects, she helped the Adirondack North Country Association to develop a program seeking to add greater value to the region’s forest products. Yellow Wood offers a wide array of consulting services in rural, community development. Judging from her resume, Shanna has devoted a large part of her professional and personal life to helping rural communities survive and develop, if not thrive by focusing on the strengths of their people, their natural resource base, their histories and geography, and their talents for organizing. She has a Masters degree in Agricultural Economics from Cornell University. Among the publications she has authored or co-authored are: “Keeping Wealth Local: Community Resilience and Wealth,” and “Challenges and Opportunities for Rural Communities in a Rapidly Changing World.” She has reviewed a lot of resort development in neighboring Vermont, among other places, and has real-world experience to offer the hearing.

Among other points in her testimony this past week, Ratner challenged ACR’s assertion that “the majority, if not all, of the construction workers will come from the regional labor force” (ACR 2010 Fiscal and Economic Impact Study). Of those firms qualified to construct a resort of this large scale, Ms. Ratner testified that “these firms will use their own employees first, followed by subcontractors with whom they have previous positive experiences. Only after these avenues have been exhausted will they look for additional hires. It is highly unlikely that they would open a hiring hall locally; they are far more likely to work through their own internal channels and with their subcontractors to locate qualified firms and let the firms locate qualified individuals…It is highly unlikely that the ACR will provide a substantial boon to the many unemployed construction workers in the four county area” (Franklin, St. Lawrence, Hamilton and Essex). Under cross examination, she said that the ACR methodology for arriving at their employment numbers uses a simplistic formula not used by other serious resorts with which she is familiar.

She also punched holes in ACR economic multiplier figures. She argued that per capita costs of the sewage infrastructure are likely to be higher than estimated because of the risk of excess sewer capacity, and a lack of home sales to support those costs, leaving those burdens to the community. On town services, she pointed out that newcomers like ACR homeowners will demand better service delivery and quality, sending service costs up. On payment in lieu of taxes, Preserve Associates has no control over the value of the house that eventually gets built, so ACR can not predict accurately the assessed value. As a result, ACR tax revenue projections may be significantly inflated. She also argued that Tupper Lake must plan for peak use periods, and ACR figures for service demands only estimate average use periods.

In summary, according to her testimony, ACR estimates of local employment may have no basis in reality, per capita service costs may be higher than ACR’s application estimated, and revenues from payments in lieu of taxes may be lower because future owners are not required to build million dollar homes.

Not much of this testimony will be found in the Tupper Lake Free Press, where editor Dan McClelland unabashedly and uncritically shouts loudly for the ACR, shouts down anybody with concerns, and not just on the editorial pages. Would that the Free Press more broadly represent the community it serves and be reasonably impartial, knowing how many in town may badly want the ski area redeveloped, but who may be skeptical about ACR claims.

This week the Free Press chooses to only quote the financial and economic analysis of the ACR. In contrast to the even-handed coverage of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, McClelland writes this week about Shanna Ratner and any witness put forward by ACR “opponents”: “the interesting thing about ‘expert’ witnesses is that they can be readily found anywhere. They often testify selectively to meet their employer’s requirements” (Ratner is not employed by Protect the Adirondacks, she is a paid consultant). McClelland continues: “APA Commissioners must listen to what the people of Tupper Lake and their leaders want in the development. What the ‘experts’ of the opposing groups testify must be considered by the board in the fashion it is delivered: paid for by the people who have an agenda to stop the resort.”

Putting an ACR-type application to the test of meeting rigorous standards of review that might actually withstand professional scrutiny, and thus better serve its local community and the park is not on the Tupper Lake Free Press agenda.

Photo: View north from Mount Morris.

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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.




11 Responses

  1. don dew jr. says:

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