Monday, November 28, 2011

Dave Gibson: Important ACR Testimony Excerpts

Today I select what I consider to be important excerpts from the testimony in the public adjudicatory hearing on the Adirondack Club and Resort. These particular excerpts come from testimony contained in the official hearing record delivered by four experts in the fields of wildlife science, conservation biology, and the ecological sciences.

These experts are Dr. Michael Klemens, Drs. Michale Glennon and Heidi Kretser, and APA scientific services staff director Dan Spada. In future posts, I plan to cite hearing testimony from experts in fiscal and community impacts and economics. The testimony was provided during the 19-day long Adirondack Club and Resort adjudicatory public hearing which spanned the period between late March and late June, 2011.

This testimony is part of the hearing record, which closed in late October. The members of the Adirondack Park Agency must make a determination about the project based solely upon that official record. The members anticipate reaching a decision at their January, 2012 meeting. Their deliberations continue during the APA’s December 15-16, 2011 meeting, which is open to the public.

ACR is the largest subdivision and development proposal to come before the APA in 35 years. It’s comprised of 706 residential units, 332 buildings, a new ski lodge, restaurant, gymnasium, marina, equestrian center, and 15 miles of new roads, sewer, water and electrical lines spread over 6235 mostly undeveloped acres on rugged, forested terrain several miles from the Village of Tupper Lake.

Some of the testimony that I cite is pre-filed written testimony, and some is direct testimony and response to cross-examination during the hearing.

Dr. Michael Klemens, conservation biologist

During the April 27, 2011 hearing in Ray Brook, attorney for the applicant cross- examined Dr. Klemens about how extensively he had reviewed the application. Dr. Klemens responded:

“I looked at the overall layout of fragmentation on the site created by the distribution of the proposed uses, which snake all over the site, which are — basically I call sprawl on steroids. What you call the Great Camps, I call not-so-great camps. They’re basically large scale sprawl. I looked at the interface of the roads and the houses packed onto steep slopes above wetlands basically without any understanding of the biology, the ecology of the site. Yes, those things can occur on the site, but are they in the right place on the site? We don’t know because you haven’t provided us with any kind of information to make an informed planning decision based on science. This site reflects basically the hopes and aspirations of the developer, not any scientific understanding of the site.”

Asked how Dr. Klemens would define the term “ecological footprint,” Dr. Klemens responded on April 27 as part of the following Q&A:

“It’s the zone of impact and influence …– which will disrupt the
environment writ large by a development. You can put — for example, …– a road is a great example. A road is a rather linear impact. It has a cleared area. It has swales or underdrains, and that. But the impact of a road, depending on the intensity of its traffic — and there’ve been lots of studies on this — the impact can extend a quarter to half a mile on each side of the road through road mortality, noise, and disruption. So that’s what impact analysis is — to understand how a layout on any development project or any use will actually spill over through lighting, through noise, through all those other variables into the ecosystem.”

Q. In looking at the materials that you did review concerning this
application, can you describe in a little bit of detail what you perceived in your expert opinion to be the ecological footprint of this project?

A. It’s extremely large. I haven’t calculated, but it’s large because of the amount of roads and the amount — and the way the development is spread across the site.…– it’s a fairly large footprint. And again, that footprint will vary dependent upon also the species. The species respond — if you’re talking about wildlife, they’re responding at different scales. Birds respond at a different scale to amphibians, to a different scale to area sensitive carnivores. So it’s not — the impacts are at different scales. But this is a fairly spread out development. I mean basically to me …– it is sprawl. It is sprawl — the Great Camps are what I consider very, very large lot residential subdivisions in a sense. They’re very large. There’s one that’s actually – maybe approaches what? A thousand acres? But these things generally –…– it’s not unlike many suburban developments. These large dispersed developments give people the illusion …– of greenery and ecological integrity. In fact, they spread the impacts out with a huge amount of edge effect and a huge amount of impact. And — … that’s why you want to think about trying to make it more compact. And we heard excellent testimony yesterday about how making the development more compact would — … meet a variety of objectives.”

“There are large zones of influence on wildlife which will be disrupted by the project. People look at wildlife. They think wildlife moves in corridors. Wildlife moves across the landscape almost like sheet flow of water. There’s movement all through the landscape. And that continues for some species, less effectively in a logged landscape, but it continues, and there’s recovery. Once you put on a hard landscape of roads, development, and other amenities, you fragment that sheet flow of wildlife and organisms across the landscape.”

“I would anticipate based on my rapid amphibian assessment that there would be at least fifteen species of amphibians breeding on the site. For their small size, amphibians pack an ecological wallop because they control so much of the energy transfer in and out of ecosystems. Amphibians are bi-phasic, meaning that they breed in vernal pools and move to uplands the rest of the year. Wetland protection alone will not protect these species. The habitats of these animals are linked to uplands.”

Drs. Michale Glennon and Heidi Kretser, ecologists for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program in Saranac Lake

Asked whether the proposed ACR would create an undue adverse impact on Resource Management lands, Dr. Glennon answered “Yes.” She wrote in prefiled testimony:

“An alternative design which reduced the spatial extent of the development associated with the great camp lots would have a much higher likelihood of reducing negative impacts to wildlife.”

“Biotic integrity is very likely to decline on the project site, and will decline more so than it would if development were primarily directed at the Moderate Intensity lands within the site.”

ACR is “likely to result in an increase in human-adapted, generalist species, with a concurrent decrease in those species which are more specialized and most likely those which are rare in New York State.”

“Cumulative impacts are significant.”

“Those species which tend to be negatively impacted by residential development are those which the APA Act intends to protect, such as species which are generally rare, many of them restricted to the Adirondack Park within NYS.”

“The proposed ACR development will negatively impact the majority of large forest blocks present on the RM lands because the large lot sizes associated with the great camp development result in the sprawl of homes and associated roads and driveways across a large proportion of the site, and in large core forest blocks being divided into smaller areas.”

“Among rare songbirds in NYS, more than half are forest birds and the majority of them are boreal and conifer specialists which are confined to the Park within NYS…They are iconic of the region, they are rare..and they are specialists on boreal and core forest habitats. Because we know they occur on or near the ACR property, the project will impact Key Wildlife Habitats.”

Asked whether there would still be undue adverse impacts even if the large eastern Great Camp lots were on “substantial acreages,” Dr. Glennon replied on June 24 as part of the following Q&A:

“Yes, I think it’s possible.”
Q. And based on the current state of the science?
A. Yes.
Q. Would the impacts from those eight houses, if they were located on resource management lands, be significantly reduced if they were located so that their zones of ecological impact — I believe you called it — overlapped with each other and they were on short driveways close to a public road?

A. Yes, very definitely. And there’s probably lots of different ways in which they can be condensed – with fewer impacts on the landscape.”

Asked if the project as designed met the basic purposes of Resource Management lands, Drs. Glennon and Kretser both replied “No.”

Dr. Kretser wrote:

“The project as designed does not meet the basic purposes of RM lands. As evidenced by my colleague’s testimony, it does not protect the delicate physical and biological resources. The proposed project does not encourage proper and economic management of forest because the entire property is divided into smaller parcels…The proposal does not maintain the unique character of the Adirondack Park. The number of residential structures being proposed…represents more than have been added to the majority of townships in the park in the years between 1990-2004.”

Daniel M. Spada, biologist and staff director of NYS Adirondack Park Agency’s resource analysis and scientific services division

Asked on June 23 about the impacts to natural resources, and whether alternatives could be developed that avoided those, Mr. Spada replied:

“My current concerns on the resource management parcels, both on the large Great Camp lots and the smaller Great Camp lots is that those impact zones have not been collapsed. They haven’t been overlapped to the greatest extent possible, in my opinion. There are still some areas, I think, where driveways can be shortened, dwellings can be moved closer to roads, to existing roads, and that sort of thing.”

Mr. Spada was then asked “Are there other modifications that you think could reduce the impacts?” He responded:“Certainly. A reduction of the number of units.”

Q. Reduction of which units would you recommend as reducing the impacts?

A.”If you look at this map, Exhibit 244, and the resource management areas, it becomes been pretty obvious where there’s a high density of units in a given area. For instance, with the west face expansion, with the next seven hundred and fifty foot zone, it — it pretty well blocks out that area as far as being of utility for wildlife habitat. So that might be a spot where either units could be reduced in number or they could be reconfigured…I think we need to balance the number of units, the configuration of the units, and resources on the project site.”

Q. And to your knowledge, were those types of alternatives evaluated by the sponsor?

A. Not to my knowledge.”

In his pre-filed testimony, Mr. Spada wrote:

“While I agree that existing development and use of the project site already affects wildlife habitat, in my opinion the proposed project would increase the significance and duration of the impacts…the impacts from the changes to the existing roads in amount and seasonality included increased levels of habitat fragmentation and direct wildlife mortality.”

“The Great Camp Lots are arranged across the landscape in a relatively uniform configuration and the three-acre development envelopes are relatively widely separated from each other as in classic exurban development. To adequately protect the forest resources, the development should occur in a configuration that reduces impact zones from the development by overlapping them.”

Mr. Spada goes on to define Ecological Impact Zones (EIZ), assess the extent of impacts on wildlife, and discuss alternatives to the ACR layout. He writes:

“When the actual footprint and its EIZ for the components of this project are considered, the amount of wildlife habitat that would not be impacted by the project is considerably less than the amount of open space reported by the Project Sponsor…Over the entire site, 63% of existing wildlife habitat will be preserved.”

“In my experience this process (of identifying alternatives) can be short-circuited by identifying a preferred alternative prior to conducting the analysis. That is what has occurred in the case of this proposed project. In my opinion, the analyses noted above do not constitute a true alternatives analysis. Different scenarios were not described and impacts were not compared…In my opinion there has not been an organized and rational discussion of reasonable, potential alternatives.”

“Good design collapses and overlaps the zones of impact from the development activities to minimize negative effects…The twenty-seven small Great Camp Lots in RM are not clustered as tightly as possible, nor are their zones of impact overlapped to the greatest extent possible.”

“One alternative would be to eliminate the eight large Great Camp Lots east of Simon Pond, and reduce the size and spatial spread of the smaller western and eastern Great Camp Lots in RM. It’s possible under such a scenario that the eight large Great Camp Lots eliminated from east of Simon Pond could be relocated closer to the small eastern and western Great Camp Lots and closer to the ski resort. This would reduce road mileage and infrastructure costs, minimize loss of open space, minimize habitat fragmentation and allow for continued effective sustainable forest management east of Simon Pond. This alternative scenario, although suggested by Agency staff, was never proposed by the Project Sponsor nor was it evaluated to the same level as the existing proposal.”

Asked whether he agreed with the project sponsor’s contention that the area is currently highly fragmented by logging activity and the proposed development will decrease habitat fragmentation because logging activities will cease, Mr. Spada replied:

“No. The broad statement about the current state of the property is not supported by data and the conclusion that habitat will be improved is not justified by current research or scientific understanding. Logging disturbances are temporary, whereas structures and roads are permanent. Logging disturbances are also periodic and on discrete sites within the property, not constant and evenly distributed. There is one major logging road through the part of the property east of Simon Pond. The road is and will remain unpaved. It is used sporadically and traffic volume is low. It is unclear whether the proposal to access the eight larger Great Camp Lots on a year round basis has potential for greater impact than existing road use by two hunting clubs with many members on a typically seasonal basis.”

“Based on my experience and my review of recent research concerning habitat fragmentation [Exhibit 90, APA hearing staff response to Protect the Adirondacks, Discovery Request, Item 11: Glennon and Porter (2005) Trombulak and Frissell 2000, Hansen et al. 2005)], it is my opinion that bird community biotic integrity is not influenced by forest management as generally practiced in the Adirondacks. I believe that biotic integrity does respond positively to roadlessness and negatively to development. It is my opinion that long roads dividing undeveloped areas are of concern for fragmenting wildlife habitat. These impacts can be mitigated by minimizing the length, width and frequency of use of the roads and locating them near the periphery of undeveloped blocks of land. In reviewing this proposed project, Agency staff have asked the Project Sponsor to consider modifications to the proposed project and alternatives to the proposed project that would minimize these impacts.”

Photos: Above, from Mt. Morris looking at Tupper Lake; below, from Mt. Morris looking toward the Village of Tupper Lake.

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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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