APA mandate is to “ensure compliance with the laws the Agency administers” including the New York State Freshwater Wetlands Act. Instead, APA did the exact opposite with a recent decision permitting the virtual destruction of a Category 1 Wetland- the highest designation for a wetland – on Lot 9, Deerwood, Upper Saranac Lake (USL). For no apparent reason, other than convenience of the new landowner, APA issued an amended permit.
This ecologic system is extremely valuable to maintain USL water quality as two freshwater streams feed the lake via this strategic wetland. The site is replete with old-growth trees and native plant species not often found elsewhere. Bobcat, fox, turkey, and deer use the property while bald eagle sit atop highest trees often as heron fish at the shore. On a recent Annual Loon Count, eight loons were counted directly in front of Lot 9, often the case. This is a rare and special habitat that must be responsibly managed not damaged.
No one disputes the development of a new home on this site consistent with existing environmental regulations and building constraints known to the new owner before purchase. This issue galvanized the entire community. Over 70 letters from homeowners, USLA, USF, ADK Council, Center for Loon Conservation, wetland ecologist, environmental scientist, and engineers all are simply asking- any development permitted must comply with original restrictions and conditions of the Deerwood APA Permit 87-74.
However, based on communications, obtained by Freedom of Information Law, between applicant, or his representative, and APA employees prior to ruling, the APA assured approval before a permit amendment request was submitted. Could this be a case of preferential special interest treatment? Of course, we all hope not, but something is amiss here.
Curiously, APA staff spoke casually about the application leading most to feel this was nothing to be concerned about. On the contrary, this is a precedent setting decision that will open floodgates to a wide range of ecological destruction.
- APA decided in error and failed to consider objective, science-based technical information on permit amendment.
- APA was presented with incomplete and inaccurate plans that failed to delineate water bodies even though streams and a connecting network of freshwater beneath the bog mats existing on the lot, topography and other information to make an informed decision.
- APA ignored independent, outside experts including 2 licensed professional engineers, an environmental scientist, and a wetland ecologist- all advised against proceeding with the project.
- APA failed to consider any of these comments and refused to meet with adjacent property owners, professionals, concerned residents and lake associations before rendering their decision.
Was APA duped? They have the authority to reevaluate the application with verifiable documentation. APA must right this wrong. They must also send a clear message of “never again” by pursuing legal action, if warranted, against anyone knowingly submitting a deceptive application.
APA, do your job managing the Adirondacks from reckless destruction by reversing this decision.
Christopher Cohan is a licensed Landscape Architect specializing in native plantings and public park design. He is an ADKAction Board member and a lifelong seasonal resident of the Adirondacks.
Photo provided by Upper Saranac Lake Association Community