By Ralph A. Cossa
In his Jan. 11 commentary in the Adirondack Almanack, Peter Bauer asked the question “Will the new boss be the same as the old boss?” in questioning whether the Adirondack Park Agency Board, under new chairman John Ernst, would finally start holding adjudicatory hearings regarding contentious issues, or would it continue to avoid this process which allows citizens’ and experts’ views to be heard and questions answered. The issue in question was the White Lake Quarry Application (APA2021-0075) which called for extensive mining operations directly over the community’s aquifer and within 1000 feet of their pristine spring-fed lake, in the middle of a tourist-oriented residential community of some 400 homes and small businesses.
Adjudicatory hearings used to be a regular occurrence; between 1973-2008, there were 151, or roughly 4-5 per year. Since 2008, not a single adjudicatory hearing has been held as the APA has become more and more inclined, especially during the Cuomo era, to support business activities in the Park it is sworn to protect. Governor Hochul has pledged to change that mind-set. Obviously, the word has yet to trickle down to the APA.
I personally and directly (via Email) pleaded with APA Chairman John Ernst to ask the staff one simple question during its review this past Thursday and Friday (Jan 13-14) of the White Lake Quarry application: “Has the criteria for an adjudicatory hearing been met?” (We believe and have documented to the APA that six out of seven criteria for an adjudicatory hearing have been met; only one is necessary to justify a hearing.) Instead, at the meeting, the Chairman focused on how they could justify avoiding a hearing.
The APA may have had the right to bypass a hearing but it certainly was not the right thing to do in this case.
The Adirondack White Lack Association (AWLA, of which I am a member and my wife its president) provided expert testimony arguing that the scientific data and monitored testing required to demonstrate that the proposed mining operation will not adversely affect our lake and community is lacking or incomplete. Instead of granting us a hearing, we were dismissed as “confused and misinformed.” A formal adjudicatory public hearing – a quasi-judicial proceeding that’s administered by a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Administrative Law Judge – would have allowed our assertions to be independently assessed; it would have also permitted us to cross-examine the applicant’s experts and the APA staff. The AWLA, along with Protect the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Council, the Sierra Club, and a number of other local organizations, formally requested an adjudicatory hearing after providing documentation affirming that the criteria for such a hearing had clearly been met. But the APA Board voted instead to approve the application without a (fully justified) hearing.
Why was our plea ignored? Only the APA can say for sure. A cynic might think that it was because the APA didn’t want to spend the time and expense involved in a hearing where it would be required to respond to questions and defend its conclusions. A bigger cynic might think the APA realized it should never have marked the application complete in the first place and wanted to avoid being questioned under oath about its initial mistake and failure to right the wrong. Whatever the reason, the end result is the same: conflicting evidence will not be heard and judged in a neutral setting and the community’s need for answers will not be satisfied.
Once again, it’s business as usual at the APA. Business interests have prevailed, while the interests of the surrounding community are ignored. We (foolishly) expected better from Governor Hochul and Chairman Ernst. We should have known better. When a member of the White Lake community called the APA last spring to complain about the then just-submitted application, she was told not to bother since it “was a done deal.” We didn’t want to believe it, but it turned out to be true.
Ralph Cossa is a retired USAF Colonel who spends May through October on White Lake in the Adirondack Park. His wife, whose family has resided on the lake since the 1950s, is president of the Adirondack White Lake Association.