In announcing the appointment of John Ernst as the new chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) in late October, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul referred to the Park as “a unique asset” and a “natural gem,” while further noting that “we must preserve its natural beauty for future generations to enjoy, while also boosting tourism and small businesses across the region.” Unfortunately, the word has yet to filter down to the APA staff, whose primary mission is “to protect the public and private resources of the Park.”
Under the previous Cuomo administration, the APA had been very pro-development in the supposedly protected Park. That mind-set regrettably continues, one case in point being the application to begin extensive mining operations in close proximity to White Lake in the Forestport/Woodgate area inside the Park. Local affected residents in this small largely tourist community have submitted hundreds of letters and a petition with over a thousand signatures requesting an adjudicatory hearing to address the many deficiencies they have documented in the Red Rock Quarry Associates application to begin extensive granite mining operations – an initial excavation area of 5.2 acres within a 26.6 acre life of mine zone involving up to 3-6,000 cubic yards of dimensional stone and 10,000 cubic yards of aggregate annually hauled out by up to 20 tractor-trailers daily during an April-October 5 1/2 days/week operation.
The quarry sits astride the community’s aquifer, within 100 feet of protected wetlands, 100 yards of a group of 27 properties (and wells) that share the same granite bank to be mined, within 900 feet of a pristine spring-fed lake, and in the middle of a community of roughly 400 homes and small businesses, all within the Adirondack Park. The scientific data and monitored testing required to demonstrate that the proposed mining operation will not adversely affect the lake and community is lacking or incomplete. Given the APA staff’s assertion that it “will no longer deem applications complete when they believe necessary factual information is missing,” the application should not have gotten this far in the first place. To let the application process proceed without a public hearing would be unconscionable.
The APA has established seven criteria for an adjudicatory hearing. If even one of these criteria is met, a hearing should be held. The Adirondack White Lake Association, joined by Protect the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Council, the Sierra Club, and a number of other local organizations, have documented that at least six of these criteria have clearly been met. Nonetheless, the APA staff is recommending to the APA Board that the application be “approved with conditions” rather than calling for an adjudicatory hearing; none of the “conditions” involves further testing or additional scientific data. This unfortunately represents business as usual for the APA, which has not held an adjudicatory hearing on any project since 2008.
It is now up to the APA Board, at their January 13 monthly Board meeting, to either accept the staff recommendation or follow their own rules and call for an adjudicatory hearing so community voices and concerns can be properly considered. Will it be business as usual or will the Board, under new leadership, listen to the new governor’s call to protect the Park’s environment and call instead for an adjudicatory hearing?
Louanne Cossa is president of the Adirondack White Lake Association. Her family has owned property on White Lake since the 1950s.
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