Last winter’s mild temperatures and lack of snow left winter sports enthusiasts disappointed, but there is already snow on many summits and die-hards earned turns on the Whiteface Memorial Highway several weeks ago. It looks like the start of the downhill season could be just a few weeks away.
It may seem like fall is reluctant to give up its grip on the northeast, but ski season is just around the corner. Gore and Whiteface are targeting the day after Thanksgiving to start spinning their lifts, with most other New York ski areas following suit shortly thereafter. Here’s a look at what’s new for skiers and riders across the region. » Continue Reading.
Oktupperfest originated at Big Tupper Ski Resort in the 1970s, and returned in 2011 after a 10-year hiatus. According to Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce Events Administrator Adam Baldwin, this annual event is family-friendly and fun for all ages.
Baldwin says, “Oktupperfest is a family oriented event filled with live music for everyone. There are tons of things to do. The chairlift is a one-way ride, but it isn’t a huge mountain so people can walk back down from the top. We gear the event toward families, not just kids. We have German food, vendors and kids games as well as adult activities such as the pumpkin slingshot.” » Continue Reading.
Last winter, the massive Adirondack Club and Resort proposed for Tupper Lake cleared its final major hurdle. After more than a decade of debate and controversy, environmental activists and a handful of local property owners who fought to block the project were dealt a sweeping defeat by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court.
The December 2014 ruling, upholding permits issued by the Adirondack Park Agency two years earlier, appeared to open the way for the $500 million project to move forward. It was hailed as a historic moment for the community. “I think the pieces are now in place to do what Tupper Lake and the Adirondack Park need,” said Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun.
But nearly five months later, ACR developers, local pro-development activists, and business leaders acknowledge that considerable uncertainty remains about the timeline for construction and about the broader viability of the resort’s ambitious business plan. » Continue Reading.
Environmentalists challenging the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake have lost their bid to continue their lawsuit against the developer and the Adirondack Park Agency.
The Court of Appeals, the state’s highest tribunal, today rejected a motion by Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club seeking permission to appeal a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.
The green groups contended, among other things, that the project violated the APA Act by fragmenting timberlands into “Great Camp” estates. The APA, which approved the project in January 2012, maintains that the project is legal.
“We’re very disappointed in the decision,” Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect, told Adirondack Almanack. “It takes thousands of acres of timberlands and puts them on the chopping block.”
The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department has announced a decision to uphold the approvals by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for the 6,000-acre Adirondack Club and Resort planned for Tupper Lake.
Protect the Adirondacks along with the Sierra Club and local landowners filed the lawsuit in March of 2012, outlining 29 allegations challenging the legality approvals made by the APA that January.
The decision disappointed opponents of the proposed resort project, the largest in the Adirondacks, who have been working for several years to mitigate the subdivision’s imprint on the landscape. » Continue Reading.
Downhill skiing around the Tri-Lakes of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake without a season pass can put a dent in a parent’s pocketbook. So here are a few tips and discounts available if you plan on skiing Whiteface, Titus and Big Tupper.
ARISE (Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving their Economy), the volunteer group that ran Big Tupper Ski Area for the winters of 2010-11 and 2011-12, recently announced that Big Tupper will be open for the 2013-14 season. The ski area did not operate last winter due to a shortfall of funds and volunteer burnout.
Keeping any ski area open and running is great for the sport. Small, local hills like Big Tupper are vitally important because they provide a lower-cost alternative and they introduce people to skiing. Kudos to the volunteers at Big Tupper for all their efforts over the past few years. But it’s not all good news. » Continue Reading.
Congratulations are due the Adirondack Park Agency and Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program for this month’s Adirondack Park Agency (APA) presentation on the benefits of Conservation Development in the western United States. Presented by Sarah Reed (of Colorado State University and WCS), the information showed the considerable extent of non-traditional subdivision and development going on in the 11 western states today.
Some form of conservation development, or “an approach to development design, construction and subsequent stewardship which achieves functional protection for natural resources and an economic benefit” is going on in about a third of this huge area of the country, Sarah Reed told the APA. Since conservation development is distinguished from traditional development as setting aside at least half of a buildable area as open space, while performing ecological site analysis to map what habitats deserved protection, it has also comprised a remarkable 25% of all private land conservation going on in the west, she said. » Continue Reading.
Maybe it’s pent-up demand following last year’s lackluster ski season, but skiers seem more excited than usual about the approaching ski season. Adirondack ski areas are eagerly anticipating a bounce back from last winter’s disappointing snowfall too, and have been busy with upgrades and improvements all summer.
Snow this weekend meant some tentative trips down the Whiteface Memorial Highway, and cold temperatures last night have kicked-off snowmaking at Gore and Whiteface. » Continue Reading.
Nordic skiers in the northern Adirondacks will want to keep Tupper Lake’s free, groomed cross-country trail system on their radar screen. Expected snowfall should have the 10k trail network skiable this weekend. The trails are located on town-owned land and can be accessed from the Tupper Lake Country Club or Big Tupper Ski Area.
Even though the trail system has been in existence for 40 years, it’s something of a well-kept secret. “We’d like to change that,” says John Gillis, one of a half dozen community volunteers who maintain the trails in winter using snowmobiles and a variety of grooming and track-setting equipment. The trail system is free of charge, open to the public 24/7 (conditions permitting) and is dog-friendly. The trail system’s website and Facebook page are updated frequently with current conditions and grooming reports. Upcoming events include:
– February 4th, 6 pm: Full Moon ski and bonfire at the Cranberry Pond Picnic Area.
– February 11th, 6 pm: Skiing with the Stars. If the night is clear a telescope will be set up.
– February 18th, 10 am: Lumberjack Scramble Ski Race.
– February 25th, 6 pm: Skiing with the Stars. If the night is clear a telescope will be set up.
– March 2nd, 6 pm: Winterfest Bonfire at Cranberry Pond.
Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.
The Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake has been green-lighted by the Adirondack Park Agency in a 10 to 1 vote. APA Commissioner Richard Booth was the lone vote no.
In addition to being livestreamed via the APA’s website, Jessica Collier at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and North Country Public Radio‘s Brian Mann have both been tweeting each speaker’s comments as the vote took place. A proposal to conduct a wildlife study of the development area was defeated in an earlier vote this week. The Almanack has been covering the development project since 2005. Almanack contributor and Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown wrote about what the project could mean to future fragmentation of lands designated Resource Management this week.
You can find out all the details of the project online [pdf].
Citing the lack of wildlife and ecological information in the hearing record, Adirondack Wild, a nonprofit membership organization which advocates on behalf of the New York Constitution’s “Forever Wild” clause, petitioned the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) on Friday to reopen its hearing on the Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) “to secure additional evidence.” ACR is proposed development of 719 dwelling units spread across 6,200 acres near Tupper Lake. Adirondack Wild, a party to the adjudicatory hearing reviewing the large Adirondack resort project in Tupper Lake issued the following statement via press release: “The hearing should be reopened to obtain substantive information and assessment without which the members of the Agency cannot make the requisite findings of ‘no undue adverse impact’ to the Park’s ‘natural, scenic, aesthetic, ecological, wildlife, historic, recreational or open space resources, or upon the ability of public to provide supporting facilities and services.'”
“Every expert witness, as well as Agency staff, found the ACR project application seriously flawed due to the lack of on-site studies of wildlife, sensitive habitats or rare, threatened or endangered species,” Dan Plumley, partner with Adirondack Wild. said. ”Our motion also highlights the fact that Agency staff admit that the applicant failed to sufficiently examine alternative project designs, as the law requires.”
“Moreover, the project’s purported economic benefits have been put forth with no factual data, or other basis upon which the Agency can make an informed judgment about commercial and other benefits of the project. The lot value and sales projections were pulled out of thin air,” Plumley said. Adirondack Wild argues that the APA Act states that such benefits must be taken into account in order to evaluate possible burdens on the local community to provide supporting facilities and services to the development.
Agency Regulations permit any party, or the Agency itself, to move to reopen an adjudicatory hearing to secure additional evidence. The Agency has been deliberating about the ACR hearing since November, and is expected to render a decision on the permit at its January 20 meeting in Ray Brook. The Agency’s Executive Director informed its members in November that it has three choices: to deny the project, approve the project with conditions, or send the project back to hearing.
“The APA executive staff are trying to persuade the Agency board to make a blind inductive leap by purporting that open space, natural and wildlife resources are adequately protected with no basis for this conclusion in the evidentiary record given the failure of the applicant to complete the requisite wildlife studies,” Bob Glennon, Adirondack Wild’s advisor on the motion, said.
“The applicant bears the burden of proof that the project will be compatible with the character, description and purposes of Resource Management lands, will not have an undue adverse impact, and that reasonable alternatives have been thoroughly examined. The applicant has completely failed to meet all of these burdens,” states Glennon, who is a former APA Agency Counsel and Executive Director. ”The Park Agency cannot legally make their required finding of no undue adverse impact without substantial evidence that is competent, material and relevant. Instead, the staff is offering mere speculation that adequate habitat protection can be assured.”
“The Agency should deny the project without prejudice to resubmission, or reopen the hearing so that the applicant finally conducts the natural resource inventory and assessments, and the alternatives analysis that he should have provided years ago,” according to David Gibson, Partner with Adirondack Wild and a regular contributor here at Adirondack Almanack.
“Collecting this evidence will not require years of study,” Gibson said. “While two full field seasons would be preferable, one full field season of work by qualified experts would gather a considerable amount of information about the presence of wildlife and sensitive ecosystems that is presently not available to Agency Members as they seek to render an informed determination whether this is an approvable project or not.”
The project developers have not yet completed applications for permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, NYS Department of Health and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or for a proposed payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan (PILOT) with Franklin County. Developers are proposing taking out approximately $36 million in taxpayer supported bonds to finance the construction.
“Reopening the hearing to obtain vitally needed new evidence will not be holding up progress on the project at all. The applicant can pursue these other permit applications while he is obtaining the additional evidence we believe is essential for the hearing record and for an intelligent, well-reasoned, legally-defensible decision by the Agency,” Gibson said.
Photo: The view over the proposed development area from the summit of Mt. Morris, with Cranberry Pond and Lake Simond in distance.
It’s no secret that it’s been a difficult start to the ski season. Besides a notable lack of snowfall, the cold temperatures that ski areas need for snowmaking operations have so far been hard to come by.
I started my ski season on Thanksgiving weekend, when both Gore and Whiteface opened for the 2011-2012 season, and I’ve now got several days at both mountains under my belt. Although trail choices have been limited (both mountains are about 20% open as of this writing), conditions have been surprisingly good, thanks to efficient snowmaking plants and modern grooming equipment. You can check out my most recent visits to Gore and Whiteface here and here. » Continue Reading.
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.