Posts Tagged ‘Curt Stiles’

Monday, July 25, 2011

John Warren: The Art of Making Enemies

A small group of the usual opponents of smart development have raised another ruckus with the help of some local media. It was reported in the local daily press (“APA hears citizens’ rage“, “APA critics blast board“), and followed up by Denton Publications, (including video!). It was one of a regular stream of media campaigns orchestrated and carried out by some of the same folks who have opposed smart development planning for the Adirondack Park since it began 40 years ago.

As if on cue, the Glens Falls Post-Star then launched another of its – this time particularly vicious – attacks on the Adirondack Park’s regional planning board, the Adirondack park Agency (APA). That nasty editorial ran on the same day some 120 people from all perspectives and sectors of the Adirondacks were meeting in Long Lake to find ways to set aside their differences and work together for a better Adirondacks.

It started July 15th with what appears to have been an organized protest at an APA business meeting, and may have been result of leaked information that APA Chairman Curt Stiles would step down the next day. The usual suspects were on hand, including Salim “Sandy” Lewis, Carol LaGrasse, Frank Casier, Mike Vilegi, Howard Aubin, and Bob Schulz. Insults were hurled at the “un-American”; cries for “liberty” and an end to “tyranny” and “repression and fear” were heard – Lewis and his entourage stormed out. Here’s a quick look at those who were there:

Salim “Sandy” Lewis is the former Wall Street trader who recently won a $71,600 settlement from state taxpayers after arguing that the APA had no jurisdiction over farms (he had sought close to a quarter million). “You are hated by a significant portion of this community,” he told the APA’s commissioners. Lewis believes the APA restricts local farming operations, despite the fact that local farming is up considerably amid a national decline (1, 2). [He believes there are two kind of farmers: “real farmers” who have capital to invest in their farms, and “phony farmers” who don’t]. Apparently, Lewis’s Wall Street experience has led him to believe that no none should have a say in the impacts large businesses have in the Adirondack Park. During a litany of threats against a variety of enemies, Lewis claimed he was asked to attend the APA meeting by the Governor’s Office. “I’ve been asked to name five new board members to this group by the Governor’s office,” he said.

Carol LaGrasse is the leader of the one-woman Property Rights Foundation who has called the APA “anti-family”. Among her more ridiculous assertions was the prediction that massive forest fires would follow the blowdown of 1995 if the state didn’t allow logging on Forest Preserve land (1). She was wrong then, but continues to appear regularly in local media reports whenever they need to trot out a rabid anti-environmentalist, Adirondack Park or Forest Preserve opponent.

Frank Casier is a former real estate developer. Now 92, Casier was a co-founder of Tony D’Elia’s Adirondack Defense League, described by Kim Smith Dedam as “an early order of resistance to the institution of the APA Act in 1973.” Casier, who said “The APA destroyed three of my housing projects,” was on hand with a 12-page pamphlet entitled The Theft of the Adirondacks. According to LaGrasse, Casier hasn’t been to an APA meeting in decades, but he said he has a new anti-APA book forthcoming. Casier was once the publisher of the anti-APA Adirondack Defender, funded by Alpo Dog Foods founder and Lake Placid summer resident (now deceased) Robert F. Hunsicker. The first Adirondack Defender was published as an supplement insert in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (then led by Will Doolittle‘s dad), and subsequently run in the Tupper Lake Free Press, Ticonderoga Sentinel, and Malone Telegram. The Denton newspapers, then numbering ten weeklies and owned by William Denton, refused to run the Defender.

Mike Vilegi was a passenger in the truck James McCulley drove down Old Mountain Road in an effort to have the long-abandoned wilderness road reopened to motorized vehicles. Vilegi is a Lake Placid builder who was leader of the “Adirondack Porn Agency” effort to taint the reputations of APA staff and commissioners. According to the Press-Republican, Vilegi once attended an APA meeting “wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘Adirondack Porn Agency’ written across the chest and a less polite phrase written on the back”. Vilegi has a flair for the dramatic; he’s a producer of YouTube videos showing how damaging hikers are.

Howard Aubin is a businessman who found his way to the Big Tupper Resort hearings to proclaim that 100 percent of Tupper Lakers support building the Adirondack Club and Resort, the largest residential development ever proposed in the Adirondacks. In an affidavit in support of the Lewis case, Aubin claimed “There is a general fear among the Bar in the North Country that participation in a dispute against the Agency will harm their practices.” Twenty years ago Aubin helped organize the Adirondack Solidarity Alliance, the folks who brought us the 1990 “freedom drive” which attempted to block Northway traffic between exits 20 and 28.

Bob Schulz, now in his 70s, is the Queensbury founder of We the People Foundation who launched the “Revolution Project” in 2008. Schulz is a longstanding proponent of the idea that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Before that, he was the subject of several federal investigations, including his alleged failure to file Federal income tax returns for years 2001 through 2004. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice successfully sued Schulz to stop the sale “of an alleged tax fraud scheme reported to have cost the U.S. Treasury more than 21 million dollars.” Last year the Internal Revenue Service revoked We the People’s tax exempt status.

Trying to force logging of the Forest Preserve, subverting the APA Act for financial gain, blocking traffic, wearing obscene t-shirts to public meetings, promoting the refusal to pay taxes – these are the folks who enjoy standing with the local media.

Meanwhile, 120 private citizens, business, education, and nonprofit leaders, environmentalists, state and local economic development professionals and government leaders, and anti-APA property rights advocates were joining together in Long Lake to try and foster a sense that we’re all in this together. What coverage did that get? None that I can find.

Instead, we’re treated to a malicious anti-APA diatribe by the Glens Falls Post-Star that includes a number of personal attacks on APA staff and commissioners, all civil servants doing their job to help protect the Adirondack Park, a park for all the people of the state.

Unfortunately we need to constantly rehash the wrong-headed arguments expressed by the Post-Star‘s editorial board, even though they’ve been shown time and again to have no basis in fact. They claim, for example, “In its zeal to crack down on every potential encroachment of civilization, real or imagined, the agency has tipped the balance against the interests of individual rights and against economic development.” How any reasonable person can make that claim is beyond me – but they repeat it again and again.

First, the APA regulates about 40% of new buildings and 20% of total development activities. Second, the APA has declined just .8% of the projects that have been brought before it since 1973. And while we’re at it, there is also no basis whatsoever for the argument that the APA somehow coerces people to withdraw their applications – there simply aren’t that many withdrawn applications. There is no need to withdraw an application because the APA approves nearly all of them. This is what the Post-Star calls a “zeal to crack down on every potential encroachment of civilization”.

It is simply ludicrous to continue to argue that an agency that has power over just 20% of development activities and only 40% of new buildings, and has blocked only the tiniest fraction of those, is responsible for “overzealous enforcement of state regulations and an unwavering support of restrictive environmentalist policies over reasonable economic growth and development in the Adirondacks.”

The Post-Star‘s editorial board, which includes Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Carol Merchant, should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to divide Adirondackers, especially on the same day those of us with an actual stake here were trying to make efforts to come together.

One final issue which really gets to the heart of the Post-Star‘s project to discredit reasonable environmental protections and smart growth planning in the Adirondack Park. The entire tone of their editorial is couched in terms of government openness, yet they don’t expect the same from the Local Government Review Board (LGRB). To my knowledge the paper has never once investigated the LGRB despite the fact that the APA-funded body is headed by Fred Monroe (and its one employee, his wife), who until very recently collected a paycheck from New York State, Warren County, and the Town of Chester (more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded salary).

The LGRB, which frequently meets at private restaurants on the public’s dime, issues no notices that a meeting is being held, no agendas before the meeting, no meeting minutes, and no online audio or video recordings of meetings. I signed up for the LGRB’s e-mail newsletter several years ago, I’m still on the list, but I’ve never received any information from them whatsoever. By the way, the APA does all these things and more.

When was the last time anyone had a say in who is on the LGRB? They are county backroom appointments, not elected, and there is no public discussion whatsoever. At a meeting I attended recently it was not even clear who was on the board and who wasn’t. They have never held a public forum or public hearing that I’m aware of. And despite the LGRB’s budget of over $110,000, it appears they haven’t produced anything in a full year.

It’s time these folks stop constantly disrupting our mutual progress for their own personal gain. As Adirondack Daily Enterprise Publisher Catherine Moore and Managing Editor Peter Crowley wrote this week in an editorial about their community’s recent division over the Adirondack Club and Resort:

“We all love nature and people, and we all want a balance between economic viability and environmental protection. It shouldn’t be shocking that people differ on where the balance point should be. Be realistic and grounded, be respectful, and don’t go looking for enemies – that’s our advice.”

And mine too.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Guest Commentary From APA Chair Curt Stiles

As Adirondack Park Agency Chairman I ask the same question everyday, “How do we change the tone of local and regional discussions regarding the environment and communities of the Adirondack Park and its relationship to the Adirondack Park Agency?”

By tone, I refer to discussions that take place along Main Streets, at soccer games, town meetings, and the diverse places Adirondackers and visitors discuss the Park, its past, present and future. In my work as Chairman, I respect the long history of public involvement regarding property ownership, business interests and personal interactions with the agency. The Community Spotlight series, visiting communities and attending public hearings broaden my understanding of how the public views the agency and the management of public and private lands.

The agency is charged with administration of the Adirondack Park Agency Act, the Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers Act, and the Freshwater Wetlands Act. Clearly, these statutes, particularly in terms of public and private land protection—influence how people live and work in the Park. They also contribute to the exceptional environmental quality, open space character and rural heritage of the region recognized not only nationally but throughout the world.

Changing the tone will require acknowledgment of the APA’s longstanding and legitimate role established by the New York State Legislature for Park planning, policy and regulations, a role many stakeholders see as a partnership for success. As we embark on the second decade of the 21st century, a decade that includes the 40th anniversary of the Adirondack Park Agency Act, it is high time to move beyond differences and embrace opportunities where environmental planning and stewardship gain their rightful place as a fulcrum to build and sustain economies and communities across this amazing place. Ignoring this perspective prolongs divisions that weaken the competitiveness of the Adirondack Park.

From the creation of the Forest Preserve and Adirondack Park, New York State has demonstrated a profound interest and engagement in the sustainability of the Adirondacks for the benefit of all New Yorkers. For those of us who live and work here, that underscores the challenge of how to maintain the value of place and quality of life with the need to attract growth to ensure Adirondack communities remain viable. These tensions exist and in economically challenging times seem even more formidable.

Democracy empowers debate, contradiction, disagreement, and the acknowledgment and acceptance of different beliefs. Our biggest challenge is not allowing differences to undermine the combined interests we share and distract from the very real urgencies facing the Park. It would be naïve to ignore the need for improved infrastructure, economic diversification, and job creation, affordable housing, retaining schools and youth, increasing private revenue investment, and invasive species control. Addressing these issues requires commitment from citizens, municipal government, not-for-profits, and state agencies—all working together towards a shared goal.

To truly change the tone we must work together in partnership to promote what makes
this region unique and worthy of investment. Collectively we must better inform investors that the Adirondacks are not closed to business but in fact eight agency approved business parks await their arrival. It may mean accepting the fact the Forest Preserve attracts millions of visitors and billions of tourism dollars. Changing the tone means realizing we are not alone confronting current economic trends and globalization.

While the past is an important footnote to the present, it should not be the narrative which defines the public discussion or the agency response to the present and future. Together, in our interactions, communication and understanding of the important balance between economy and environment, we have the ability to shape the future. At the agency, we are committed to changing the discussion to one of how to improve efficiency, outreach and regulatory reform for the betterment of the Adirondack Park. To change the tone is to recognize the need for an honest dialog between opposing views with a commitment to reconcile differences and achieve solutions.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Dave Gibson: Review Board’s Attacks on APA Unjust

Commendations to the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for its recently released Policy Perspective found on their website [pdf]. It is a substantive policy update and, for a government report, a pretty strong communication piece to the general public as well as to “stakeholders.”

What I especially liked about the APA report and Chairman Stiles cover letter are that:

A. They strongly make the case that the environmental quality of the Adirondack Park is a fundamental prerequisite to a stronger economy.

B. They state in several places APA’s fundamental statutory purpose, upheld by older and very recent court decisions, which is “to serve a supervening state concern transcending local interests.”

The only problem is it’s reactive, not proactive, genesis.

The restrained but pointed cover letter from APA Chairman Curt Stiles to Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board (LGRB) Executive Director Fred Monroe makes it clear that Policy Perspective is in reaction to the LGRB paper released two weeks earlier under the kind of catchy headline most nonprofit advocacy groups dream of using, APA: Under the Influence and in Need of Detoxification.

Now, which report do you think the media covered? You’re right! Under the Influence wins the coverage. Of course, LGRB led with its report, and APA reacted, which makes one hope that the APA could be more proactive, and issue substantive annual policy updates about what they are doing to fulfill their mandate.

Section 804 of the APA Act requires the Agency to “report periodically to the governor and the legislature on the conduct of its activities but no less than once a year, furnishing a copy of each such report to the clerk of the county legislative body of each county…and to the review board.” The APA’s published annual reports have probably fulfilled this minimum requirement, but in all honesty these tend not to be overly substantive.

LGRB’s Under the Influence admirably served its statutory purpose of “periodically reporting” about the administration and enforcement of the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan to “the Governor and the Legislature, and to the country legislative body of each of the counties.” Of course, I take issue with much of what the LGRB reports says, and how it says it.

In terms of content, I’ll select just three of the many topics covered in these reports:

1. Does the APA, as the LGRB alleges, sneakily expand its authority by secretly issuing regulations at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve? No. I remember the exhausting TAL (Technical Advisory List) meetings of APA stakeholders following the 1995 report of the Task Force on the Administration of the APA. If there was ever a never-ending “stakeholder” review process on regulations, APA demonstrated it from that day to this. LGRB attended every one of those meetings, and influenced the outcomes. Then, Governor Pataki introduced GORR, the governor’s office of regulatory reform. Every draft APA regulation undergoes months of additional scrutiny.

As to the 2010 boathouse regulation (which was under review for nearly a decade), at the last moment APA bent over backwards for developers, wealthier shore land owners, and the LGRB. The regulation should have been far stronger on behalf of all the other critters that use the shoreline, but who don’t answer to the word “stakeholder.”

2. Is there truly “no official local government role in the APA appointment process?” That is what the LGRB claims. Actually, LGRB has pretty effective influence, as the evidence bears out. All eight citizen commissioners must be confirmed by the State Senate. In thinking about the late Senator Stafford and now Senator Little, it’s hard to say that the Adirondack local government interests are poorly represented in that elected body. And many of those confirmations have been for deeply rooted Adirondackers. John Stock of Tupper Lake served the APA for decades. John was the chief forester for Litchfield Park and I remember the pride with which local leaders viewed his participation on the agency. Former APA Chairs John Collins and Bob Flacke were deeply involved with affairs in Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake and Lake George respectively, and still are. Today, former Johnsburg Town Supervisor Bill Thomas, Lake Pleasant Town Supervisor Frank Mezzano, Webb activist Lani Ulrich, and North Elba businessman Art Lussi comprise four of the eight citizen APA members and all enjoy strong local government support.

The Town of Minerva’s viewpoint apparently didn’t matter to the LGRB. Minerva voted to endorse Gov. Paterson’s nomination of Pete Hornbeck, one of that Town’s esteemed residents, a former member of its planning board and a successful businessman. LGRB didn’t like that nomination, and Senator Little has so far blocked Hornbeck’s confirmation.

Twelve years ago the LGRB was given a non-voting role at the APA table each month, and invited to comment on every agenda item at every meeting. Other organizations and individuals, lacking a statutory role, wait for Friday afternoons every month to communicate in person to the Agency.

Requiring the governor to select solely from a list of people endorsed by local governments in the Park would be dismissive of the interest all New Yorkers have for consideration of people with a broad array of talents, life experiences and motivations to uphold the intent of the APA Act.

3. Are APA enforcement fines against violators regularly unfair and egregious, as LGRB alleges? No. First, there are many potential violations out there, and only a handful of enforcement officers. The facts in APA’s report suggests that most violators who come to the agency’s attention want to do the right thing, and most APA enforcement staff want to work with these people in a respectful, fair and personal manner to heal environmental damage. Civil penalties in 2009 ranged from $100 to $4,000. LGRB hardly makes a strong fairness case here. The cases LGRB raises concern not the “little guy,” but a few high profile landowners whose purpose is to wage a legal and public relations campaign against the APA.

Photo: Whiteface Mountain in early November


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ADK Recognizes Efforts to Preserve Wild Places

Curt Stiles, chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency, delivered the keynote address at the eighth annual Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) awards dinner on Sept. 13 at the Queensbury Hotel. The focus of the evening was recognizing outstanding volunteers, staff and organizations that help preserve New York’s wild lands and waters.

The Eleanor F. Brown ADK Communication Award was presented by Eleanor Brown to the Adirondack Mountain Club, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society for a joint project to educate the public about the problem of black bear/human interaction in the backcountry. To address this problem these groups worked together to promote the proper use of bear canisters in the High Peaks, and the audience was given a quick bear canister use lesson by Leeann Huey from ADK’s High Peaks Information Center.

The David L. Newhouse ADK Conservation Award was presented to Jack Freeman, a member of ADK’s Conservation Committee since 1984. Executive Director Neil Woodworth cited Freeman’s skills at grassroots organizing as being responsible for the successful conclusion of many conservation battles. Freeman is the author of ADK’s “Views from on High: Firetower Trails in the Adirondacks and Catskills,” and is best known outside of ADK as “Mr. Firetower.”

The Arthur E. Newkirk ADK Education Award was presented to Arthur Haberl who said that in 2001 he used funds from his late wife’s life insurance policy to begin funding the Marie Lynch Haberl Youth Outreach Program. To date this program has reached over 2000 youth in three north country school districts, helping to instill a life-long appreciation for the Adirondacks. Also in 2001, Haberl established a scholarship fund for Paul Smith’s College students.

ADK’s Trailblazer Award recipient, Robert J. Ringlee, was recognized by ADK President Curt Miller for his calm and knowledgeable helming of the ADK ship as it traveled through tumultuous waters at various points in its voyage. Ringlee was not only president for three years, but he has served on numerous committees and ad-hoc working groups dealing with critical issues. He continues to serve as one of the stalwarts overseeing the Newhouse and Ringlee Presidential Archives and Library.

The Adirondack Mountain Club, founded in 1922, is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the New York State Forest Preserve and other wild lands and waters through conservation and advocacy, environmental education and responsible recreation.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Adirondack Park Agency Nominations Update

From the Adirondack Council‘s John Sheehan, an update on last night’s APA confirmations.

At 11:20 p.m. last night, the NYS Senate confirmed the nominations of three commissioners to the Adirondack Park Agency’s 11-member board of commissioners. The confirmations fill the existing vacancies, including the position of chairman.

Curt Stiles, Tupper Lake, was appointed chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency. Stiles is currently president of the Upper Saranac Lake Foundation, which recently hired the first Waterkeeper to guard an interior Adirondack water body. Lake George and Lake Champlain are the only other Adirondack lakes with Waterkeepers. The foundation has been active in protecting water quality, while fighting pollution and invasive plant species.

Curt is also vice chairman of the Adirondack Council Board of Directors, although stepped down from that role upon his confirmation as APA Chairman by the Senate. He joined the Adirondack Council’s board in 2005. Stiles is also on the board of the Trudeau Institute, a medical research facility in Saranac Lake. He is a past board member of the Adirondack Medical Center (Saranac Lake) and Paul Smith’s College. His a former member of the Harrietstown Planning Board, so he has some local government experience and is familiar with the task of reviewing land-use plans, a chief duty of the APA. He is a retired senior executive with Xerox.

He replaces acting chairman Cecil Wray, Manhattan, who had stepped into that role following the resignation of chairman Ross Whaley in September. Wray was a member of the Adirondack Council board of directors until his appointment to the APA by Governor Pataki more than a decade ago. He is an attorney.

Richard Booth, Ithaca, was appointed commissioner to hold one of three seats reserved for non-Park residents. Booth is a Plattsburgh native. He has experience in both Ithaca City government and the Tompkins County Legislature. More importantly, he is an environmental law professor at Cornell University and one of the most respected environmental legal experts in the nation. Booth served on the Adirondack Council board of directors from 1982 through 1992. He was initially nominated as chairman by Governor Spitzer, but a handful of local government officials and state Legislators complained that he was not a Park resident. Spitzer withdrew Booth’s name as a chairman nomination, but resubmitted him as a regular commissioner on the APA board.

Frank Mezzano, Lake Pleasant, was reappointed to a four-year term. His current term ran out earlier this year. Frank joined the board early in the Pataki Administration over the objections of the Adirondack Council and other environmental groups, who objected to the fact that Mezzano was a sitting local government official. The groups argued that as Town Supervisor and a member of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, Mezzano was being put in a position of conflicting interests. How, we asked, could he impartially judge the merits of development projects that might affect the finances of the community for which he is chief financial officer? This conflict still exists. Mezzano left the board briefly at the end of his third term, then came back to take the remaining term of another local representative who had left before her term had expired (Deanne Rehm of Bolton, Warren County).

The APA Board of Commissioners has 11 members. Five must be full time Park residents, while three seats are reserve for non-Park residents. The remaining three belong to the commissioners of Environmental Conservation and Economic Development and to the Secretary of State. No more than five of the eight citizen members may be from the same political party.

The APA’s staff still lacks an Executive Director, following the retirement of Richard Lefebvre of Caroga Lake, Fulton County, this summer.


Monday, October 22, 2007

New Adirondack Park Agency Nominations

According to North Country Public Radio:

The state Senate is expected to consider confirmations of three new APA board members today. Governor Spitzer has named Upper Saranac Lake resident Curt Stiles to serve as chairman. Stiles has served as chairman of the Upper Saranac Lake Foundation and has taken a leading role on the issue of invasive species.

The Senate is also expected to confirm Dick Booth, an environmental attorney and author from Ithaca. Booth was initially named to serve as chairman, but his appointment drew criticism because he lives outside the blue line. Booth has had close ties to local government groups and to the environmental community.Governor Spitzer has also reappointed Frank Mezzano, town supervisor from Lake Pleasant. Mezzano is a veteran member of the APA who returned to the board earlier this year after a brief hiatus.

The APA is currently led by interim chairman Cecil Wray. It’s unclear whether interim executive director Mark Sengenberger will be named to fill that post permanently.Stiles takes over at a time when the APA confronts major decisions, including the Park’s snowmobile policy and the fate of the Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake.



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