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ADKWorks launches economic preservation challenge

By: KIM SMITH DEDAM

TUPPER LAKE — Concern with economic stagnation has triggered awareness outreach by a new group centered here: ADKWorks.

The outreach has developed a multi-media campaign for television and web viewers, including a petition to support development in Tupper Lake.

Established in conjunction with the New York State Association of Realtors, the project is spending $130,000 to address what organizers point to as destructive challenges in a litigious Adirondack land-use climate.  

“That this is a PAC (political action committee) is rather dismissive,” Jim LaValley, a Tupper Lake Realtor and advocate for local economic growth, said in a recent interview.

The deeper issue, he says, is the method of control deployed by a small number of environmental activists using litigation to hinder economic growth here.

‘STATEWIDE ISSUE’

At its core, the initiative calls attention to an Article 78 challenge brought against the Adirondack Park Agency and developers of the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake.

Club and Resort permits were approved nearly two years ago, in January 2012, by a 10-to-1 APA Board vote.

But two environmental groups, including locally based Protect the Adirondacks, claim the eight-year APA review process was not properly structured and lacked key wildlife studies.

“In my opinion, when you look at the Club and Resort, state regulation by the APA isn’t the issue,” LaValley said. “It is these certain groups that feel they are better at administrating the regulations than the APA.”

The APA Act was established in 1973 to govern the interaction, he said, between state-land preservation and private-land use. 

And APA is tasked with balancing both sides for a common good.

“I really think we’re dealing with a private-property issue here,” LaValley said. “Imagine somebody in Albany who goes through the effort to get their building permits secured and everything ready to put up their house, and a John Doe comes in and says, ‘We think those permits were issued wrong.’

“This isn’t just the Club and Resort. This has statewide ramifications.”

‘NOT YELLOWSTONE’

Chief among ramifications is the loss of property-tax revenue. 

Since 1980, ADKWorks studies found, real property-tax revenues have declined in Adirondack communities. And private industry has looked away — more than 40 percent of jobs in Franklin County are supplied by state agencies.

“The shrinking and compression of state jobs here is amplified because there are so many state jobs in a small population base,” LaValley said. 

“What is going to springboard things forward economically is private investment.”

But private investment interest shies under the ever-present threat of litigation in the Adirondacks, he said.

“Preservation lawsuits are killing the human ecosystem. And it’s already showing an impact on the natural ecosystems. When you look at the original APA Act, the goal was to balance economy and environmental protection — this is not Yellowstone National Park. 

“And our message is clear: The park works when people do. Tupper Lake played by the rules on this project. Now we’re being penalized while more businesses close and more people are out of work and people move out of the area.

“ADKworks is about an entire region, utilizing the Club and Resort as an example about how this region has been stymied by a small group of people,” LaValley said. “The question becomes, is the park working? Our conclusion is that it’s reached a very tenuous tipping point.”

‘FLAW IN LOGIC’

The narrow margin of approval on Nov. 5 for Proposition 5, allowing Willsboro’s NYCO Minerals to exchange 1,507 acres of private land for mining tests on 200 state acres, is another example of how out of context statewide perception is of Adirondack Park land-use preservation, LaValley said.

At Protect, Executive Director Peter Bauer countered flatly, saying ADKWorks is “a dishonest and misdirected” public-relations campaign. 

“Here’s the flaw in their logic: First of all, the APA only sees about a third or less of the total development in the park, because the APA Act is a two-tiered act,” he said. 

“The other two-thirds of development is non-jurisdictional. The only development that gets to the APA is the development that gets really big or involves important natural resources.

“Secondly, the APA has issued 17,000 permits, and we know that there have been 36,000 new buildings built since the APA started in 1973.

“Clearly, the threat of litigation has not stopped APA from issuing 17,000 permits. Clearly, the threat of litigation has not stopped 36,000 new buildings from being built in the park,” Bauer continued. 

“Clearly, the threat of litigation has not stopped local governments, which permit new development and handle two-thirds of development in the park, from continuing to issue permits.”

‘FALSE IDEA’

Bauer said the notion that ADKWorks is spending more than $100,000 to promote what he calls “a false idea” is unfortunate.

“What ADKWorks is trying to do is say the (Club and Resort) project in Tupper Lake is representative of all development in the Adirondacks. 

“The reason we’re in court is that we had never seen the APA bend its rules and ignore its rules the way it did on the ACR project. We have not seen this in other projects in other communities,” Bauer said.

“And there has been a fundamental inability of supporters of the ACR project to even consider the fact that APA may have bent its rules. We think we have a very strong lawsuit that has shown APA did just that.”

The legal challenge to APA and the resort developers will likely go to oral arguments at the Appellate Court in Albany next spring, Bauer said, anticipating a decision mid 2014.

He refuted the claim that their goal is to strip the Adirondack Park of job-growth potential.

“We aren’t anti-business. But we do not believe the Forest Preserve should be sold willy-nilly, and we do not believe APA should subvert its laws when it approves development.”

‘CUT OFF AT KNEES’

ADK Works conducted a survey across the North Country in August and September, LaValley said.

“Questions were centered around environment and the economy in the park and groups involved in the park,” he said. “The need for an improved economy was the soaring issue.”

Full results of the survey will be released this winter, LaValley said.

“I think anybody who lives in the Adirondacks cares about the environment, but when they think their potential for opportunity is being cut off at the knees, it creates an adversarial air.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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