PROTECT’S Opening statement for the March 22 ACR Hearing

March 27, 2011

Opening Statement of Protect the Adirondacks! Inc.
at the Adirondack Park Agency Adjudicatory Hearing
on the Adirondack Club and Resort Project,
Held on March 22, 2011, at Tupper Lake, New York.

Good morning.  I am John Caffry from Caffry & Flower in Glens Falls, representing Protect the Adirondacks!

Protect believes that this project represents the greatest threat to the ecological integrity of the Adirondack Park since the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency.  Unfortunately for the people of Tupper Lake and the Adirondacks who are looking for a way to revive the local economy, the project, as proposed:

● will have an undue adverse impact on the resources of the Adirondack Park;
● violates the Overall Intensity Guidelines for Resource Management areas;
● is not financially viable, so it will not support the improvement and future stability of the ski area;
● will have negative fiscal impacts for the community; and
● would create a very negative precedent for the future of the Adirondack Park, which is a matter of state-wide, and even national concern.

Therefore, the application does not comply with the APA Act and must be denied.

We are glad to be starting the adjudicatory hearing, after so many years of delaying tactics by the applicant, so that we can tell our side of the story and put it on the record.  The sooner that this application is denied and a responsible operator comes forward with an environmentally sound and fiscally viable proposal for reviving the Big Tupper Ski Area, the sooner Tupper Lake can begin its economic turnaround.

By way of background on Protect and its interests in this case:

● Protect was created by the recent consolidation of two of the original parties to this hearing, The Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, and the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks;
● It represents approximately 5,000 members, many of whom reside in, or are property owners and taxpayers in, the Adirondack Park;
● It has at least two dozen members who reside and/or own property and pay taxes in the Town of Tupper Lake; and
● It has been a participant in this process since the beginning, through its two predecessors, and now as the combined organization.

We believe that the evidence will show that the project does not meet the current standards of the APA Act, as written, for approval of a Class A Regional Project.

Mr. Ulasewicz [ACR’s attorney] would have you believe that if you disagree with his interpretation of the APA Act, it’s wrong, it’s a re-writing of the Act and it’s “cheating”.  We are not re-writing, and not cheating.  It is Mr. Ulasewicz who is trying to re-write the Act with his own narrow interpretations.

On Issue #1:
● If the Great Camp lots are approved, the natural resources of the Resource Management lands will not be adequately protected from visual impacts and habitat fragmentation, all of which are issues covered by the APA Act’s development considerations.
● There will also be a loss of productive timber lands, and recreational opportunities now available to local citizens, including hunting clubs, will be lost.
● The 100 to 700 acre lots will not prevent these impacts from occurring.
● These lots must be eliminated for any project to be approvable.

Also on Issue #1:
● The current proposal is not a legitimate cluster design – the lots are all about 25 acres or more.
● That’s not a cluster under any reasonable definition of the term.
● There are alternatives that could be legitimate cluster designs, that would reduce the impacts of the Great Camps on the natural resource, timber and public recreational resources of the RM lands.
● Mr. Ulasewicz said that 5,600 acres will be undeveloped.  This is like the oil companies’ claims that they will only affect a few acres if they drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, because they don’t count the pipes, only the footings that hold the pipes up above the ground.

On Issue #3:
● The high elevation developments around the ski trails will have undue adverse environmental impacts due to erosion, visual impacts, & loss of native vegetation.
● If these lots were eliminated, or moved to the base of the ski area, the project would have much less of an adverse impact.

On Issues #1 & #3, the applicant did not assess the visual impacts of many of the relocated lots and new structures that it proposed since the application was previously declared to be complete, particularly several of the Great Camp lots and the so-called Transport Lift chairlift.

On Issues #5 & #6, the evidence will show that the fiscal risks to the community, when the project inevitably fails, are significant.

On Issue #6:
● The current project will not guarantee that the Big Tupper Ski Area can be maintained as a community resource.
● Under the applicant’s plan, this is contingent on real estate sales.
● The evidence will prove that the project is not financially viable, that the necessary real estate sales are a pipe dream, and the project is a financial house of cards.
● Therefore, the ski area will not be renovated and retained for the community, as claimed by the applicant.

On Issue #7, the project’s valet boat launching service will usurp the public boat launch on state Forest Preserve land on Tupper Lake, in violation of laws that prohibit operation of a business on the Forest Preserve and on DEC boat launches.

On Issue #10, the proposed project compliance and enforcement mechanisms are, so far, inadequate because there is nothing in them to ensure that the environmental monitors are actually independent of the project sponsor.  They will be dependent on the project sponsor for their jobs, and their paychecks.  Unless mechanisms are created to guarantee that they are insulated from influence by the project sponsor, the proposed monitoring system will fail.  We are willing to continue to discuss this issue.

On Issue #12, the design would illegally transfer density in the Resource Management lands across Read Road, in violation of the Overall Intensity Guidelines of the APA Act.

We disagree with the Applicant about the effect of the conceptual approval that it received 5 years ago.  It is only a conceptual approval and is legally meaningless.

We disagree with the claims by the applicant that it has mitigated the project’s impacts.  The number of “Great Camps” has increased from 24 or 25 to 39, and the acreage that can be cleared on each lot has increased from 2 acres to 3 acres.  That is a greater impact and is not mitigation.  Many of the worst high elevation buildings remain.

For all of these reasons, as required by the APA Act, the application must be denied.  The applicant has not met, and can not meet, its burden of proof of compliance with the Act.

● We do agree with most of the parties, that it would be good for the Town and its residents if the Big Tupper Ski area can be revived, and we applaud the efforts of the local organization ARISE to begin that process.  They should look at the example of Hickory Hill in Warrensburg, which had closed, but has now reopened, with a combination of paid and volunteer workers, and no real estate development.
● We agree with the Adirondack Council that a smaller, more compact, better designed project could potentially be approvable under the APA Act.
● We agree with the Adirondack Council and others, for the most part, on what the environmental problems with the project are.
● However, we disagree with the Adirondack Council and others that the current application should be approved, with conditions.
● The current application is way too far from complying with the law, and the hearing process is not the place to redesign it to such a great extent.

Therefore, it is our intent to prove, through this hearing process, that it will be incumbent upon the APA board to deny this application, pursuant to the board’s statutory duty to uphold the law.

Note: This is Protect’s Opening Statement as prepared in advance.  The actual oral statement given at the hearing varied somewhat from the prepared text.

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