Letter to the Editor, Adirondack Daily Enterprise, March 10, 2011
The last few weeks have seen a spate of editorials and letters condemning the participation of environmental groups in the decision-making process about the proposed ACR development in Tupper Lake. These communications have had some common themes: The motives of environmentalists are selfish. They do not care what happens to small Adirondack towns such as Tupper Lake. They are martini swilling Manhattanites who write large donation checks in reckless disregard of the consequences of their actions for people who live and work in the Adirondacks. They are hikers and canoeists who care only for their recreational interests. They stir up issues of this sort in order to generate the donations that pay their salaries. They are outsiders who have no right to have an opinion about what Tupper Lake chooses to do.
In his recent commentary in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, ACR developer Michael Foxman echoes these themes. Environmentalists do not care about Tupper Lake. In fact they want small Adirondack communities to fail. It is Us versus Them. And the environmentalists are wrong about the prospects for ACR. There is a large population waiting to buy high end real estate. The apparent counter-example of the FrontStreet development in North Creek shows nothing more than the wisdom of the developer in waiting for an upswing in the business cycle. (One might note that for the wealthy in the U.S., this upswing occurred last year.)
We from Protect the Adirondacks! have no interest in engaging in an exchange of mudslinging. We do, however, want to comment on who we are, what we want, why we think we have a right to participate in the decision-making process about the ACR, and why we think we serve the long term interests of the residents of Tupper Lake and the residents of the Adirondack Park in doing so.
Who we are: A substantial percentage – probably the majority – of the Directors and members of Protect the Adirondacks! are Park residents. Many of the rest own property in the Park or spend considerable time here. Some of us live in Tupper Lake and nearby communities and are taxpayers there. Few of us are wealthy. Many of us work here. Others have retired here. We are members of Adirondack communities. We are church members, we sing in community choruses, we serve on boards of directors of community organizations, and we are volunteer firefighters. We drive community vans. We donate to local organizations. We shop in local stores. We support our communities in many and diverse ways. We are your friends and neighbors. We live here not just because we value the scenery and the recreational opportunities. We are here because we love our communities and their people. The claim that we are outsiders who act selfishly and in disregard of the welfare of Adirondack communities is untrue.
What we want: We are also people who care deeply about the Adirondack Park. We appreciate its grandeur. We love its scenery. We value its recreational opportunities. We trust that we share these values with most Park residents. Moreover, in a world that is rapidly destroying its wild places and in which species go extinct by the thousands annually, we believe it is important to protect the few wild places remaining and to preserve the integrity of their ecosystems. We support Article XIV and the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan because they protect these values. We love this place as well as its people and its communities. We are committed to the vision of the Adirondack experiment in which wilderness is preserved and small communities thrive. We are not anti-development. At the same time we want development to be is consistent with this larger vision. We doubt that ACR is consistent with it.
Why we have a right to participate: Protecting the Adirondack Park against inappropriate development is not merely a local interest because the commitments we outlined above are not merely local interests – a view that the law and the courts have affirmed. The Park is a world treasure. It has been created by New York State for all of its people and for the benefit of future generations. The assertion that people should butt out because they do not live in a particular town or village disregards these larger public values and commitments. It is a ploy intended to delegitimize those who resist inappropriate development rather than considering their views. The Adirondack Park will not be protected if local towns and villages can despoil it one inappropriate development at a time. Philosophically and legally, concern for the protection of the Adirondack Park transcends local interests.
Why the people of Tupper Lake should value our participation: Advocacy groups such as Protect the Adirondacks! have an important role to play in the democratic process. They argue on behalf of causes they believe in, and they put concerns on the table for public deliberation. They bring important evidence into the process that would otherwise not be presented to decision-makers. It is a profound misunderstanding of American democracy to suggest that advocacy groups should butt out and leave the decision-making to the proper authorities such as the APA and DEC. Ultimately the decision is theirs, but good decisions depend on hearing arguments and assessing evidence in a fair hearing process before impartial judges. Decision-makers depend on advocacy groups to make the arguments they need to hear.
It is never a particularly good idea to blindly trust people with a deep financial stake in some decision. Should the residents of Tupper Lake trust Protect the Adirondacks! instead? Protect! is run by volunteers who have nothing to gain financially if the ACR project is denied. We try to be honest about our facts and fair in our arguments, but we certainly do have a point of view. Were we residents of Tupper Lake, we might view Protect! with suspicion as well. But we do not ask for trust. We ask that our evidence and arguments receive fair consideration. The residents of Tupper Lake have a considerable stake in this matter. It is crucial to get it right. Mr. Foxman says that his development will revitalize Tupper Lake. Protect the Adirondacks! suspects that the ACR will be a fiscal train wreck, and we intend to show this in the upcoming hearing. Who is to be believed? It is the point of hearing processes to hear argument and evidence and have it assessed by impartial judges. If Mr. Foxman is right, let him show this in a fair hearing process where evidence can be challenged. The participation of advocacy groups in such hearing processes is helpful in getting things right. It should be valued for this reason.
Why have Mr. Foxman and his allies sought to delegitimize environmentalists just before these hearings begin? We might speculate, but we don’t know. Surely they do not suppose that we will be persuaded to withdraw. For all the reasons stated in this letter Protect the Adirondacks! will stay involved because in a democracy where good decision-making depends on wide participation and careful examination of evidence and because the protection of the Adirondack Park as well as the vitality of Tupper Lake is at stake, that is the right thing to do.
Co-Chair, Protect The Adirondacks Conservation Advocacy Committee