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Part 3 of 3: APA rulemaking takes power too far

February 13, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

A key problem with the state Adirondack Park Agency is that it has too many powers and too few checks and balances. It is allowed to make many of its own rules, apply those rules in reviewing projects, police and prosecute violations, judge the enforcement cases and carry out its own sentences. This cannot help but lead to frustration, bitterness and noncompliance on the part of the governed. Americans expect segmentation of government duties so different segments can keep each other from getting too high and mighty.

The agency should only apply laws passed by elected lawmakers, but under current Chairman Curt Stiles especially, this unelected body has grown much more activist in rulemaking. Two prominent examples are the recent shoreline regulations, which rolled back a grandfather clause on expanding pre-1973 shoreline homes, and the new effort to further regulate boathouses simply by redefining them. The former rule should have gone through the state Legislature, but the latter one is simply ridiculous.

At the risk of repeating an earlier editorial protesting the boathouse redefinition proposal, we must point out glaring logical flaws in the APA's recent mission to once again revise the definition of "boathouse," this time to say it is no more than 900 square feet with a peaked roof of a particular pitch. First of all, this is a de facto law limiting the number of boats new boathouse builders can store. Second, it serves no environmental protection purpose, despite Chairman Stiles statement to us that it was to protect water quality. The size or roof pitch of a boathouse has no discernable bearing on water quality. Third, it's sneaky regulation, disguised as definition - and blatantly fake definition at that. Everyone knows a 1,000-square-foot boathouse is just as much a boathouse as an 800-square-foot one.

We remember in 2000 when the agency board, loaded with lawyers, discussed tweaks to its boathouse definition. At that time, they were very sensitive to avoid "regulating by definition," which they viewed as out of line and potentially illegal. Our impression was that most of them saw their job as to define things accurately, not wishfully, and then regulate those things separately, if they saw fit. For instance, a palatial waterfront building with bedrooms, bathrooms, dining facilities - and, yes, boat storage - is really a residential house, not a boathouse, and the rules for dwellings should apply instead of letting someone pass it off as something it's not. A boathouse is a structure for storing boats, and as such, that should be its main function. Whether it is made to hold two boats or four, whether it has a flat roof or a peaked one, doesn't change its definition, from a logical perspective.

Such mangling of definitions is doublespeak - dangerous stuff, likely to breed rebellion.

This is especially true when double standards emerge, such as the fact that Chairman Stiles pushed this redefinition just after finishing his own boathouse, larger than the new definition. If it's not a boathouse anymore, by definition, what is it?

Therefore, all rules the APA has made on its own should be repealed - perhaps submitted to the Legislature as bills, but rolled back nevertheless - and the definitions of words should be standardized according to statewide planning and zoning norms. The APA should only work with rules made by elected lawmakers.



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