TUPPER LAKE - Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun of Tupper Lake announced to the local Republican committee Tuesday night that he plans to challenge village Mayor Mickey Desmarais, also a Republican, in November's election.
Maroun said he decided to run because he wants to do everything he can to support the Adirondack Club and Resort, a proposed large-scale development for the Big Tupper Ski Area and the land around it.
"I'm 110 percent in favor of the Adirondack Club and Resort project. I'm not certain that the current administration feels that way," Maroun said. "I think that it's the most important thing that's happened to Tupper Lake since the Sunmount VA hospital in the '20s.
(Enterprise file photo)
"I just think we should be way, way out in front supporting this, much more than we're doing."
If there are issues with the village infrastructure being able to handle the project, instead of just questioning them, village officials should be working them out, Maroun said. The village water, sewer and electric would service the resort as it's proposed.
When the project was first announced, one option was to annex the whole thing into the village. Maroun said the village board at the time rejected that proposal, but Desmarais says it was the developers' decision not to annex in.
"It would have been the biggest single increase to the tax base in the village of Tupper Lake in its history," Maroun said.
As proof that Desmarais hasn't given the project complete support, Maroun pointed out that Desmarais and other village board members met in closed-door meetings with environmentalist leaders who disapproved of or wanted to see changes in the project.
Maroun also cited the fact that the village board decided to hire the Hudson Group, a consulting firm that studied the project proposal for the town/village planning board in the past and raised serious questions about it, to help the village look at issues to discuss in an adjudicatory hearing the project is now undergoing with the state Adirondack Park Agency. Maroun said he would have chosen a neutral firm to study the project if the village needed a consultant.
Maroun said he asked local Democratic leaders if they could find someone to run for the position who would be able to support the project "110 percent," but they haven't been able to find a candidate.
"It's really hard to get somebody to run for mayor or supervisor," said former Democratic leader Rick Dattola. "Those are tough jobs. They're time consuming, and people don't want to take that jump."
Maroun said he's concerned that if local officials don't forcefully try to move the project ahead, they're going to lose it.
"Tupper Lake is a dying town," Maroun said. "If we don't get some economic stimuli into this community, we're in trouble."
The APA's adjudicatory hearing on the project is set to wrap up in June. After that, commissioners have 60 days to make a decision on whether to approve the project, reject it, approve it with conditions or send it back to hearing. That timeline can be extended if project developers agree to it.
That means, barring a significant extension or some other unforeseen delay, the project would be finished with the APA process by the time the election rolls around.
But Maroun said he doesn't think it's likely that things will be wrapped up by November, and even if they are, the project still needs approval from several other entities, including the local planning board.
In addition to the ACR, Maroun said there are other reasons he wants to run. He said he's been concerned about town-village relations after Desmarais was quoted in local media reports as saying the town board was being stupid and acting like a person with bipolar disorder. He said other municipalities are laughing at Tupper Lake right now because of the discord between the two boards.
"I may get mad and get upset and put on a show once in a while, but I would never say to the town board ... 'You're bipolar,' or something like that," Maroun said. "I know people who have relatives who have that disease."
Would keep county job
If elected mayor, Maroun said he would remain a county legislator for some time but would probably choose one job at least by the next election in two years, when both terms would expire.
"I'd look at that down the road," Maroun said.
He said he believes he has time for both jobs, since he recently retired from the Navy Reserves, which was taking up quite a bit of his time. He also noted that many village and county issues are intertwined.
If he's elected, Maroun wouldn't be the only county legislator serving on both the county board and as mayor of his locality. David "Billy" Jones was mayor of Chateaugay when he was elected to the county board last November, and he was re-elected this spring when no one else ran for the mayorship.
Desmarais said he's looking forward to running against Maroun.
"I think it will be neat running against a real politician," Desmarais said. "He's the professional. I'm not."
He said it will be interesting to compare records, noting that village taxes have remained somewhat flat over the past few years while the county saw a 20 percent tax levy increase this year alone.
In response to Maroun's remarks, Desmarais said the village board has done everything it legally could have to help the development along.
"If someone wants to come along and maybe bend those rules, that's the way they are, but that's not the way this village board's going to be," Desmarais said.
He said he asked lead developer Michael Foxman if there was anything else the village could be doing for him, and Foxman told him no.
Also, it was Foxman's decision to not annex into the village, Desmarais said.
He defended his closed-door meeting with environmentalists. He said he had never met them before and decided it would be a good idea to hear them out when he decided to do it after first being elected mayor five years ago.
He said he's had many more closed-door meetings with Foxman.
Regarding the Hudson Group, Desmarais said the consultants are well-known and respected. He said they're not biased against the project; they're just looking at the facts and are being paid to raise questions about the project to make sure everything is considered.
"We told them we want to make it work, but if there's anything we're not aware of, the people, the community, needs to know that," Desmarais said. "If asking a question makes someone uncomfortable, what does that tell you?"
He noted that the planning board recommended in 2007 that the municipalities should keep the Hudson Group on retainer to help with the local review process as well as the APA review, quoting a letter from planning board Chairman Jim Larkin.
Dattola said Democrats are still hoping they may be able to find a Democratic candidate.
He said there are some people interested in running for village trustee and town council positions, though. There are two trustee seats and two council seats up for election in November.
"It's big election," Dattola said.