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Hoping to ease Tupper Lake tension

July 18, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

It's sad that there is friction in the Tupper Lake community over the Adirondack Club and Resort, but it's understandable when you consider that this huge project is now making real strides toward being cleared to build - or not. There's also a mayoral election in November, and that the two announced candidates have staked out very different positions on the resort. Will this race be a referendum on the resort? We hope not, because only a small part of the mayor's job has to do with the ACR, but still, the issue will weigh heavily.

The race began with a challenge from Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun, who announced his candidacy in May by declaring, "I'm 110 percent in favor of the Adirondack Club and Resort project. I'm not certain that the current administration feels that way."

While Mayor Mickey Desmarais has been generally positive on the ACR over the seven years since it was proposed, his support has been cautious. Many - perhaps most - believe the community must full-throatedly embrace the resort to counteract the voices of environmentalist skeptics, who might otherwise sway the state Adirondack Park Agency against it.

Nevertheless, Mayor Desmarais and other members of the village board hoped developers would make the renovation of Big Tupper Ski Area a higher priority. But the mayor went out on a limb a couple of weeks ago when, in an interview with an Enterprise reporter, he issued an angry ultimatum that lead developer Michael Foxman must issue written plans to reopen the beloved ski hill sooner than planned, "or else." Whether it was a clumsy political gambit or just an off-the-cuff rant, it would have been far more effective for the entire village board to channel its concerns through the planning board.

All hell broke loose in Tupper. Many people were heartbroken and saw it as a betrayal of what they thought was a hope shared by the community. Some village trustees distanced themselves from Mayor Desmarais, and he was demonized in multiple opinion pieces in this paper and the Tupper Lake Free Press. He didn't even show up at the Democratic Party's caucus, where he lost their endorsement as he had the Republicans'.

But although few people have backed him openly, some people are glad to have one of their elected leaders hammering on tough questions about the resort. They may be a minority, but not a tiny one. Consider the results of our (unscientific but still significant) Web poll question last week, "Do you support the Tupper Lake village board's demand that Adirondack Club and Resort developers overhaul the Big Tupper Ski Area sooner than in the project's third year, as planned?" Of 597 responses, 43 percent were "Yes," 53 percent "No" and 4 percent "Undecided." Readers' mostly anonymous comments on the poll made it clear there is a real debate going on within the community.

As we all know, the stakes are high. If this development succeeds, it would put Tupper Lake on the resort-town map and bring to town a huge number of people who would be a great market for goods and services that the town's current residents could provide.

On the other hand, a recent hearing showed that the developers haven't thoroughly studied how the resort would affect animals in its thousands of acres of forest. That's the main thing environmentalists are concerned about, as they should be - it's their role in society.

Moreover, the house sales numbers required for developers to meet their obligations were optimistic even in 2004, during a real estate boom, and are more so now, during a recession. Also, the fact that developers have had trouble paying their taxes weakens confidence. Yes, the market will pick back up, and there is a chance this resort will meet its sales goals for all 699 housing units. But how much of a chance? Viewed objectively, that outcome seems unlikely. Whether this thing gets a permit or not, Tupper Lakers' lives may change less than we once believed.

The Enterprise's editorial position remains that the APA should permit this project, probably with conditions to address the more sensitive environmental concerns, as APA biologist Dan Spada suggested during the adjudicatory hearing. The site is not pristine; it has been logged for decades, which may be more of a disturbance than roads and houses on 50-acre lots. Where houses are built and people move in, animals will have to adjust - an impact on them, no doubt - but the benefit to Tupper Lake's economy will counterbalance that. And if houses are built and sit empty, animals are likely to reclaim the space.

With the environmental risk being what it is, give it a chance.

As for the ski hill, while community members certainly want it open, the public has already proven unable to run it. Unless the village wants to put tax money toward Big Tupper, it will have to rely on developers' time frame, for better or worse.

Meanwhile, we hope the fabric of this kind and tight-knit community isn't damaged too much by infighting as Tupper Lakers continue to discuss how to handle this thing that has such huge and uncertain potential. That happened in Saranac Lake when Walmart wanted to move in, and in hindsight, neither side's cause was worth the wounds inflicted.

We all love nature and people, and we all want a balance between economic viability and environmental protection. It shouldn't be shocking that people differ on where the balance point should be. Be realistic and grounded, be respectful, and don't go looking for enemies - that's our advice.

This issue also boils down to another balance - one of trust. "Trust, but verify" was a favorite phrase of President Ronald Reagan when talking about Cold War relations with the Soviet Union, and it was also, as Reagan acknowledged, a translation of a Russian proverb commonly quoted by Soviet revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. In Tupper Lake, there's a wide difference between the "trust" and "verify" crowds. Some say we must trust the ACR developers and decry the hesitant as unbelievers. In response, those for whom seeing is believing call the trusting gullible.

If everyone looks at themselves and their neighbors honestly and fairly, we believe they'll see reason to respect each other's positions more. And respect is a building block for trust.



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