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APA approval process is seriously deficient

November 29, 2011
By Stewart McCullouch , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

I was shocked at the total lack of a process exhibited by the state Adirondack Park Agency regarding what a project such as the Adirondack Club and Resort must undergo to obtain a permit to develop private land owned within the Adirondack Park. I have no issues with environmentalists who want to protect all private, private preserves and state-owned lands, but there needs to be a process by the APA to take these factors into clear development guidelines that a developer can design to, have reviewed and receive the necessary permits to proceed. Seven years and still no permit seems so unreasonable that it defies anyone's sense of reasonableness or fairness.

In the federal bureaucratic process I worked for over 40 years, both as a federal agent and as a contractor, it was and still is today the responsibility of the government to specify the terms and conditions so that the developer can create a design and then map back that design to show compliance. I saw terms as "substantial" and "clusters" not easily defined and subject to anyone's interpretation. Neither term allows for a clear definition how to determine a methodology of clearing forest for development as clear percentages. In the case where compliance is questioned and a variance is required, then APA has a responsibility to review the exception to ensure it is in the best interests of all parties - including the APA with environmental considerations, the community impacted, capacities and cost benefit - and is reasonable to the developer. During the recent presentation by APA staff to the commission, I did not see a clear set of ground rules that the commission had to operate under to achieve their objective. What I saw was the commission's ability to question community determinations and, more importantly, the recent ruling on findings by Judge Daniel P. O'Connell. I witnessed APA staff presenting data that was not current and positions taken by both sides that had been adjudicated and ruled on. This would clearly confuse and mislead the commissioners.

There is no doubt to this observer that the APA process is seriously flawed and really not prepared to render a fair decision, due to the total lack of the staff being able to assemble a "clean" package that represents an accurate snapshot of what the ACR is today. Also, comments overheard and made by commissioners indicate to me their lack of due diligence and fairness in being prepared to render an impartial decision, since they were either unfamiliar with, had not read background information on, had personal biases about or did not have the expertise to understand what they had to review to make an informed decision.

One major factor not highlighted, but perhaps understood by all, is that this process is now going into the seventh year. This alone tells me that there are serious limitations in the APA charter if it takes seven years or longer to complete a request for a permit to proceed. I did not see a timeline chart presented by the APA staff to the commissioners showing the requirements that ACR has had to undergo.

With proper guidelines and directives, the APA staff should be able to present a summary of findings and issues so that the commissioners are able to make their decision. The APA may believe that they are able to protect the wild, but they have no ability to understand how to manage private lands within the Park to allow development in an responsible way. The private industry in the Adirondacks has lost almost all of its turn-of-the-century industry, and communities are attempting to make a transformation. New York state needs to have a park that is vibrant and successful, versus turning its towns into wastelands. I wonder if the commissioners and staff took a tour of the Tupper Lake community and businesses on Park Street, or did they just keep their noses stuck in the trees of the proposed development area?

I end my observations with one question: Where are our governor and our state legislators? "Missing in action" is the only phrase that comes to mind. There are those who talk about their support, but talk is cheap - action is required. I believe the APA, as a state agency, works for them as well as for us the residents in the Adirondack Park. The APA seems to be an entity only to itself.


Stewart "Stu" McCullouch lives in Tupper Lake.



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