RAY BROOK - The finish line is in sight for the state Adirondack Park Agency's review of the Adirondack Club and Resort project.
The agency board wrapped up the second of three monthly meetings devoted entirely to the project on Friday. Commissioners now have five weeks to gather their thoughts and compose any final questions before reconvening in mid-January, when a long-awaited vote on the massive resort development is expected to take place.
Friday morning's presentations, as was the case Thursday afternoon, were again focused on a list of draft findings and conditions.
The most involved discussion came during APA planner Ed Snizek's presentations on wetlands and protection of amphibians on the project site. It mirrored a similar debate on Thursday.
Specifically, commissioners questioned a finding that said a comprehensive biological inventory of the project site was not conducted, making it impossible to draw conclusions about impacts to habitat from the development.
"However, based on project design and through the imposition of conditions, adequate habitat protection can be assured on (Resource Management) lands," the second sentence of the finding reads.
Commissioner Richard Booth said the two sentences don't seem to jive. "How can that second sentence be stated if the first sentence is accurate," he asked Snizek.
Snizek referred back to comments he made Thursday, saying a 100-foot buffer around wetlands, the lack of development along the Raquette River shoreline and deed restrictions that would preserve open space formed the basis of the conclusion that "adequate habitat protection can be assured."
During the discussion of findings and conditions related to amphibians, Snizek outlined a condition that requires the developers to conduct a biological survey and impact analysis for amphibians, limited to areas within 800 feet of wetlands.
"What we're really concerned about is the road crossings that are the amphibians' migration routes," he said.
Asked by Commissioner Cecil Wray what kind of amphibians are on the site, Snizek said frogs, salamanders and nine other species identified by biologist Michael Klemens who visited the project site for a day and testified on behalf of the environmental group Adirondack Wild during the adjudicatory hearing.
Booth said the condition requiring a study on the potential impacts to amphibians seems like an attempt to make up for the fact that a broader biological survey wasn't done.
"All of this seems to me to be an after-the-fact result of not having done the comprehensive biological survey across the enter site when this got started," he said. "This has been bothering me for quite awhile that a project of this scale does not have that kind of initial baseline information."
Later, during a discussion about the ski center, APA Chairwoman Lani Ulrich said she was looking for a way to ensure that public access to the ski area will continue after the agency's review is complete and while the developers work to get other approvals. Preserve Associates has allowed the nonprofit group Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving their Economy to operate the ski slope the last few years, but there's no reference to that partnership continuing in the record before the agency.
"In the interest of protection of the community and with the importance of having the ski slope open, is there anything for us to be encouraging while the applicant is continuing in the permitting process and fundraising process?" Ulrich asked.
Commissioner Art Lussi said he didn't think the agency could go there.
"We all care about the ski area and the community, but the fact of the matter is you have a private developer that owns it," he said. "I don't think we can impose a condition on the owner to do that. They've been thoughtful in giving ARISE a chance to do that in this interim time. I just hope that arrangement stays."
Much of the afternoon discussion centered on conditions related to the phasing of the project and development of its infrastructure.
Commissioners later discussed outstanding issues they felt needed more attention.
Lussi said he's still grappling with the financing of the infrastructure through a complex payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangement.
"I understand what PILOT means, and I understand the Franklin County IDA is involved in it," he said. "But what if they say, 'Gee, I'm not sure anymore.' Should we have a condition that says there's got to be some kind of guarantee on the infrastructure?"
State Department of Environmental Conservation designee Judy Drabicki asked whether the agency could make its approval of the project contingent on the developers completing cost-sharing agreements with the municipalities "so we don't leave the town high and dry."
APA counsel John Banta noted that each lot, before its sold, has to have infrastructure either built or secured.
Booth said the biggest question in his mind surrounds what happens to the community if the developers don't get the prices they're asking for on the lots.
"If eventually this project is approved and all the residential properties get sold for much lower prices, am I correct in assuming the benefits to the community will go down significantly?" Booth asked.
But Ulrich said even if there are "significantly less" benefits from the project, that doesn't mean there won't be any benefits to the community.
"I understand what you're saying," Booth responded, "but a project of this size is going to have a significant amount of environmental impact. Our job is to weigh those impacts versus benefits. If the benefits go down very significantly, that's not an unimportant fact, even though there are benefits left."
But Drabicki and Department of State designee Dede Scozzafava said Booth's question invites too much speculation.
"I think what your talking about is crystalballish," Drabicki said.
"It seems like we're not supposed to do that," Scozzafava added.
There's a chance the first day of the board's two-day January session, originally scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 19, could be moved up to Wednesday, Jan. 18. Drabicki suggested the change, along with ending the meeting by noon on Friday, Jan. 20, to avoid having two consecutive full days of deliberations.
"I'll be honest, this is exhausting," she said at the close of Friday's meeting. "I'd rather start Wednesday afternoon. It's exhausting doing two straight, full days."
A final decision on the schedule for the January meeting was left in the hands of APA Executive Director Terry Martino.