It's tough for the state Adirondack Park Agency board to make a permit decision about such a huge project as the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake and yet have so little information about such a basic subject as wildlife - what kinds of animals live on and around Mount Morris, where the 700-housing-unit resort would be built.
Nevertheless, the APA's guiding rules do not require wildlife impact studies, and the APA has never required any other builder to conduct a wildlife impact study. New Commissioner Sherman Craig was absolutely right at the agency's December meeting: You can't change the rules right at the end of this project's review.
And because the wildlife issue is really the only legitimate hurdle left that concerns the APA, the agency should give developers a permit at its meeting next week.
No one with a heart or any true appreciation of our great Adirondack outdoors likes the idea of killing or chasing off large quantities of animals. But does that mean someone can't build a house without a recent biological survey in hand? That isn't required for any other of the other houses we humans build.
Plus, it's hard to argue that the risk of wildlife disturbance is significantly greater on Mount Morris than anywhere else. Yes, there would be a lot of houses here, and roads to stymie animals' movement, but there'd also be plenty of room for animals to move around on the resort land, or to the adjoining High Peaks Wilderness (part of the state Forest Preserve) and Follensby Pond property (owned by The Nature Conservancy's Adirondack Chapter). Also, this land has been logged for generations, so animals there are long used to some level of disturbance - not the same as houses, but this isn't pristine wilderness.
One can still make a compelling case that the APA should require wildlife information for such a major project because, after all, what's the point of all this review if not to protect nature? But the clincher is, the state doesn't require such a study at present.
Maybe this should be a matter for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which still has to review and perhaps permit this resort. Or maybe the APA rules should be changed before the next big development project comes up; that would be a legitimate debate to have, removed from any particular project's deadlines. One way or another, we expect state biologists will want to watch this project site carefully during and after construction to estimate possible wildlife habitat damage.
But for now, the APA should get out of the way of this project.
That won't free these developers to start putting shovels in the ground yet, though - not by a long shot. They still have to convince the DEC, the state Department of Health and Tupper Lake's town-village planning board. Plus, because they're seeking public financial support - property tax breaks and the low bond interest rates municipalities enjoy - they have to make sure they have the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency and all the local taxing agencies on board.
That seems overwhelming, especially since it's already been eight years since this resort was proposed. ACR cheerleaders in Tupper Lake paint the developers like martyrs, enduring such a long, expensive and stressful government obstacle course. That's partly true - most of the environmental concerns were, for all practical purposes, answered years ago - but remember that the developer has done much of the stalling, partly to wait out the real estate market's doldrums. The APA could easily have permitted this project four years ago, but how many of the luxury second homes would have been purchased in the depths of the financial meltdown?
This project has tested all our patience, but unlike with the Gleneagles resort of 1980s Lake Placid, this time all sides have passed that test. We now have reason to hope that the wind will fill the sails of this resort and, by extension, Tupper Lake.
It's still questionable whether these developers will be able to meet their sales needs, even if the market returns to the highs of bubble-boosted 2006. But hey, that's the risk of enterprise, and a society that doesn't allow that freedom - once the potential for unintended harm has been reasonably addressed - won't prosper.