The 10-1 vote by which the state Adirondack Park Agency approved the Adirondack Club and Resort should leave no doubt about the integrity of this decision. It was difficult, it was carefully made by each member of the agency board - who are not pushovers, as is known by anyone who's been following this project - and it was eight years in the making.
These board members had to balance not only the resort's potential environmental impact and its potential economic benefits to a town in need; they also had to weigh the fine details of the agency's own rules and laws with the big picture as seen by the rest of the state - that is, should a development of such size be allowed in the Adirondack Park, which is uniquely the state's largest natural sanctuary and also a place where 130,000 people live and work hard to scape out a living?
They showed rationality, responsibility for their role as environmental guardians and also appreciation of the human element here.
Some of the more strident of the Park's environmental groups have indicated that they might sue the state to overturn the decision. We hope the overwhelming nature of the vote dissuades them from such an action. While they might see legal grounds for it, they are in a small minority in that view. The Park's largest environmental advocacy group, the Adirondack Council, says the project meets the APA's requirements. Cecil Wray, a lawyer and veteran commissioner who has always stood up strongly for environmental protection, voted yes to a permit.
Such a lawsuit would do more harm than good to the plaintiffs as well as Park residents. It would waste their money on what's probably a losing cause, and worse, it would waste the APA's scant resources. The time and public funds the agency would spend fighting such a suit would likely take away from their work. In the end, only the lawyers would benefit.
These people's opinion, that the resort should have been rejected, is legitimate, and it was considered in a long, thorough and proper review process. Ultimately, it did not carry the day over the view that there would not be enough adverse environmental impact to block the project. The system worked as designed, and the decision was nearly unanimous. It should be final. If such a suit is filed, no judge should give it much time in court before dismissing it.
OK, that's enough of discouraging lawsuits - time to shift from concern to praise. People were celebrating the approval all over the Tri-Lakes area Friday, and rightly so.
The APA commissioners made the right call. Their decision clears the biggest hurdle to a project designed to give Tupper Lake an economic engine it's been sorely lacking. The environmental danger simply wasn't big enough. Most of the 700 housing units would be clustered around Big Tupper Ski Area, even if not as much as they could be; it's in previously logged forest that won't be terribly devastated; the wild forest around it is already protected; and rather than being out in the backcountry, it's right "in town," barely outside village limits in what's commonly considered to be Tupper Lake's community envelope.
If this had been rejected, it's hard to imagine anyone else looking at a major investment in Tupper Lake. And it's easy to imagine the community declining severely.
This project has some weaknesses, but no deal breakers. Developers plan to seek municipal-rate borrowing and local property tax breaks that even ACR supporters like us question, but those don't fall under the APA's purview. Also, some experienced local real estate brokers doubt they'll make the minimum sales needed to pay off the bonds. And late property tax payments in the past call into question whether the developers have the money to pull this off.
But now that these developers have an APA permit in hand, new opportunities could be open to boost their fiscal position: They could attract more investors to grow their capital base, or even sell the whole project, or the real estate market could take off just in time.
Work on the ACR won't begin anytime soon. There are many more permits to get and conundrums to face. Each of those things will have its day, but today we celebrate the APA's approval of this promising project.
P.S.: We are deeply grateful to Enterprise Staff Writer Jessica Collier, who has covered the ACR for the last three years with painstaking fairness and diligence, and will keep covering it for some time to come. We also thank those who covered it for us in the five years before her: Rich Rosentreter, Brittany (Bombard) Proulx, Geoff Hayward, Will Abruzzi, Jacob Resneck and Nathan Brown. We have been blessed to have such excellent reporters; we hope you readers appreciate how good they are.