It would have been a pleasant surprise if not enough plaintiffs or money came forward to sue over the state Adirondack Park Agency's permit for a Tupper Lake resort, but no dice.
Two environmental groups, Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club, and two Tupper Lake households, Phyllis Thompson and Bob and Leslie Harrison, recently filed a suit against the APA, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the developers and the trust that holds much of the land in question. The plaintiffs say the APA violated its charter act in giving the Adirondack Club and Resort a permit to move forward, with conditions - a decision the APA board made by a 10-1 vote in January.
This legal challenge had been foreshadowed for so many years that there was little chance of it not happening. People have tried to dissuade potential plaintiffs, as we did in an editorial written the day the APA board approved the permit. Now we can only give reasons why a judge should dismiss this suit as soon as possible.
1. On its merits, the suit is a long shot, rehashing old arguments that were soundly overruled in a legitimate, public decision made by 11 APA board members who are far from being pushovers. The plaintiffs had more than enough chance to share their views with the APA over the eight years since this project was first proposed, and this suit's claims were well aired during months of hearings. They simply did not carry the day.
The integrity of the permit is obvious. The system worked as designed, and the decision was nearly unanimous. There's little chance this suit will overturn all that.
2. The suit could do damage to a community in need. If it lingers in the court system, it could waste a lot of public and private money, delay the developers and drain their funds, and restrain Tupper Lake's long-awaited economic recovery.
It's still questionable whether these developers will be able to pull this project off, but the APA is giving them a chance, within the careful guidelines of the permit conditions. Tupper Lakers need that chance.
3. It's telling how few plaintiffs there are. Only one of the environmental advocacy groups dedicated to the Park is part of this suit, even though two others had invested in questioning the project in its adjudicatory hearing. The much larger and older of those two, the Adirondack Council, respects the ruling and hopes the developers follow the permit conditions.
While most Tupper Lake residents support the resort, some think it will do more harm than good. Yet only three doubters joined the lawsuit, and two of them, the Harrisons, go with Protect; Bob Harrison is a co-chair of the group's board of directors.
The Sierra Club is a national group rarely heard from in the Park. It's best remembered here for helping stop the state's plans to build a prison in Tupper Lake in the 1990s. If its leaders care so much about stopping development in this community, why didn't they speak at the hearings?
And where are the rest of the ACR critics? Not standing up to overturn the APA permit.
4. Many of the plaintiffs seem to have ulterior motives or conflicts of interest.
The Harrisons already built a modern house on a once-natural island in Big Tupper Lake, as Dan McClelland, editor and publisher of the Tupper Lake Free Press, pointed out in an editorial this week. Now the Harrisons would deny others the same kind of opportunity.
Protect was deeply short on funds - it had laid off all its staff - before it entered the hearings at full throttle against the ACR. Now Protect has some employees again and is advertising for a managing director. This cause has become the group's ticket back to vitality, and it can't afford to bow out now. This suit, win or lose, will help the group collect donations it needs to keep going.
We'll end with lawyer and former APA Executive Director Bob Glennon, one of this suit's primary architects. A few months ago, as he retired from the state attorney general's office and pivoted toward the anti-ACR effort, he told the Enterprise he was re-entering the "Adirondack wars." That's what this suit seems like to us - a strike in a wider ideological war, not so much a cry against a civil injustice.