The recent Guest Commentary ("Mad as Hell," Oct. 1) in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise by a Tupper Lake businessman and booster of the Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake was something to read. It was angry. It insulted the staff and attorneys from Protect the Adirondacks for its lawsuit that challenges the Adirondack Park Agency's approval of the ACR project. It called for a campaign of personal confrontation of Protect volunteer board members, even providing a list of names. It seemed to mark a tactical transition by ACR boosters from a campaign of fact-free mockery to one of intimidation.
The full lawsuit is posted on the Protect website (www.protectadks.org) for anybody to read. ACR boosters would be well served by spending some time reading these papers and familiarizing themselves with the facts and arguments. ACR boosters have encouraged people to call Protect. In my conversations with those who have responded to this suggestion, all admitted they had not bothered to read the lawsuit.
Protect thinks it is time to cool the rhetoric, can the threats and consider the facts. Thus, I invite ACR boosters to take a few moments and consider the following seven things.
First, Protect believes that, in approving 14 permits for ACR, the APA ignored its own laws and violated its review procedures. In addition, there appears to have been extensive ex parte communications in violation of state law and APA regulations. This lawsuit seeks to hold a regulatory agency accountable for how it made its decision. To hold authority accountable is as American as the New York Yankees.
ACR boosters have taken to glossing over the many flaws in the APA's review, stating that the APA was scrupulous in its review and would never, ever make a decision on anything other than the law and merits. Well, just two years ago, Protect and others sued the APA to challenge its decision regarding the management of Lows Lake. Protect believed that the APA had violated its law in that decision. Many derided Protect about that lawsuit, too. Protect won that lawsuit in August 2011. It was not a close call. The state did not appeal the decision.
Second, Protect believes that if the ACR project permits go unchallenged, they will be used as a guide for future developments across the Adirondack Park and establish a ruinous precedent for resource management lands. We see the risk as simply too great to allow this precedent to stand and watch the Park's doors be opened for more poorly (and illegally) designed "Great Camp" lots spread willy-nilly across resource management lands. ACR boosters say the ACR project is about the future of Tupper Lake. Protect says it's about the future of the Adirondack Park.
The ACR approval will not only shape how hundreds of thousands of acres of resource management lands could be developed in the future, with far-flung houses connected by a network of roads, but could also dictate the way that the APA reviews major subdivisions. Will the APA be allowed to ignore its laws when it issues new subdivision permits? Will the APA be allowed to ignore the lack of required impact studies, such as wildlife and wetlands studies, when it approves future subdivisions? In a public hearing, will the APA be allowed to supplement the hearing record after the record has been closed so it can substantiate faulty findings? Should the APA be allowed to ignore negative impacts to a variety of natural resources when it approves a permit? Should the APA approve a subdivision that unfairly burdens local municipal services? Will the APA allow future applicants to pick and choose their own permit conditions? Will political influence dictate decisions on future subdivision permits? Should the APA be allowed to change its rules and regulations to facilitate an individual subdivision? Much, much, more is at stake here than the ACR project.
Third, I invite ACR boosters to consider for a moment how they would respond if the shoe was on the other foot. How would they feel if the APA had rejected the ACR project by illegally supplementing the hearing record, by referring to APA law as mere "guidelines" or "recommendations" that don't have to be followed, by allowing unprecedented ex parte communications between APA leaders and environmental groups that opposed the project, and by failing to follow proper procedures in the review of the application, among other matters?
I imagine that ACR boosters would be outraged if they had received a negative decision by these improper means. Protect believes that the APA used such improper means to approve the ACR project.
Fourth, ACR boosters have never tried to argue the merits of the case. If we are the radical extremists it's claimed we are and the suit is frivolous, this should be an easy task. Instead, they mock, insult, post online (often anonymously), print lawn signs and make things up about how Protect has hurt the Wild Center, scared off investors and sunk the summer tourism economy. In his commentary, Mr. Moeller claims that Bob Glennon is being paid for his work. Not so. In fact, Mr. Glennon has donated both his time as a lawyer pro bono and his money to support the effort. ACR boosters seem unrestrained in their willingness to invent "facts" but have never focused on the real issues raised in this lawsuit. Thankfully, the courts will.
Fifth, joining Protect and the Sierra Club in this lawsuit are two adjoining landowners. They have been accused of somehow profiting from this action. That's nonsense. All they stand to gain is peace of mind. Nor will Protect gain financially from this lawsuit. It's an immense financial burden and a drain of the time and resources of the group. Protect has thousands of terrific members who care very deeply about the Adirondack Park and believe we must hold accountable those who wield power over the Adirondacks, but we use their support wisely and frugally. At the same time, there is some wisdom to the suggestion that much can be learned by "following the money." Protect has no financial skin in this game. Nor does our board, nor do our members. The reader should ask if this is true of many of the ACR boosters who have led the assault on Protect.
Sixth, lawsuits are how many issues are decided in America. In our society, the courts are called upon to make major decisions that have shaped, and continue to shape, many aspects of modern American life. From civil rights lawsuits like Brown vs. Board of Education to lawsuits that gave us all our "Miranda" rights, to Roe vs. Wade or Bush vs. Gore, to many state-level lawsuits that pushed the agenda on gay marriage, to the recent Supreme Court case on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or the Citizens United election finance issue, decisions from lawsuits are an integral part of American history and our civic process and shape our everyday life.
Lawsuits have also shaped life in the Adirondack Park. A suit sought (unsuccessfully) to abolish the APA. Lawsuits have shaped regulations around floatplane use, local government roads, all-terrain vehicles, the rights of farmers and APA jurisdiction in shoreline areas. Lawsuits are a way Americans hold government accountable and protect us from special interests and illegitimate influence. Protect believes that the only way that the ACR project could get approved in its current configuration was through a flawed and illegal process. A lawsuit is the proper way to challenge this.
Seventh, Protect (and its predecessor organizations) always called for a smaller and differently designed ACR project centered on the early redevelopment of the ski area. Protect has never opposed ACR per se. I met with the applicant's attorney and LA Group staff very early in the process. Mr. Foxman was remarkable in his iron inflexibility and his absolute commitment to build his way and his way only. From early on, we made known our objections, based on science, to how the Great Camp lots were configured. In the end, both Mr. Foxman and the APA were content to ignore the science. Protect is not.
I hope these seven things help to shed some light on the wisdom of Protect's lawsuit. Not wishing to expend effort rebutting the barrage of misstatements and mischaracterizations by ACR boosters and the media, or to engage in reciprocal mudslinging that would further inflame passions to the detriment of our Tupper Lake supporters, we may have failed to adequately correct the public record. Protect's challenge against the APA for its approval of the ACR project is about real and important issues. We ask the citizens of Tupper Lake to examine the record and consider the facts.
Peter Bauer lives in Lake George and is executive director of Protect the Adirondacks.