TUPPER LAKE - Frustrated panelists touted land conservation, not preservation, at a Thursday night forum on land use.
State Assembly candidate Karen Bisso hosted the forum, saying she has seen increased interest in the topic since the state started moving forward with plans to purchase former Finch, Pruyn lands. Bisso, an educator from Plattsburgh, is the Conservative Party candidate in the race for New York's new 115th Assembly District. She will face incumbent Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, and Plattsburgh City Councilman Tim Carpenter in the Nov. 6 election. Duprey will be on the Republican and Independence party lines, and Carpenter will be on the Democratic Party line.
"I think what we're doing here tonight is about communication," Bisso said at the beginning of the forum, which was held at the Rod and Gun Club in Tupper Lake.
Karen Bisso, the Conservative Party candidate to represent the state’s 115th Assembly District, speaks at a forum she organized Thursday at the Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Panelists included Tupper Lake town Supervisor Roger Amell, Adirondack Club and Resort operating partner Tom Lawson, Bob Brown of the New York State Conservation Council, New York Liberty Coalition member Skip Stranahan and Jim LaValley, head of the economic development group Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy.
Each expressed frustration with the current state of land use in the Adirondack Park.
Amell, LaValley and Lawson talked about the influence environmental groups have over the local economy as Tupper Lake waits for the ACR to go through a challenge from Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club before it can be built.
LaValley said that historically, the state Adirondack Park Agency has been the whipping boy for people who believe economic development is stymied in the Park, but he said it became clear during the APA's review of the ACR that it wasn't the APA putting up roadblocks. Rather, he said, it's the environmental groups allowed to influence the process.
He said he understands that Article 78 challenges to state decisions have their purpose, but he disagrees that they should be allowed to be exercised when there's a measurable impact on the people and businesses of a town, and when only a few people are involved in suing the state over it.
"There's something wrong with the system," LaValley said.
Amell also talked about the town budget, which he's working on now, and how it's difficult to balance it as costs rise without corresponding economic growth.
"It's very frustrating being the town supervisor in a small community and trying to keep everybody happy," Amell said.
Brown, an avid sportsman from Saranac Lake, talked about his concern about access to state lands. He said young, healthy people can get anywhere on them, and people with handicaps can generally get where they need to with motorized access. But for people in his demographic group - starting to gray, past their prime physical condition - it's a lot harder.
"There's a whole in-between crowd that I feel deserves access," Brown said.
He said they have a hard time doing things like getting their boats into remote lakes to fish and dragging a deer out of the woods after shooting it.
Brown noted the contributions to state coffers that sportsmen make through licenses, fees and spending.
"Sportsmen put an awful lot of money into this state," Brown said. "We pay our own way. A lot of groups don't pay their own way."
Stranahan said property owners have their rights stripped away from them by the state and need to start demanding them back.
A handful of people attended the forum, including Chris Keniston, a member of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates. He asked Bisso what her stance was on the Adirondack Scenic Rail corridor, noting that Assemblywoman Janet Duprey has been a staunch supporter of rails. Bisso responded that she wasn't prepared to talk on the issue that night, but she's willing to discuss it in the future. She noted that she's worked a lot in the past with members of all-terrain vehicle groups, but Keniston noted that the intended recreational trail wouldn't likely be open to ATVs.
Bisso noted at the beginning of the forum that she also invited representatives from The Nature Conservancy, who declined, saying the Finch, Pruyn land deal is under contract, so it's a moot point. She said Protect the Adirondacks head Peter Bauer declined an invitation because his group's tax status prevents it from getting involved in political campaigns. Bisso said he asked her to let the audience know that he's happy to come to Tupper Lake for a forum that's not hosted by a political candidate.
Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, accepted at first but then declined on the same grounds, Bisso said.
The APA declined the invitation citing pending litigation with the ACR and the pending land deal with the Finch, Pruyn property. Bisso said APA Deputy Director Jim Connolly asked that she tell the audience that he's willing to answer questions over the phone, and that once the Finch, Pruyn deal is done there will be public hearings and input on use for the land.
Bisso recorded the entire forum, and she said she plans to put together a documentary to educate people in other parts of the state who might not understand the strain put on the people of the Adirondacks by land use regulations and pressure from environmental groups.
She said she got some great material for the documentary.
"That was wonderful," Bisso said. "It was powerful."
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.