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Last resort: Environmentalists take battle over 6,000-acre development to court

The Sierra Club and Protect the Adirondacks have filed suit against the Adirondack Park Agency and the Department of Environmental Conservation over alleged failings in regulation of environmental standards relating to a proposed development in Tupper Lake. Photo by AP.
March 26, 2012
Two environmental groups and several landowners have filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in an attempt to stop one of the largest planned developments in the history of the Adirondack Park.

The Sierra Club and Protect the Adirondacks have filed a lawsuit against the Adirondack Park Agency and the Department of Environmental Conservation after the green light was given to Preserve Associates to go ahead with developing the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake, Franklin County.

Michael Foxman, an attorney from Pennsylvania and one of the developers with Preserve Associates, said he "doesn't believe there is any possibility of a lawsuit being successful" because the courts will not be able to find enough cause to overturn the decision of a state agency.

The Adirondack Club and Resort is a planned 6,235 acre development encompassing hundreds of camps, a 60-room inn, a ski lodge, spa, equestrian center, marina, gym, clubhouse and amphitheater, in addition to the required utilities. Originally proposed in 2004, the Adirondack Park Agency voted 10-1 to approve the plan in late January of this year.

"This is one of the worst decisions in the APA's history," said Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

Environmentalists are bringing suit against the Park Agency and the DEC over what has been characterized as a lack of appropriate oversight and "backbone." The advocates claim that Preserve Associates failed to conduct the necessary environmental review and that the proposed clusters of development violates the Park Agency's own guidelines governing "resource management" land.

Central to the case is the Park Agency's issuance of "non-permit permits" in the language of the environmental groups, which, according to Bob Glennon of Protect the Adirondacks, allow the developer to begin operations while environmental reviews are under way.

Citing the example of proposed snow makers on the Big Tupper ski area that would require taking water from Cranberry Pond, Glennon claims the Agency approved the project even though "no one has studied the possible impact on the wetlands, on the pond." The Agency said, in Glennon's words, "[Preserve Associates] can do it for two years, while you study it, and then you can come back and see if you can continue doing it."

"On the issue of not studying these issues of biodiversity, not studying the wildlife issues until after the development happens — the kinds of studies that will come out after the developments happen, these will be the eulogies for this land," said Downs.

Foxman, however, said the lawsuit is "simply seeking to delay and cause additional expense, hoping the project will go away. I don't have the slightest concern that the action of the APA will be overturned."

John Sheehan, director of communications for the Adirondack Council, said a key problem for his group lies with the Park Agency's own authority — or lack thereof. While not a party in the lawsuit, the Adirondack Council is advocating reform within the Agency.

"We think that this case shows that the Agency's rules are outdated. The project sprawls across too much land that is the most remote and undeveloped on the property. Instead of remaining in a tight cluster it sprawls across an area half the size of Manhattan." Yet while the concerns with the plan have been pointed out by opponents, "the Park Agency did not have clear authority to insist upon changes," he said.

Keith McKeever, director of public relations for the Adirondack Park Agency, said they are "confident in our review of the project."

Foxman expects building to begin in 2013.

The plaintiffs expect the case to be transferred to the Appellate Division, Third Department.

  1. print email
    March 30, 2012 | 05:19 PM

    Another worthless state agency (DEC) in bed with developers.

    John Locke
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