Posted on August 1st, 2012 4 comments Add a comment >>
Protect the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Council, and other green groups have started an online petition to encourage the state not to back out of an agreement to purchase sixty-five thousand acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands for the Forest Preserve.
In its petition, the environmentalists contend that “a small but vocal group” is pressuring Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to keep the lands in private ownership.
“This proposal undermines a carefully balanced project that is a sound investment both in the local economy and in the environment and in the ecological integrity of the Adirondack Park,” the petition asserts.
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres owned by Finch, Pruyn in 2007. It has since sold ninety-two thousand acres to a Danish pension fund, subject to easements that prohibit development and allow some public access.
Many local leaders argue that most of the lands earmarked for the Forest Preserve should follow the easement model, thus allowing forestry to continue and hunting camps to remain.
Members of the Gooley Club have been among the most adamant opponents of deal. The club is located near the Essex Chain of Lakes, which is slated to enter the Preserve. George Earl wrote about the club’s fight in article that appeared in the Adirondack Explorer in 2011. Click here to read that story.
Other natural gems that would become part of the Preserve include the Boreas Ponds, a long stretch of the Hudson River, OK Slip Falls, and Sugarloaf Mountain, a potential rock-climbing venue.
DEC officials have repeatedly said that they have no intention of backing out of the deal.
Other sponsors of the petition include Adirondack Wild, Audubon, and the Sierra Club. They intend to present the petition to governor and DEC later this year.
The petition has been online for a few months, but the council sent out an “action alert” this afternoon, asking people to sign up by Monday, August 6. Scott Lorey, the council’s legislative director, said the drive is winding down. To date, the online petition has gathered more than 4,900 signatures.
Click here to add your name to the petition.
Posted on May 7th, 2012 Add a comment >>
Peter Bauer, a longtime environmental activist, has been named executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, an organization formed in 2010 with the merger of two green groups, one of which Bauer ran.
In an interview with the Explorer, Bauer said he was drawn to Protect by the strength of its board of directors. “It was the right job at the right time with the right group of people,” he remarked.
Bauer will start his new job in early September. He is currently executive director of the Fund for Lake George, where he delved deeply into water-quality issues. Bauer went to work for the Lake George group in 2007 after resigning from the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks. Three years later, the Residents’ Committee merged with the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks to form Protect the Adirondacks.
Chuck Clusen, co-chairman of Protect, said he was “totally exhilarated” by the appointment of Bauer. “No one is more knowledgeable of the Adirondacks,” said Clusen, an official with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Bauer said he enjoyed his time at Fund for Lake George, but he is looking forward to working on Park-wide issues. He believes the biggest threat facing the Adirondack Park is the fragmentation of open-space lands—that is, privately owned timberlands and farmlands.
He said the Adirondack Park Agency has failed to craft a coherent policy to guide development in the open-space lands. “So what they do is react to the bad ideas of developers,” he said.
Protect is suing the APA over its decision to approve a massive development near the Big Tupper Ski Area. One of the main objections to the project is that it will fragment timberlands.
Protect plans to open an office in Lake George. Bauer will continue to live in the Lake George region with his family.
Posted on January 13th, 2012 7 comments Add a comment >>
After six years of public debate, the Adirondack Park Agency’s staff has written a draft permit for the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake, finding that the resort would comply with the law if it meets all the conditions of the permit.
The APA board, which is scheduled to vote next Friday, could approve the draft permit, approve it with modifications, or reject it. Among other things, the board must decide whether the project will cause an “undue adverse environmental impact.”
Two environmental activists disagree on whether the project as described in the permit passes the test.
Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said he is happy with the changes required by the draft permit. “The developer has designed the project within the existing regulations,” he said.
Houseal said he is especially pleased that no further subdivision will be allowed on the land occupied by the so-called Great Camps. As a result, he said, the fragmentation of wildlife habitat will be limited.
“The changes imposed by the APA will probably avoid undue adverse environmental impact,” Houseal said. “Is that a win for the environmental community? Yes.”
But David Gibson of Adirondack Wild contends that the board should reject the permit. Most of the Great Camps will be built on lands classified as Resource Management, where typical uses are forestry, agriculture, and recreation. Residential development is allowed only “on substantial acreages or in small clusters.” Gibson said many of the Great Camps will be built on fifteen- or twenty-acre lots. “It doesn’t meet the criterion for Resource Management,” Gibson said. “Most of the Adirondack Club and Resort could not be defined as being on substantial acreage or in small clusters.”
Gibson also said the developers failed to conduct a thorough study of wildlife on the property. Houseal, however, pointed out that the draft permit now requires the developers to undertake an amphibian study.
Adirondack Wild wants adjudicatory hearings reopened to address wildlife impacts and other issues, but Houseal disagrees.
“It’s time to have a decision here,” Houseal said. “I appreciate Adirondack Wild’s motion to put it back in the hearing, but we need to have a decision.”
Preserve Associates wants to build a 719-unit resort—a mixture of single- and multi-family homes—on some 6,200 acres near the Big Tupper Ski Area. It would be the largest development ever approved by the APA.
Despite writing a draft permit, the APA staff did not make a recommendation to approve or reject the project. APA spokesman Keith McKeever said this was due partly to the complexity of the project. “It’s up to the board to make a decision,” he said.
If the developers win the APA’s go-ahead, they will still need to obtain water-quality permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and financing approvals from the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency. Houseal argues that one lesson of the drawn-out process is that permits for future projects should be considered together, not separately.
Click here to download the draft permit and conditions.
Posted on November 16th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
The state Department of Environmental Conservation does not plan to rebuild the dam at Duck Hole, an iconic pond deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.
The wooden dam was breached in the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene in late August, draining about two-thirds of the impoundment.
Even before Irene, fans of Duck Hole had been urging DEC to repair the old dam. In fact, the Explorer ran a debate on the question in its September/October issue, which was on the newsstand when the storm hit. Nestled among high mountains, Duck Hole is a favorite camping spot on the Northville-Placid Trail.
In the Explorer debate, Tom Wemett, chairman of the Northville-Placid chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, extolled Duck Hole as one of the most scenic water bodies in the High Peaks Wilderness. “Whether hiking on the Northville-Placid Trail or paddling and portaging from Henderson Lake (via Preston Ponds), those who arrive at Duck Hole are in awe of the stunning vistas and quiet solitude,” he wrote.
After Irene, Wemett argued for the dam’s reconstruction. But DEC spokeswoman Lisa King said today that the department has no plans to repair the dam.
“At this time, DEC does not anticipate the repair or replacement of the Duck Hole dam in the High Peaks Wilderness Area,” she told the Explorer in an e-mail. “By leaving it as is, the affected backcountry in this area can return to a more natural state. This is in keeping with DEC’s responsibilities for care, custody and control of Forest Preserve lands under the state constitution.”
The department’s guidelines for dams in the Forest Preserve favor removing dams in Wilderness Areas “when they become unsafe or are otherwise in need of replacement, reconstruction and/or rehabilitation.” Nonetheless, such dams may be rehabilitated to preserve fish and wildlife habitat, protect scenic vistas, or maintain a waterway’s navigability, among other purposes.
Spokesmen for the environmental groups Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild said they opposed rebuilding the dam.
“It’s deep in the wilderness,” remarked David Gibson of Adirondack Wild. “It’s just as much a wilderness experience after Irene as it was before Irene.”
I did the paddle/portage trip to Duck Hole this past spring and wrote about the adventure for the July/August issue of the Explorer. A few days after Irene, I returned to Duck Hole on foot and took the photos shown here of the broken dam and the mudflat.
Adirondack guide Joe Hackett did the paddle/portage trip a few weeks after Irene and found enough water remained to paddle to the lean-tos near the dam. “Duck Hole is down, but it’s not out,” he told the Explorer after his trip.
Duck Hole, the source of the Cold River, is fed by at least three streams, including the outlet of Lower Preston Pond. Over the next several years, the mudflats should be overtaken by vegetation and provide habitat for a variety of wildlife–not to mention improve the view.
Posted on September 23rd, 2011 7 comments Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Council and Ausable River Association contend that highway crews intent on rechanneling streams after Tropical Storm Irene are destroying trout habitat and creating conditions that could worsen flooding in the future.
Several mountain streams jumped their banks during Irene, flooding and damaging buildings and roadways. Since then, bulldozers have been used to divert the streams back into their original channels.
But Carol Treadwell, executive director of the Ausable River Association, said the bulldozers are also straightening the streams, removing boulders, lining the shores with rock, and smoothing streambeds.
Treadwell said the altered streams are poor habitat for trout, which often hang out behind boulders, in riffles, and in deep pools near river bends. She added that trees will not grow back on rock-lined shores, thus depriving the fish of shade.
Moreover, Treadwell said creating straight channels will allow water to flow faster, worsening the chance of flooding downsteam in future storms.
Treadwell said the state Department of Environmental Conservation should require the crews to recreate natural conditions in the streams, with clusters of boulders, meanders, and varying depth.
After Irene hit, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an emergency order allowing crews to rebuild roads without acquiring the usual permits.
“A lot of environmental damage is taking place in the name of public safety,” Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said in a news release. “The governor should make it clear that there are some things road crews can do to rebuild without permits, but bulldozing trout streams is not one of them.”
DEC spokesman Michael Bopp said the department is working with municipalities, county officials, and the Army Corp of Engineers “to assist with the proper restoration of streams and rivers.”
Bopp added that the department also has inspected the sections of streams that environmentalists have complained about. “DEC is currently reviewing the information gathered during the inspections,” he said in an e-mail.
Some officials are urging that the East Branch of the Ausable—the river hardest hit by Irene—be dredged to minimize flooding the future. Again, the Ausable River Association contends this would only destroy trout habitat and worsen future flooding.
“It’s not a solution to flooding,” Treadwell said. “They’d need to create a channel twenty feet deep and two hundred feet wide to carry all the water that came down with Irene. Obviously we can’t build a channel that wide and that deep. And would we really want to see a channel like that in our valley?”
Treadwell also said the river would need to be periodically dredged to maintain the channel. She and Sheehan said it would make more economic sense to help residents move out of the floodplain.
Posted on October 14th, 2010 4 comments Add a comment >>
After years of debate and delay, the Adirondack Park Agency voted today to authorize the rehabilitation of dormant fire towers on St. Regis and Hurricane mountains.
The APA board voted 9-0 to reclassify a half-acre under each tower as a Historic Area—an action that critics denounced as “spot zoning,” warning that it sets a bad precedent.
The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan had called for removing the towers, but in the face of a public outcry, the APA agreed to amend the master plan to allow the towers to stay.
The APA board expects that citizens groups will raise the money to fix up the steel structures. Board members also said the state Department of Environmental Conservation can remove the towers if they become a safety hazard or financial liability.
David Petrelli of the Friends of St. Regis was elated with the decision. “We have only a handful of these towers left,” he said, “and when one is taken down, it’s lost forever.”
“They’re landmarks; they’re part of our history,” said Melvin “Stub” Longware of the Friends of the Hurricane Fire Tower.
Assuming the governor signs off on the agency’s decision, DEC will draft management plans for the two Historic Areas. After that, the two friends groups will be able to begin work on fixing up the towers so they can be reopened to the public. DEC removed the lower steps from both towers years ago to make them inaccessible.
As recently as September, it seemed doubtful that the agency would allow the towers to be reopened to the public. At that month’s meeting, the APA staff recommended that the land under the towers be classified as Primitive. Under this scenario, APA staff said DEC would be authorized to do minimal maintenance to keep the towers intact but prohibited from restoring them for public use. When people on both sides objected to this solution, the staff changed its position.
Environmental organizations had argued that the APA should follow the State Land Master Plan and remove the towers. Acknowledging the towers’ cultural importance, they suggested that the structures be rebuilt in nearby hamlets and promoted as tourist attractions.
One tower is in the 13,500-acre Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area. It was only the tower’s presence that prevented the APA from originally classifying the region as Wilderness—which is defined in the State Land Master Plan as an area where “the imprint of man’s work is substantially unnoticeable.”
Despite acquiescing in the tower’s restoration, the APA board designated the rest of the tract as Wilderness. David Gibson of Adirondack Wild contends these twin decisions make a mockery of the Wilderness guidelines in the State Land Master Plan. “It’s clearly not compatible to have a five-story steel structure in the middle of a Wilderness Area,” he said.
The other tower is in the 18,200-acre St. Regis Canoe Area. Essentially, the Canoe Area is managed by the same guidelines as Wilderness. Thus, the tower had been considered a “non-conforming use” in the State Land Master Plan.
Because the towers were in violation of the master plan, the APA had to amend the document somehow to permit them to stay in place.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said he would have preferred that the agency classify the tower footprints as Primitive rather than Historic. He fears that people might cite this precedent as a rationale for permitting other structures to remain in Wilderness Areas and perhaps for reopening old roads in the Forest Preserve.
“Given the direction that some historic preservationists want to go, you could really change the wilderness character of the Park,” Woodworth said.
Woodworth said the towers could have been fixed up even if the summits had been classified as Primitive. “If they’re going to stay, they ought to be maintained, and the public ought to be able to use them,” he said.
His first choice, however, was to remove the towers. He noted that hikers can obtain great views from the summits without climbing the towers.
Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, also favored the removal of the towers, but he regards the issue as minor. “We’re not going to challenge this decision,” he said. “We have bigger fights.”
Posted on September 16th, 2010 3 comments Add a comment >>
John Davis is stepping down as conservation director of the Adirondack Council to work for the Wildlands Network, a nonprofit organization working to preserve natural corridors for wildlife migration.
“It has been a great five years working on conservation strategies inside the Park,” Davis said in a news release today. “Now, I get to think about how the Adirondacks can remain connected, or reconnect, to other major conservation areas on the East Coast.”
Besides working for the council for the past five years, Davis has been a proponent of the Split Rock Wildway, a wildlife corridor that would connect the Champlain Valley with the High Peaks region. The Explorer published a story on this initiative in our January/February 2006 issue.
Davis lives in a small cabin in Westport and commutes to the council’s office in Elizabethtown by bicycle or skis. He has logged some twenty-five thousand miles going to and from work. He should be plenty fit for his Wildlands Network assignment: hiking, paddling, cycling, and skiing through the East’s largest wildlands and waterways and studying the biological connections between them.
On his treks, Davis will be accompanied by naturalists, biologists, and others. He will write about his journeys and the efforts to preserve wildlife habitat.
“It saddens us to say goodbye to John Davis,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director Brian Houseal, who hired Davis in 2005. “He is a highly valued member of our staff, a well-respected conservationist and national leader in the area of wildlife habitat connectivity. More than that, he has become part of our family here at the council and we will miss his companionship and his sense of humor. We wish him the greatest success in his future endeavors.”
Davis will leave his post at the end of the year.
Posted on September 2nd, 2010 7 comments Add a comment >>
A state judge has dismissed the Adirondack Council’s complaint that guidelines for snowmobile trails, adopted last year, violate the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and the forever-wild clause of the state constitution.
The guidelines authorize the state Department of Environmental Conservation to construct extra-wide “community connector” trails between hamlets and allow tractor groomers to maintain them.
The Adirondack Park Agency approved the guidelines in November, saying they complied with the State Land Master Plan.
Brian Houseal, the council’s executive director, said the council will decide whether to appeal after reviewing the judge’s opinion.
Houseal said the council recognizes the economic importance of snowmobiling and supports the concept of community connectors, but he raised several objections to the guidelines.
Community connectors are supposed to avoid the interior of the Forest Preserve, but Houseal said the trails will be permitted up to two miles from highways. The council contends community connectors should be located no more than five hundred feet from roads.
Houseal also argues that the Master Plan needs to be amended to define “community connector,” “mechanized groomer,” and other novel terms found in the guidelines.
State Supreme Court Justice Gerald W. Connolly dismissed most of the council’s claims on the ground that they were not “ripe” for litigation. The guidelines will be implemented only through unit management plans (UMPs) for individual tracts of Forest Preserve. The time to sue, the judge reasoned, is when UMPs are adopted.
The judge dismissed one of the council’s claims on procedural grounds.
Click the link below to read the full decision.
Posted on June 20th, 2010 1 comment - Add a comment >>
Protect the Adirondacks has hired Peter Borrelli, a longtime environmental activist, as its first president and chief executive officer.
“I’ve known Peter for almost forty years, going back to when we both served together at the Sierra Club, and I have followed his career closely ever since,” said Chuck Clusen, chairman of the Protect board. “Peter brings a unique set of skills in communications, advocacy, and management never applied before in the Adirondacks.”
Protect was formed last year by the merger of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks. The Protect board approved Borrelli’s appointment at a meeting in Blue Mountain Lake on Saturday.
Borrelli, who lives in Northville in the southern Adirondacks, has worked as a writer, editor, activist, and administrator for several environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Open Space Institute, and the Adirondack Council. He also once worked for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
From 1996 to 2007, Borrelli served as executive director of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, where he oversaw research and lobbied for the protection of marine ecosystems. He recently wrote a book titled Stellwagen: The Making and Unmaking of a National Marine Sanctuary, which was published last year by the University of New England Press.
“My hope is that Protect will come to be respected not just as a consolidation of two former organizations with their own history and accomplishments but as a new entity with a new vision of how to move forward,” Borrelli said.
His appointment follows closely the resignation of David Gibson, who served for more than two decades as the executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and as the first executive director of Protect. Earlier this year, Gibson was demoted to adviser. He resigned after the organization furloughed him in May.
Last week, Gibson complained that Clusen did not reply to his resignation letter and that Protect did not allow for an orderly transition.
Gibson and Dan Plumley, who also resigned from Protect, are considering forming a new environmental organization.
Posted on July 13th, 2009 Add a comment >>
The members of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks voted overwhelmingly last weekend to merge into a new organization called Protect the Adirondacks.
The association’s members voted 83-0 and the RCPA’s members voted 111-2 in favor of the consolidation.
Protect the Adirondacks will use the association’s headquarters in Niskayuna, a suburb of Schenectady, as its administrative office but will keep the RCPA’s office in Saranac Lake.
David Gibson, executive director of the association, will lead Protect the Adirondacks. As reported in an earlier blog, Michael Washburn, the RCPA’s executive director, plans to take a job with the Wilderness Society.
Click the link below to see a news release on the merger.