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Resort developers Tom Lawson (L) and Michael Foxman (R) during yesterday's proceedings (Photos:  Brian Mann)
Resort developers Tom Lawson (L) and Michael Foxman (R) during yesterday's proceedings (Photos: Brian Mann)

Big Tupper developers win round in court, Nature Conservancy cries foul

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Developers of a new resort in Tupper Lake won a major victory yesterday when a local jury awarded them road access to a 1200-acre parcel of land.

The decision will allow the Adirondack Club and Resort to maintain a short road easement across neighboring property owned by the Adirondack Nature Conservancy.

The company says they needed access in order to move their project forward. The green group says the developers wanted to take their private property rights.

Brian Mann was in Tupper Lake and has our story.

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Adirondack Nature Conservancy director Mike Carr (R) with his legal team

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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These proceedings in Tupper Lake weren’t overseen by a judge and it didn’t take place in a courtroom. 

Under a little-used state highway law, the trial was convened by acting town highway superintendent Rick Dattola and held in a senior center bingo hall.

"Have you reached a verdict," Dattola asked Thursday afternoon, after two days of testimony.

"Yes we have," replied former Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce director Jon Kopp, a member of the jury.  "The verdict is Yes, 11 jurors, No 1.  Damages $10,000."

That ‘Yes’ means the jury awarded the resort developers the right to maintain an existing logging road that runs across about 400 feet of land owned by the Nature Conservancy.

The road has been used by hunters and loggers for decades and now it can also be used by whoever buys the resort property being proposed.

Michael Foxman, head of Preserve Associates, argued that there was no other reasonable way for his potential customers to reach the land.

The Raquette River does border the property, but boat access is complicated by weather and by the sometimes boggy shoreline.

"I'm delighted," Foxman said.  "We're delighted to have this behind us and hopefully we can move forward."

Foxman conceded that he hadn't made a specific offer to the Nature Conservancy to buy an easement before beginning the legal proceeding.

But he said negotiations were impossible because the Conservancy showed no interest in talks.

"We were open to any sign that there was a desire on their part to discuss something," he said.

"No discussions occurred...they never gave us the opening to do something like that."

Mike Carr, head of the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, says he was disappointed by the verdict and by Foxman’s decision to use a legal proceeding to acquire access over Conservancy land.  

"We view this as a private taking of our private property rights for their private economic benefit," Carr said.  "There is no public benefit here."

Carr denied that the Conservancy resisted granting an easement because of the environmental community's opposition to the resort project.

"That's completely untrue," he said.  "We have no opinion about the project.  We are simply concerned with protecting our private property rights."

Carr says he’s not sure whether the Conservancy will appeal. 

But he questioned whether this trial – led by the town highway department with no judge presiding – was the proper way to decide a property access issue.

"This process desperately needed a judge," Carr said, "which we requested and Preserve associates refused."

The Adirondack Club and Resort’s backers argued that the procedure was outlined clearly in state law and perfectly valid.

But the Big Tupper project has been a high-profile and sometimes controversial issue here. 

And the juror who read out the verdict, Jon Kopp, is the former head of the local chamber of commerce and a prominent supporter of the project.

Still, Kopp says he's convinced the jury was able to reach a fair verdict.

"I think if [the trial] were held in some other part of the state, they would have reached the same agreement," he said.

Meanwhile, Michael Foxman’s partner Tom Lawson says he is satisfied with the amount of damages, $10,000, which their company will have to pay to the Conservancy.

The resort project still has a number of hurdles to clear before the first homes are built, including a review now underway by the Adirondack Park Agency. 

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