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Environmentalists like Richard Brummel have struggled to gain traction with their opposition to the Big Tupper resort. Photos: Brian Mann
Environmentalists like Richard Brummel have struggled to gain traction with their opposition to the Big Tupper resort. Photos: Brian Mann

As Big Tupper resort decision looms, environmentalists face setbacks, divisions

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The Adirondack Park Agency is down to the wire in its review of the massive resort project proposed for Tupper Lake. Developers hope to build more than 700 luxury homes and condos near the Big Tupper ski area, along with a new marina, ski lodge and equestrian center. A final decision from the APA is expected on Friday.

In this last week of deliberations, environmental groups have ramped up their opposition to the resort. But their efforts to delay a decision and to spark more public opposition haven't gained much traction. As Brian Mann reports, the Park's biggest green group broke ranks yesterday and said the APA should allow the project the project to go forward.

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The Park's biggest green group, the Adirondack Council led by Brian Houseal, has signed off on the project.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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As APA commissioners gathered yesterday in Ray Brook, a single protestor stood outside.  Richard Brummel from Long Island was bundled up against the frigid cold. 

"As a whole, we've made a terrible mess of this planet," Brook said.  "It's time we start drawing the line and saying, 'Enough is enough.'"

Green groups in the Adirondacks have been pushing the same message this week, mounting a last-ditch effort to rally opposition to the project. 

In high profile commentaries published in the New York Times and the Albany Times-Union, they called for the Big Tupper resort to be rejected by state officials or redesigned.

Speaking yesterday, Dan Plumley with the group Adirondack Wild, said the APA’s review process has been biased in favor of the resort.

"They haven't demonstrated the full record of the adjudicatory hearing.  They haven't provided the letter and context of many of the witnesses who saw this project as a house of cards," he argued.

But in a decision unveiled at yesterday’s meeting, APA chair Lani Ulrich rejected Adirondack Wild’s motion that a decision on Big Tupper be delayed while more public hearings take place.

In explaining Ulrich’s decision, Park Agency attorney John Banta said the green group’s concerns had already been explored.  Debating those concerns again, Banta said, might skew the process unfairly. 

"This item would not therefore be an item for further deliberations by the board.  That will insure against any injection of bias into your determinations," Banta said.

Plumley scolded the Park Agency for rejecting Adirondack Wild’s motion behind closed doors, without a public vote by the full commission.  He said the move might violate open meeting laws.

"I'm not a lawyer, but I've watched this agency closely for twenty-five years and I've never seen it more exposed.  I've never seen it leading to this scale of a decision on such shakey ground in any project in its history."

But the green community’s efforts to delay the resort decision – and rally opposition to the project – hit another hurdle Wednesday when the Park’s biggest environmental group broke ranks.

The Adirondack Council’s Brian Houseal announced in a press release that his organization is satisfied with the Big Tupper resort as designed and is ready to sign off on the project.

"Adirondack Club and Resort project meets the criteria," Houseal said.

"We believe that the permit conditions that the staff have prepared are as good as we'll see right now."

In an interview with North Country Public Radio, Houseal acknowledged that his group’s very different message on the Big Tupper resort has sparked criticism within the environmental community. 

"Of course.  The environmental community is not of a uniform opinion concerning economic development in the Adirondacks.  We believe that Tupper Lake does need economic develpment and we hope that ski slope does come back with some success."

Speaking yesterday, Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley was clearly disappointed by the lack of unity within the green movement.

"We find it odd that the Council's viewpoints now don't  jive with the pressure and the very good legal points they made during the adjudicatory hearing," Plumley said.  "But that's their right."

The decision by the Adirondack Council to sign off on the Big Tupper resort drew praise from supporters of the project like Jim LaValley. 

He’s head of the volunteer group ARISE that now operates the ski mountain.

"I'm absolutely thrilled that the Council has finally recognized that this is a compatible project.  And it really shows as the strongest environmental group in the Park, the reasonable approach that they're trying to take with this project.  And it also highlights the fact that the other groups have really isolated themselves and have clearly shown what their true intent is."

LaValley thinks some environmentalists are trying to delay the project long enough that developers are forced to abandon it.

Green groups are unified on a couple of points.  They all say APA review procedures and regulations for big projects like this one need to be reformed to better accommodate issues like forest fragmentation and the cumulative impact of housing development. 

They also say the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health should conduct their own thorough reviews of this resort before they grant additional permits that are needed before the project goes forward.

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