December 7, 2010

Adirondack Blues – State Stifles Region’s Economy

Posted in: Published — by Karen Moreau at 10:00 am

To deliver on his promises to bring economic growth and jobs to upstate New York, Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo will have to rein in rogue state bureaucracies — which means confronting the powerful environmental lobby that controls them.

In particular, he needs to end the de facto ban on development in the Adirondack Park — which covers a fifth of the land in the state, 6 million acres in all or part of 12 counties of the state’s “north country,” stretching from Saratoga County nearly to the Canadian border, and west toward Utica.

The Adirondack Park shouldn’t be confused with national parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite, where no one lives other than park rangers. Rather, the vast area includes both public and private land — for the “park” was superimposed over scores of pre-existing towns and villages, where some 132,000 New Yorkers live and work.

Approval for nearly any kind of land-based investment in the “park” lies chiefly with a single agency — the Adirondack Park Agency, which is governed by a board of commissioners appointed by the governor.

For decades, the challenge for the Adirondacks has been to balance preservation of the natural beauty of lakes, rivers, mountains and forests with the residents’ legitimate economic needs — a balance that the Adirondack Park Agency Act clearly instructs the APA to pursue.

Instead, the agency opposes all manner of utterly reasonable development: A series of APA enforcement actions, with the threat of millions of dollars in fines against ordinary citizens, has literally ruined lives and contributed to a stagnant and declining upstate economy.

* It sought for four years in court, starting in 2007, to block construction of employee housing on the Lewis Family farm in Essex County. The agency’s efforts so clearly exceeded reason that the state courts not only overruled it, but also ordered it to pay the Lewis’ legal costs.

* In alliance with green groups and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the APA has delayed for seven years the approvals to develop the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake, which would creat hundreds of jobs.

* The notorious bureaucracy has deterred anyone from even bidding on Camp Gabriels, which the state tried to sell at auction last month. Formerly a minimum-security prison, this 92-acre site with 48 buildings is only 15 miles from Lake Placid, a first-class tourist destination — yet no developer dares risk the APA’s wrath.

Adding to the problem is that the state’s been fueling the APA’s power by buying up land and rewarding the wealthy and powerful Nature Conservancy with millions in profits for their role in facilitating the transactions. Over the last decade, the state (via the Department of Environmental Conservation) has purchased control of more than a million acres of land in the Adirondacks, either buying it outright or purchasing “conservation easements” that ban almost all commercial use.

And the state Constitution provides that lands bought by the state in the Adirondacks shall remain “forever wild,” so the new purchases have closed roads and water bodies to traditional motorized uses by families and sportsmen. This may please wealthy city dwellers with a second or third home in the Adirondack Park, but it’s devastating to park residents trying to eke out a living or acquire a home.

Cuomo’s predecessors have long put the outsiders first. Indeed, the APA has been further tilted against the locals by the recent appointments to the board of three former directors of the Adirondack Council — an environmental group well known for opposing projects that would help the region’s economy.

Cuomo needs to break with the past — end the destructive land buy-ups and appoint APA commissioners who’ll foster Adirondack economic growth as well as protect the park’s natural beauty.

It’s time to stop leaving Upstate behind.


Karen Bulich Moreau is president of the Foundation for Land and Liberty, a nonprofit focusing on land use and economic liberty.