RAY BROOK - Although rumors of the deal had been swirling around Tupper Lake for months, plans to reopen Big Tupper Ski Area and turn it into a massive, year-round resort were officially announced in a press release state Sen. Betty Little issued on Feb. 18, 2004.
Now, seven years, eight months and 29 days later, the Adirondack Club and Resort is finally set to go before the state Adirondack Park Agency Thursday for the first of three meetings that are expected to culminate in January with a long-awaited final decision on the controversial project.
That decision will be made by a board of 11 people: eight commissioners selected by the last four governors and three designees, who are picked by the commissioners of the departments of State, Economic Development and Environmental Conservation. The board includes business owners, community planners, former town supervisors and lawyers. Five of its commissioners, by law, are full-time in-Park residents while the other three live outside the Park.
The Adirondack Park Agency board includes, in alphabetical order by last name, (top row from left) Richard Booth, Sherman Craig, Judy Drabicki, Arthur Lussi, Frank Mezzano, (bottom row from left) Dierdre Scozzafava, William Thomas, Lani Ulrich, William Valentino and Cecil Wray. The Enterprise does not yet have a photo of Jennifer McCormick.
Only four of the agency's current members - Commissioners Cecil Wray, William Thomas, Arthur Lussi and its new chairwoman, Lani Ulrich - were on the board when it voted unanimously in February 2007 to send the ACR through a rigorous adjudicatory hearing process that wrapped up recently.
Now it's decision time. Here's a closer look at the people who will be making this much-anticipated vote on the largest project ever to come before the agency.
The five in-Park commissioners
Lani Ulrich, chairwoman
Background: An Old Forge resident, Ulrich is the founder of the Central Adirondack Partnership for the 21st Century and one of the founders of the Common Ground Alliance.
APA service: Ulrich was appointed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lead the agency's board. She's been an APA commissioner since 2004, when she was appointed by Gov. George Pataki.
APA track record: Ulrich has supported finding ways to preserve what she's called the Park's "traditional uses" like floatplanes, snowmobiles, boathouses and fire towers. Both environmentalists and local government officials supported Ulrich's appointment as chair, although at least one green group, the Adirondack Council, said it doesn't always agree with her stances.
Key quote: "We've heard over and over again (the resort) is a way to revitalize Tupper Lake," Ulrich said in February 2007, before the ACR was sent to an adjudicatory hearing, "but I do not want to see something that's going to destroy the unique qualities of the communities. What is the sustainable solution?"
Background: A resident of Wanakena, Craig currently runs his own furniture-making business and is a retired school teacher, principal and administrator from the Rochester area. He's a member of the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Clifton-Fine Economic Corp.
APA service: Craig was nominated last week to a vacant commissioner's seat. He's the first St. Lawrence County resident to be named as an APA commissioner, although board designee Diedre Scozzafava is also from the county. Even though he hasn't been confirmed, Craig will still be able to vote on the project, according to APA spokesman Keith McKeever.
APA track record: Obviously he doesn't have one yet, but Craig's nomination drew praise from environmentalists and local government leaders in the Park.
Key quote: "I feel strongly about the value of the Park, the importance of the Forest Preserve and the importance of a fair living for my neighbors," Craig said in an interview with North Country Public Radio last week.
Background: Lussi grew up in Wilmington and lives in Lake Placid, where he manages the Crowne Plaza Resort and Golf Club, which his family owns. He's also a lawyer, an alpine ski coach and an Adirondack 46er.
APA service: Lussi was appointed to the agency in June 2006 by Gov. George Pataki.
APA track record: Lussi has been a strong advocate for businesses and investment in the Park. He was an outspoken critic of size and height limits on boathouses, supported preserving the St. Regis and Hurricane mountain fire towers and voted against the classification of the bed and waters of Lows Lake as wilderness. Lussi has strong backing among the Park's political leaders, including state Sen. Betty Little, for his pro-business stance.
Key quote: "I feel it's extremely important for us to show that we care about trying to create economic development," Lussi said in August before voting in favor of a 49-site development on Brandreth Lake in town of Long Lake.
Background: A resident of Speculator, Mezzano is a former supervisor of the town of Lake Pleasant. He's owned the Speculator Department Store since 1962.
APA service: Mezzano was first appointed to the board in February 1998 by Gov. George Pataki. In 2006, he left the agency for a year and returned to the board the following year when he was appointed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
APA track record: Mezzano has been an advocate for local government and economic interests in the Park. He's supported the development of new cell towers, calling it a public safety issue, and pushed for continued floatplane use on Lows Lake. Mezzano supported letting more than 200 hunting and fishing camps in the northwestern Adirondacks that were supposed to be removed stay in place. In 2008, Mezzano voted against more stringent shoreline setback regulations imposed by the Park Agency and, in 2010, opposed new size and height limits on boathouses.
Quote: "The economic impacts of a project must be factored in," Mezzano told the Enterprise in 1998 after his confirmation to the APA board. "My main concern is the economy of the Park. It needs improvements. Wherever I can help in that area, I will."
Background: A Johnsburg resident, Thomas was employed at NL Industries in Newcomb for 21 years before the plant closed in 1989. The following year, he was elected supervisor of the town of Johnsburg, a post he held until his retirement in 2007.
APA service: When Thomas was appointed to the agency in December 2006, environmentalists criticized his appointment, and that of Mezzano, saying the moves were an attempt by the outgoing Pataki administration to firm up a pro-development majority on the board in anticipation of the Tupper Lake resort project.
APA track record: Thomas has described himself as "middle of the road" on Adirondack issues. He supported preserving the Hurricane and St. Regis mountain fire towers and continued floatplane use on Lows Lake. Thomas also opposed classifying the bed and waters of Lows Lake as wilderness, and voted against the boathouse size and height limits. However, in 2008, he voted in favor of a package of controversial rule changes, including one that would tighten regulations on shoreline development.
Quote: "I'm in between the environmental groups and local government," Thomas told the Enterprise after he was appointed to the APA board in 2006. "I think I represent a broad spectrum of the population."
The three out-of-Park commissioners
Background: Booth is a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University. He has served on the Tompkins County Legislature and on Ithaca's Common Council. Booth also has worked as an attorney for the APA and DEC, and is a former Adirondack Council board member.
APA service: Booth was first appointed to the APA board in 2007 by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to fill an unexpired term. He was appointed to a full four-year term in 2008.
APA track record: Booth was the only commissioner who voted against approval of the Ski Bowl Village project in North Creek in 2008, saying the proposed resort should have been sent to an adjudicatory hearing. Booth was also the only APA board member to oppose new guidelines for snowmobile trails in the Forest Preserve. He felt the changes required an amendment to the State Land Master Plan. When the APA agreed to allow construction of a power line across 6 acres of Forest Preserve land in St. Lawrence County, Booth was opposed. He agreed the power line was necessary but said it shouldn't be built across Forest Preserve land until the state Constitution is amended (it later was), calling the decision "dangerous precedent."
Key Quote: "I think the fire towers are absolutely tied to the history of the woods," Booth said in October 2010, during a discussion about preserving the St. Regis and Hurricane mountain fire towers. "While there is an impact on the surrounding areas, other than aesthetic impact, it's an extremely limited impact."
Background: A Delmar resident, Valentino is a former president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. He is also a licensed outdoor guide who leads hiking, paddling and backcountry ski trips for the Adirondack Mountain Club.
APA service: Appointed by Gov. David Paterson, Valentino was confirmed by the state Senate in May 2010.
APA track record: Not much yet, although Valentino was one of three commissioners to vote against a five-lot subdivision along the Marion River in the town of Indian Lake. He, Booth and Wray were concerned about the public losing access to a popular and historic canoe carry that crosses the private land. Valentino is also chair of the agency's new Public Awareness and Communications Committee. He said the committee's role will be to "quell misinformation and be very systematic and proactive in stating our position and policy."
Key quote: "The economic viability of people in the Park is important to me, just as the ecology of the Park is important," Valentino told the Enterprise in 2009. "It's an issue of balance."
Background: Wray lives in New York City but has a second home in Keene Valley. An attorney, he retired as a full-time senior partner at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton in 1997. Wray is a also a former board member of the Adirondack Council.
APA service: Wray was first appointed to the agency in June 1999 by Gov. George Pataki.
APA track record: In April, Wray questioned whether changing the terms of the 1999 Champion lands easement agreement to spare more than 200 hunting and fishing cabins from demolition was the right move, though he ultimately voted in favor of it. Wray fought hard against a proposal to allow continued floatplane access to Lows Lake for another 10 years, although he eventually supported a three-year phase-out of floatplane access. Wray abstained from the vote on the Ski Bowl Village in North Creek, though he had supported sending the resort project to an adjudicatory hearing.
Key quote: "I think it's important for us not to get so fixated on looking at a tree and forget to look at the whole forest," Wray said in January 2005 during a conceptual review of the Tupper Lake resort project. "What are the impacts or implications of a project of this size to the whole Park, and, for example, what will it do to the economy of neighboring towns? I think we need to look at the big picture because, boy, this is a big project."
Judy Drabicki, Department of Environmental Conservation
Background: Since May 2007, Drabicki has been director of DEC's Region 6, which includes roughly half of the Adirondack Park. Before that she was DEC's regional attorney in Region 6 for 13 years. She's also been a private-practice attorney with a focus on environmental matters.
APA service: Drabicki just took over as the DEC designee to the agency board from Region 5 Director Betsy Lowe, who is resigning effective later this month.
APA track record: She's new to the agency board.
Jennifer McCormick, Department of Economic Development
Background: McCormick is vice president of policy and research, and deputy commissioner of business advocacy at Empire State Development. She has also worked at the Office of the State Comptroller, the Senate Finance Committee, the state Department of Taxation and Finance, and the Fiscal Policy Institute.
APA service: McCormick joined the board last month. She replaced Jim Fayle, who was transferred to the Syracuse area.
APA track record: She's only been to one meeting.
Key quote: "I look forward very much to doing what I think we will do here, which is balancing competing interests to provide good for the people here," McCormick said at the close of the agency's October meeting.
Dierdre Scozzafava, Department of State
Background: Scozzafava, who lives in Gouverneur, where she was once mayor, was a member of the state Assembly from 1999 to 2010. She ran for Congress in 2009 to replace Rep. John McHugh but dropped out a week before Election Day. She was appointed in January by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as his deputy secretary for local government in the Department of State.
APA service: Scozzafava took over as the Department of State designee in February.
APA track record: Scozzafava has weighed in on several projects before the agency board since her arrival but hasn't developed much of a record yet.
Key quote: "We have to figure out how we can balance the resources we have with the needs we have," Scozzafava said after being named to the agency board earlier this year. "Sometimes we always look to be on opposite sides, and I think there are a lot of issues that we can be on the same side."