TUPPER LAKE - An advocacy group's recent public opinion survey shows a majority of local residents are in favor of the Adirondack Club and Resort project, but not everyone agrees with the findings.
The 300 people surveyed live in Franklin and Essex counties and voted in the last two elections. They were asked a series of questions about topics like the ACR, Protect the Adirondacks and what is most needed in the region.
The data was collected for the ADK Works campaign in September via phone surveys conducted by the Irvington-based Diversified Research Inc. ADK Works made its public debut in October with the goal of keeping the ACR in the forefront of people's minds.
Almost 91,000 people live in Franklin and Essex counties, according to 2012 census data. The survey included 300 of those, a number that put the data within the 95 percent confidence range.
According to the survey's results, 61 percent of residents support the ACR project, and 71 percent of residents with a favorable opinion of Protect the Adirondacks also support the ACR project.
The data also show that 51 percent of residents think the economy is the biggest issue facing their community.
"The economy is still in the front of everybody's minds, and it highlights the fact that we all love the Park - that's why we live here - but it consists of people as well, and the Park only works when people do," said Jim LaValley, spokesperson for ADK Works. "I think what's sometimes lost is this is private property, and it's private property that's cleared what has to be done. The applicants followed it even beyond, and it's protecting 90 percent of the overall land area."
A Pennsylvania-based investment group called Preserve Associates proposed the ACR almost 10 years ago. If completed, the project would overhaul the Big Tupper Ski Area in Tupper Lake and build out the land around it with about 650 luxury housing units and various amenities including a spa, a marina and an equestrian center.
The state Adirondack Park Agency approved the project for permits on Jan. 20, 2012, but progress stopped that March when two environmental groups, Protect and the Sierra Club, and three nearby landowners sued to challenge the APA's decision, charging that the APA didn't follow its own rules. That suit is still working its way through state courts, with a decision expected sometime this summer.
LaValley said part of the reason the New York state Association of Realtors became involved with ADK Works is the state Supreme Court's decision could become a private property rights issue whose effects ripple throughout the state.
Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks said he disagreed with the survey. He would not comment on data that suggest a majority of Protect supporters also favor the ACR, but he did say the findings are misleading.
"We did note that ADK Works failed to mention anywhere in their poll if people would support the ACR project if it was their understanding that the permits were issued in a way that broke state laws, regulations and policies," Bauer said. "That's the contention of our lawsuit and it would have been interesting to figure out what the public thought of that fact. Nothing that ADK Works has done deals with that part of it."
Bauer called the survey a public relations campaign to build the political influence of ADK Works and to influence public opinion without looking at the issue of whether laws have been broken. He argued that the survey ridicules the lawsuit without dealing with its merits.
"What ADK Works is doing is largely a smear campaign, and the New York State Realtors Association should really be ashamed of participating in this effort," Bauer said. "Nothing that happens in the Adirondacks has implications across the state: good, bad or indifferent. Nothing about the ACR project has affected development anywhere else in the Park."
Bauer questioned the survey's claims that there has been significant economic decline in the Adirondacks. He said development has consistently occurred within the Park's boundaries.
"It's an open question whether or not there has been an economic decline in the Adirondacks," Bauer said. "Pick your indicators, because it tells a different story. The APA has issued 17,000 permits, and there have been 35,000 houses built in the Adirondacks since the APA came in 40 years ago. The ACR project is a singular experience. It's not universal. What's happening to the ACR project is particular to the ACR project and it's in no way indicative of what's happening in the Adirondacks or across the state."
ADK Works Public Affairs Supervisor Saleem Cheeks said the survey was conducted to get a true representation of people's opinions on the project, which is why it surveyed people who generally favor Protect and the Sierra Club.
"I think that's one of the key takeaways from this report," Cheeks said. "Something like 71 percent of the people that support Protect the Adirondacks also support this project. That to me is indicative of how this project has broad support."
The survey found strong support for the ACR from 64 percent of those respondents identifying as moderate, 62 percent as conservative and 55 percent as liberal. It also found that 58 percent of local Republicans and 42 percent of local Democrats cite economic issues such as unemployment and taxes as the biggest issues facing their communities.
The majority of those who favor the ACR project cited job creation and other economic reasons as the basis for their support. Among those who oppose the ACR project, concerns about environmental impact ranked behind concerns regarding project size and aesthetics. Concerns about the necessity of the project were a lesser factor.
"When you talk about facts, you can take the emotion out of it and have a dialogue," Cheeks said. "That's what the ADK Works campaign is about - the fact that the economy is suffering, the communities are struggling, and they're in need of something that's appropriate for the Adirondack Park. The real question here is, if not this, than what do you suggest?"
Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.