Amend Constitution for Mount Van Hoevenberg

In the Daily Enterprise editorial “State lets itself bypass ‘forever wild'” on Aug. 30, the paper called attention to the tree cutting and construction at the Mount Van Hoevenberg winter sports facility, managed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority. The paper raised questions about the scope of the construction and expansion underway, the level of tree cutting on the public Forest Preserve and town of North Elba lands, and the approval process that authorized this expansion. Good questions.

Protect the Adirondacks has followed ORDA’s plans at Mount Van Hoevenberg and commented at various points over the past several years. We have long held the view that ORDA needs to pursue an amendment to Article 14, the forever wild provision of the state Constitution, to clean up a number of violations on the Forest Preserve, many of which occurred in the run-up to the 1980 Winter Olympics and predate the formation of the authority. ORDA operates the Gore Mountain and Whiteface Mountain downhill ski areas within boundaries set by Article 14 amendments, which have worked successfully. In short, ORDA needs to get on the right side of forever wild at Mount Van Hoevenberg, where it manages a facility that straddles the Forest Preserve and town lands.

We found out about ORDA’s tree cutting from a public notice in the Environmental Notice Bulletin, a weekly publication about environmental projects under review or to be undertaken across the state. The ENB notice in March 2019 detailed ORDA’s plans for cutting over 3,500 trees, which would have cleared 5 acres, on the Forest Preserve at Mount Van Hoevenberg. This level of cutting far exceeded long-established norms for Forest Preserve management. We communicated our concerns to ORDA and tried to alert the public through web posts and an article published on March 13 at the Adirondack Almanack news site.

After our comments, and subsequent discussions with other organizations, ORDA scaled back the level of cutting to 1,500 trees on 3 acres. More importantly, ORDA also agreed to seek an amendment to Article 14 so that it could move ahead to manage the facility as a competitive winter sports center, fully comply with the law and compensate the Forest Preserve by protecting new lands elsewhere in the Adirondacks.

The tree cutting at Mount Van Hoevenberg is contained to a specific area. This does not establish a precedent that will be implemented across the Adirondacks. Many of the trees being cut are intertwined with parking lots and roads, and are not remote wildlands. The cutting can be cleaned up, so to speak, by a constitutional amendment. While it would partly be an after-the-fact amendment, the reality of Adirondack Park politics and management is that there have been a number of such after-the-fact amendments needed over the years. The Raquette Lake public water supply and the Tupper Lake power line are two recent examples.

One area that ORDA has not resolved is the disconnect between a recently approved unit management plan that called for no tree cutting on the Forest Preserve and its decision to cut over 1,500 large-diameter trees and many more small-diameter trees. The Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency both looked the other way.

Protect the Adirondacks will continue to try and work with ORDA, state leaders and the Legislature to craft an amendment to Article 14 that brings the Mount Van Hoevenberg facility into compliance with Article 14 and compensates the Forest Preserve for the loss of land. This will provide ORDA with a clean slate to operate Mount Van Hoevenberg as a world-class winter sports facility and uphold protections for, and hopefully strengthen, the people’s land, our public Forest Preserve.

The ball is in ORDA’s court, and it needs to come forward with a proposal.

Peter Bauer is executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, based in North Creek.

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