Death warrant for an Adirondack lake

The Adirondack Park Agency will issue a death warrant to a pristine Adirondack lake Friday, and a mystery lurks as to why.

Woodward Lake, in Fulton County, is about 100 acres, undeveloped and shallow. The entire tract is about 1,200 acres. The developer (who, according to Protect the Adirondacks, has four outside-the-Park projects totaling 533 lots on 9,800 acres) will be allowed to ring its shoreline with 18 lots, whack up an untouched forest with 16 more, and build 2,000 feet of new road through it.

I was employed by the agency a quarter-century ago, from the mid-’70s to the mid-’90s, as first associate counsel, next counsel and finally as both executive director and counsel. (Budget wouldn’t allow me to fill the counsel position.)

I came to the agency when it was in the throes of the remnants of the Big Bang, the 1973 passage of the Private Land Use and Development Plan, and stayed on through the 1990 Berle Commission report. During those times we endured the dumping of a truckload of manure on the front stoop, constant vilification in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, strange envelopes containing mysterious white powder in the mail, the burning of an agency member’s barns, three staff members, young fathers all, shot at in an agency vehicle, and much more.

I was with other staff on Vroman Ridge in the town of Fine when we faced an angry group, many brandishing long guns. I caught a would-be arsonist with containers of gasoline in the Log Building (1950 Blowdown logs) at 2 a.m. one morning.

What kept us going was our belief that the agency’s mission was well worth it all, and that while to be sure there were setbacks (the horrid Flacke years, the 90-meter ski jump), for the most part the agency would faithfully discharge that mission.

Alas, no. It was not to be. In 2009 I retired after 12 years as an assistant attorney general up in Plattsburgh and began to attend the agency’s monthly meetings, only to find it embroiled in the review of the Adirondack Club and Resort mega-project in Tupper Lake (6,200 acres, 206 single-family dwellings, 453 units in 125 multi-family dwellings, 60-room inn, ski area, marina, gym, equestrian center, 15 miles of new public and private roads). Adirondack Wild’s highly credentialed expert witness called it rural sprawl on steroids. I was there when, all but one of them smiling, the agency voted 10-1 to approve it.

They might as well have put a sign on the front lawn announcing that APA was no longer a factor in insuring the “optimum overall conservation, protection, preservation, development and use of the unique scenic, aesthetic, wildlife, recreational, open space historic, ecological and natural resources of the Adirondack park,” the stated basic purpose of its organic act.

As a result, numerous Adirondack groups — the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, the Common Ground Alliance and the Empire State Forest Products Association — began a long series of meetings to fashion a legislative override of the agency’s failures with regard to large subdivisions.

The result was the Conservation Design Bill, just reintroduced this Session as S.1145 (Kaminski) and A.4074 (Englebright). As it states, “[c]onservation science and land use planning techniques have advanced” since the 1973 enactment of the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan. “It is now recognized that the spatial pattern of development is fully, if not more, as ecologically important as its overall density.”

“Subdivision of land into large residential lots, or rural sprawl, impairs ecosystem function, decreases biotic integrity, alters species behavior and composition, increases human-wildlife conflicts, fragments ownership, impairs cohesive land management, undermines the open space character of the park, and threatens its agricultural and working landscapes.”

The thrust of the bill is to require the would-be developer of a large subdivision to study the ecological and other environmental features of the site before drawing lot lines, and thereafter to lay out those lines to protect those features and minimize their disturbance, and to cluster development so as to overlap the “ecological impact zones” of the dwellings.

It is nothing less than the most important Adirondack Park protection legislation in the near half-century since the enactment of the Private Land Use Plan.

At first, the agency appeared to be on board. Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Steven Englebright and North Country Assemblyman D. Billy Jones met most cordially with agency staff in Ray Brook. (I was there, as was former agency Chair Ross Whaley and current agency member Zoe Smith, both of whom had participated on behalf of the Common Ground Alliance.)

Thereafter, however, something went awry. By late 2019 the agency had come to oppose the bill. Despite Freedom of Information Law requests, I’ve never been able to find out why.

And yet, and yet, it developed a Large-scale Subdivision Application embodying for the most part conservation design principles and, when Woodward came in the door, originally told it to redesign its proposed whack-up in line with it.

Woodward submitted one CD proposal but made it clear it preferred a whack-up.

And here’s the mystery I referred to above: The agency backed off (the governor’s office?) and will issue Woodward Lake’s death warrant this Friday.

Something is rotten in Ray Brook, and all who are concerned about the future of this magnificent area should make their voices heard both there and in Albany.

Robert Glennon lives in Ray Brook.


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