Off the Northway: Out of the frying pan, into the fire

You wouldn’t know it from the governor’s praise-filled press release announcing her appointment, but

You wouldn’t know it from the governor’s praise-filled press release announcing her appointment, but new Adirondack Park Agency Chairwoman Lani Ulrich will immediately face a historic challenge.

The APA is about to make a decision whether to approve plans for the mammoth Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake. At 700 units on 6,200 acres, it’s arguably the largest and most controversial proposal the Adirondacks have seen, and it’s at the center of a prolonged and fierce debate.

The plan has been around five years or more, but APA hearings only wrapped up this past summer. The hearings have generated a 10,000-page transcript that agency commissioners must wade through before a vote scheduled for the January agency meeting, with Ulrich presiding.

“I’m impressed with her as an individual, but she has a big responsibility as chairman to lead the agency through a thorough review,” said David H. Gibson, a partner in the Niskayuna-based conservation group Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

Adirondack Wild says the resort needs to be rejected because it would fragment wild back country into large building lots, and burden the local community with infrastructure costs.

But others argue it would boost the economy around Tupper Lake, a working class community that’s depressed and neglected even by Adirondack standards.

“It’s an important vote,” said Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Agency Local Government Review Board. “We represent local governments. Franklin County, the town of Tupper Lake and the village of Tupper Lake support it, and we support it for that reason.”

So someone is going to be unhappy, and very vocally so.

At least Ulrich, who has been an APA commissioner since 2004, has a history of massaging competing interests toward compromise. She was a co-founder of the Common Ground Alliance, which since 2006 has brought local government, private sector and environmental leaders together to discuss economic development and other regional issues.

“It’s been a good place for leaders to get to know each other and tone down some of the hostile rhetoric,” said John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council.

Neat trick, that. There’s been hostile rhetoric and conflict in the mountains for as long as Americans have had heels to dig in.

Ulrich’s from Old Forge, an economically vibrant little oasis in the western Adirondacks, where she has worked on community development issues.

In addition to naming Ulrich to replace Curt Stiles as chairman, Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated Sherman Craig of Wanakena to Stiles’ old seat.

They represent a couple of firsts: Ulrich is the first woman to chair the APA board, and Craig is the board’s first-ever St. Lawrence County representative.

“They recognize the need to balance economic development in the Adirondacks with constant environmental protections,” Cuomo said.

More will be heard from Cuomo. Four current commissioners have expired terms; the governor needs to either replace them or reappoint them.

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