By Gwendolyn Craig
Saranac Lake Marina has the Adirondack Park Agency’s blessing to expand and renovate, and a solar panel project in Ticonderoga is on its way to reality.
The projects were approved on Friday after a more than three-hour meeting on Thursday that hashed out their details in the APA’s regulatory committee.
The Saranac Lake Marina proposal garnered the most public feedback, with more than 200 written public comments and more than 60 people attending a virtual public hearing. The majority of comments written into APA staff were in favor of the marina’s efforts to add covered docks and other renovations that would increase its boat storage capacity from 219 to 292.
Some of the commenters were concerned that the shoreline setback variance and wetland permits, which applicants LS Marina were requesting, were not the proper jurisdictional avenue for APA to approve the project. Some asked for a public hearing on the entire marina expansion.
Sarah Reynolds, counsel for the APA, said Thursday that because the marina was located in a hamlet, the APA did not have jurisdiction over what some of the commenters were suggesting. The APA also doesn’t have jurisdiction over marinas, Reynolds said.
“The (state) Legislature never gave us the authority to write (laws) about marinas in a hamlet,” Reynolds continued.
APA Board Member Chad Dawson interrupted a presentation about the marina multiple times, bringing up several of commenters’ concerns. Dawson said he was frustrated by a lack of state movement to study the carrying capacity of lakes in the Adirondack Park. One of some commenters’ concerns about a larger marina on Lower Saranac Lake was how that could impact boat traffic. On Friday, Dawson cast the lone dissenting vote.
Gerald Delaney, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, called it “very disturbing” if the APA were to limit a private business owner’s use on a publicly accessible lake.
Many of commenters’ questions, too, were answered in the staff presentation by John Burth, an environmental specialist for the APA.
For example, Burth explained that if the APA board didn’t grant a variance and permit, the marina could expand in other ways that weren’t under the APA’s jurisdiction. It could add any number of docks to the lake, for instance.
Staff determined that the proposed project was also better for the environment, Burth said, because it addressed stormwater runoff issues, invasive species mitigation and better lighting. Those are things not currently in place at the marina.
Reynolds also explained that LS Marina’s application contained a number of documents irrelevant to APA’s review, because the marina had to seek town permits in a separate process.
Dawson said he wasn’t convinced that staff had proven that the project wouldn’t impact “the natural, scenic, aesthetic, ecological, wildlife, historic, recreational or open space resources of the park,” a requirement for the wetland permit.
Art Lussi, a board member, said he was recusing himself from the vote because counsel had advised him to because he owns a marina.
“I have to say I’m not very happy about it, and I don’t agree with their posture,” Lussi said on Thursday, before leaving the virtual regulatory committee meeting. “I don’t see us as competitors. I think I would have brought a lot of discussion.”
Board Member Zoe Smith also recused herself. Keith McKeever, public information officer for the APA, said Smith had recused herself due to a potential conflict of interest.
In other news, the APA board also approved on Friday a 5-megawatt solar array in the Town of Ticonderoga in Essex County.
The installation will be on over 50 acres of farmland and in total take up about 36 acres. The field is in sight of International Paper’s plant.
Ariel Lynch, a project review officer with the APA, said the company SolarPark Energy plans to erect 17,680 solar panels on the property. The installation will be visible from some spots on Route 9N. It will be surrounded by a chain-link fence.
The APA received two comments on the project. One was from a neighbor concerned about the view the project would disrupt. Another was from the Adirondack Council, in support of the solar installation.
APA Board Member John Ernst suggested said wildflowers be planted and mowing around the panels happen in the late summer or early fall to benefit pollinators. On Friday, the board accepted an amendment to that effect, and approved the project unanimously.
“I’m happy to see that we’re looking for ways to shift to clean and renewable energy in the park,” Smith added. “I think the question about pollinators is a good one. Certainly every development has some impact on our resources, but these can really be designed to help minimize impact on birds and pollinators.”
Delaney said he was not opposed to solar panels and he believed the project was a good one. He wanted to see the APA, however, “put as much emphasis on farmland as it does on trees,” and worried about removing a viable food production resource.
“I’m just being a devil’s advocate here,” Delaney said.
The lifespan of the solar array is slated for 30 years on leased land. The lease is currently for 25 years, with the option of two five-year extensions, Lynch said.