By Gwendolyn Craig
Several residents gave an earful to commissioners of the Adirondack Park Agency during its first in-person meeting in over a year held on Thursday, concerned about both pending and approved agency projects.
The agency had 12 seats available for the public, and all were taken. A group of residents from Forestport drove 2 ½ hours to voice their concerns about a proposed quarry. A couple of residents living near Upper Saranac Lake spoke against an already issued permit and amendment for a septic system in a subdivision.
The board took no action on either project. Neither was on the board’s agenda.
Five Oneida County residents took to the mic to speak against a proposed quarry near White Lake. Thomas Sunderlin and Red Rock Quarry Associates are looking to extract minerals from April through October. The work would take place from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays. Targeted blasts, according to project records, could occur between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the operating season, too.
The project also suggests 20 trucks maximum will enter and leave the site over Stone Quarry Road. The permit, if approved, would be for five years. The project is out for public comment through Thursday, July 29.
The APA has received a number of comments already and so many information requests that staff have posted records on the homepage of the APA’s website. The web page gets updated every other week.
Louanne Cossa, a Forestport resident, called for the APA to hold a public hearing on the project.
“In the APA rules and regulations, one criteria is public controversy,” Cossa said, about holding a hearing. “We have controversy.”
One of the factors the APA considers when deciding to hold a hearing is not “controversy” but rather “the degree of public interest in the project.”
Cossa said many homeowners around the quarry have not been notified of the project. Joanne Isgro, also of Forestport, was concerned that drilling in the quarry could impact the water table. She worried about residents’ drinking wells.
“It’s real personal,” added Isgro’s husband, Joseph. “I take it as a desecration of the earth.”
Joseph Isgro also said because part of the town is inside the Adirondack Park and part of it is outside, he felt town officials had different sentiments than inside-park residents about protecting natural resources. He believed the town would prioritize the mine over residents in favor of economic development.
The group provided the board with a petition against the quarry that they said about 1,400 people had signed.
More on the White Lake quarry project
- Residents speak out at recent Forestport board meeting
- Stakeholders look for options to block project
- Quarry representatives address concerns
Pictured here: Joe Isgro and Peter Tamburro pose with their signs in opposition to the proposed quarry. Photo by Megan Plete Postol
Subdivision and septic concerns
The second matter discussed during public comment was around a staff-level decision amending a permit that allowed a private residential septic system 100 feet from a stream that flows into Upper Saranac Lake. The permit, which has already been issued, was for the last undeveloped lot of the Deerwood Subdivision.
A contingent of residents and water-quality experts issued a press release last month concerned that the septic system would impact water-quality. The Adirondack Council also wrote against APA’s staff decision, saying it “missed its opportunity to fix the shortcoming in this proposal prior to issuing a final approval for the permit.”
The APA also received about 70 public letters against the project, but staff never brought it before board members.
Guy Middleton, lake manager for the Upper Saranac Foundation, wrote letters against the permit and also showed up on Thursday. Considering Upper Saranac Lake has had issues with algal blooms and increased development, Middleton said the septic system will have a greater impact than APA staff suggested. Staff noted that the project was “not material,” but Middleton argued that with over 70 comments against it and science-based information showing water-quality concerns, the project was “absolutely material.”
Over the past several months board members have discussed with staff when a project warrants coming before the full board, and Middleton reminded the board of those conversations.
“I ask the commission to take a closer look at what the agency staff has approved in the last couple of months, seemingly without your input,” Middleton said.
Deerwood resident Howard Kern also spoke against the approved permit. Residents had private specialists review the wetland. Kern said their specialists disagree with how the APA categorized the nearby wetland that would be impacted. Residents believe it is a wetland classified for more protections.
“We are significantly concerned that this board has not had a chance to review this,” Kern said.
APA board reacts
It is now up to the APA board to decide if it has new information on the septic system permit, which could bring it to the full board’s agenda at a future meeting. It’s not clear if that’s something the board will do.
Following the public comment period of the meeting, APA board member John Ernst noted the public interest in this project.
“They’re not necessarily a default to bringing it before the board,” Ernst said, of all the written letters. “If we determine there is not a significant resource impact, it’s something we wouldn’t bring to the board.”
Ernst added if there is information circulated that is wrong or misunderstood about an APA project, it could be good to bring it before the board.
“Even though it seems the decision is narrow and complete, and you’re very comfortable with it, but if there is information out there that is misleading, I just throw it out for you to consider, that may be a time to bring it in just so you can make that case and it can be discussed,” Ernst said.
Rob Lore, deputy director of regulatory programs for the APA, said that sometimes projects don’t come before the board because of resource availability. He also said he works with Dan Wilt, chair of the regulatory committee, on what projects to bring to the board.
“Certainly if the regulatory committee is not made comfortable with the decision, I’ll be made aware of that,” Lore said.
Members of the APA’s enforcement committee heard testimony from an unhappy Long Lake business owner, who admitted to building a deck without a variance.
George Carrothers is the owner of Another Paradise Cove, a kayak rental shop and a bakery. APA counsel Jennifer Hubbard said Carrothers was in violation of the Adirondack Park Agency Act and agency regulations regarding shoreline setbacks. The building and deck are adjacent to Jennings Pond.
Carrothers had applied for a variance for the deck in August 2018, but did not follow through with the process. He still built the deck.
Carrothers admitted that, but laid blame that staff provided him guidance on what would likely get approved through the variance process. He thought what staff was suggesting would be approved by the APA, and thus stopped the variance process. But after building the deck, APA staff came to the property and examined the new deck. Five months later, he was issued a notice of violation. Carrothers then asked staff to issue him a variance retroactively. He also offered to pay a fine to keep the deck.
Hubbard recommended to the committee that it require Carrothers to remove the deck and pay a fine. Carrothers suggested removing the deck would be the end of his business.
“It’s up to you if you want this property to remain in business,” he told commissioners.
Ken Lynch, an APA board member, asked Carrothers and Hubbard to explain what the undue adverse impact to the environment might be, for building the deck. Hubbard said Carrothers never finished filling out the rest of the variance paperwork for staff to determine that. Carrothers felt his deck had no undue adverse impact. He said his deck has a positive effect on public health because people come to canoe, kayak, sit on his deck and have coffee.
Committee Chair Art Lussi appeared frustrated and sarcastically suggested “we should all build decks next to the shorelines.”
Carrothers said other people have built structures before and gotten an APA variance retroactively. Lussi said “as the oldest sitting commissioner on this board,” he had never seen such a thing happen.
“You make a sympathetic case,” Ernst said. “I think you’ve improved that particular site. But you did something I don’t see how you can get around. You just ignored the process.”
Carrothers said he didn’t ignore the process, and suggested the deck removal would shut his property down. Ernst said a café and kayak business could continue to operate without a deck.
The committee is expected to make a decision within the next two weeks, Lussi said.