Editor’s note: Since this story first published Wednesday morning, the Adirondack Park Agency has updated its agenda to include live public comment. To participate email your name and the phone number you’re using to call into WebEx to [email protected] To learn more click on the agenda here or go to apa.ny.gov.
By Gwendolyn Craig
This Thursday the Adirondack Park Agency board will hear about solar projects in the park and updates to planning documents for Whiteface Mountain and Fish Creek Campground.
The board will meet remotely starting at 12:30 p.m. To watch the meeting go to apa.ny.gov. The public may also watch the meeting on Webex by clicking here. The public may also listen via phone by calling 1-518-549-0500 and dialing the access code 2342 709 4552.
This is the first meeting the APA has held since July. Keith McKeever, public information officer for the APA, said the meeting is back to remote as a precaution given the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The public may submit comments to the APA by emailing [email protected].
Not all are pleased with this public comment process, however. David Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, submitted a letter to APA staff requesting vocal public comment period during virtual meetings. Gibson shared with Adirondack Explorer a copy of his letter addressed to APA Executive Director Terry Martino, McKeever, a staff member of Gov. Kathy Hochul and APA counsel Chris Cooper.
Since starting its remote meetings more than a year ago, the APA has not allowed the public to speak during its virtual board meetings. Emailed public comments have not been read aloud. Gibson wrote APA’s meeting policy states: “The Agency will provide approximately 10 minutes for public comment at or near the beginning of each open meeting of the Agency.”
Gibson wrote that video or “voice-only live public comment opportunities should have become the routine standard by now at the APA. It is the routine standard at my own local town’s board. Unfortunately, APA has yet to adopt this basic standard of affording opportunity to comment directly to an accountable public agency like the APA.”
The park policy and planning committee will discuss solar projects and local land use controls in the park. The topic has been at the top of some APA board member’s minds as more 5-megawatt and larger solar projects are in line for permits.
The APA’s regulatory programs committee will also discuss solar power. The developer of a 20-megawatt project in Ticonderoga will seek permit approval on Thursday. The project site, draft permit records show, will take up about 100 acres in the area of Veterans Road and state Route 9N. The land includes a former apple orchard. Ticonderoga planning board minutes indicate the orchard area soils contain lead, arsenic and pesticide, all once used to treat agricultural pests.
East Light Partners Ticonderoga Solar is the developer. The project would also involving building a new transformer station near Route 9N and creating a new connection line. Plans also indicate building an underground alternating current line through wetlands to connect the solar array to the transformer station.
Comment letters for the solar panel project are heavily in favor of it as a good use of contaminated land. Of about two dozen letters submitted, two were against the project.
Michael Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Land Trust, submitted a comment in favor of the project. He called it a potential “model for how Adirondack communities approach renewable energy siting and generation.”
Another commenter wrote that the property was “well-suited” for a solar project in the Adirondack Park. Ken Beiser, who identified himself as a Lake George Association and Silver Bay Property Owners Association member, said it fit with the other industrial uses nearby including a papermill, slaughterhouse and concrete plant.
“While there are fantastic viewshed in Ti, this is not part of one,” Beiser wrote. “The site is hayfield and defunct orchards which are reverting to scrub.”
But not all believe the viewshed is not worth preserving.
John Mudge, executive director of Mountain Lake Services/ARC of Essex County, wrote the APA concerned about the project. Mountain Lake Services is located next to the site of the proposed solar panel field. The organization provides residential and day services for people with developmental disabilities.
“The backyard is a haven to an extensive amount of wildlife which is enjoyed by both the folks that live at the home, but also their caregivers,” Mudge wrote. “Besides the loss of serenity, we also have some concerns of our participants accessing this solar property and potentially getting hurt or damaging the property.”
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Mudge said he’s concerned solar projects will overcrowd the area. He declined to comment further on his letter.
The APA committee and full board are expected to vote on the project on Thursday.
Michael Pratt, president and CEO of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, will present to the board a draft amendment to a planning document for Whiteface Mountain. It is not clear what the amendment will be about.
The APA state lands committee and full board could also vote on a final planning document for the state’s largest public campground. The document for Fish Creek Pond in Franklin County includes proposals for expanded parking, improved bike paths and a new caretaker cabin. The proposals were out for public comment through June 14.
The APA will have to decide if the plan aligns with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. That is a set of guidelines and land classifications meant to protect natural resources. In a memo to APA board members, APA staff have recommended the board adopt the plan.