Some green leaders are indignant at the notion that the 10-to-1 Adirondack Park Agency vote might signify weakness, disarray or ineffectiveness on the part of the region’s environmental movement.
In an email, Adirondack Wild co-founder Dan Plumley responded this way: “To point blame for this so-called defeat on the environmental community or concerned citizens is tantamount to bald-faced propaganda.”
Here’s why I thought the issue was worth writing about.
When I came to the Adirondacks 13 years ago, green groups dominated the environmental debate. They generally framed the issues, and had remarkably strong ties to the Pataki administration.
Green groups were arrayed in a more or less strategic pantheon, with different leaders playing different roles. There were strong indications that these partnerships were at least somewhat coordinated.
They won big battles, pushing through wilderness designations for forest preserve parcels, blocking the use of SONAR on Lake George, shutting down float planes on Lowes Lake, and
In those days, it was often difficult to find strong, informed and influential spokespeople for the local government and pro-development side of debates.
These days, all that has changed. Pro-development groups like the Local Government Review Board and ARISE are much more sophisticated, coordinated, and politically connected.
Green groups, meanwhile, have gone through a half-decade of turmoil, as prominent leaders have departed the scene, venerable groups have dissolved, merged, reformed, and splintered yet again.
On the ACR debate, they were clearly divided, with two relatively new groups — Plumley’s Adirondack Wild and Protect the Adirondacks — maintaining that allowing the project would set a hugely dangerous precedent for hte Park.
But the region’s biggest group, the Adirondack Council, embraced the resort in its final design, and publicly distanced itself from the rest of the movement.
For that kind of muddle to happen in the middle of a debate that many environmentalists singled out as a seminal battle in the history of the Adirondacks — one that they spent seven years fighting — that’s significant.
One prominent green leader, Peter Bauer now with the Fund for Lake George, makes a salient point in all this:
This APA commission seemed very likely to approve the Big Tupper resort in some form, no matter how unified or efficient the green movement was.
But that fact raises an even bigger question about the state of the environmental movement in the Park. Why is it that activist groups have been unable to successfully influence the choice of APA commissioners?
Green favorite Dick Booth was chosen by Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer to serve as chair of the APA, but that decision was easily derailed by local government leaders and by state Senator Betty Little.
(Booth now serves as a regular member of the board.)
Governor David Paterson then appointed environmental leader Peter Hornbeck to serve as an APA commissioner — at a time when Democrats controlled the entire state legislature. Once again the pick was sidelined.
The situation is so difficult for green groups that last year Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan acknowledged that his organization was keeping mum about its preferences for the Park board.
“We used to publicize it but we’ve decided that it doesn’t help those on the list so much,” Sheehan said.
“If it was a Democratic governor and Democratic Senate, we wouldn’t have to go to these lengths to keep it quiet.”
The point here isn’t to suggest that the ACR decision was the green community’s “fault,” or that environmentalists have somehow “lost” the APA.
The situation in the Park is obviously more nuanced and complicated than that. But it’s reasonable to look skeptically at the balance of power in the Adirondacks as it shifts and changes over time.
And I think it’s fair to say that a significant shift has occurred.
So what do you think? Do you see a different debate in the Park? How do you view the relative strength of the pro-development and local governments inside the blue line, compared with environmental activists?