TUPPER LAKE - After years of public review, town hall meetings, mediation sessions and negotiations, the Adirondack Club and Resort project is entering its final phase.
An adjudicatory hearing will begin soon, possibly as early as next month, overseen by administrative law judge Daniel O'Connell. When that hearing is finished, the Adirondack Park Agency will have 60 days to vote on whether the 600-unit resort should be given a permit.
But with the day of reckoning for the project drawing ever closer, some officials are expressing concern that the final vote will be rushed through - even though the project has been in the works for some seven years now.
Cecil Wray sits on the state Adirondack Park Agency's Board of Commissioners.
"I think it would be extremely unfortunate if when that time comes, we are put under any time pressure," he said. "I really don't want to see after four years of waiting to be told there is a time clock running and you have to fish or cut bait. Given the importance of this thing, I think we need plenty of time to consider whatever is finally put before us."
That concern was echoed by Commissioner Frank Mezzano, who recalled being buried with information at the last minute when voting on other large and complex projects.
"The sheets of paper came in boxes, regular file big boxes that we had to somehow plow through," he said.
The APA's deliberations will be complicated by the fact that commissioners have been instructed to limit the amount of information they're gathering from the media about the Big Tupper resort - so that their decision will be based on the official record produced by the hearing.
They also can't deliberate amongst themselves ahead of time.
One more wrinkle is that many of the commissioners on the APA board weren't around when this project was first introduced. Here's board member Lani Ulrich:
"The members at the table now are dramatically different now than the members who were here when this first came before us," she said.
The 60 day clock required under APA regulations for a final decision could be extended. But that could only happen with the consent of the developer, Michael Foxman, who's seeking the permits.
Foxman says he's not sure whether he would agree to an extension, but he acknowledged that the time clock might make it difficult for some commissioners.
"It seems to me that the board has the staff and the staff has total knowledge and will make a careful recommendation," he said. "If I were a new board member, I might need more time or I might depend on the staff. It will depend on the circumstances."
Foxman adds that the design for the ACR project has been tweaked, adjusted, and scaled back and is now basically ready to go.
"I don't think there are any questions on the table," he said. "Other than those that the opponents raise reflexively."
That view is shared by Jim LaValley, a realtor in Tupper Lake and founder of the group ARISE, which formed to support this project. He says the resort is well-designed and will serve as a much-needed boost for his town's economy.
"And I remain very optimistic that this project will be hitting the market at just the right time," LaValley said.
But environmental leaders are saying the project still needs dramatic restructuring.
John Caffrey is an attorney in Glens Falls who sits on the board of Protect the Adirondacks. He'll serve as counsel for the group during the upcoming hearings.
"It's not close and based on what we've seen so far, the chances of the applicant ever agreeing to anything that we feel would be acceptable and would be consistent with the Adirondack Park Agency Act are extremely low," Caffrey said.
Groups like the Adirondack Council say they support the project in theory, but still have issues with the application. Concerns expressed by environmental organizations include the design of the sewage treatment system and plans for housing developments along the slopes of Big Tupper.
LaValley says green groups are meddling in Tupper Lake's future, without thought to the community's economy.
"The environmental groups, the individuals who are again opposed either partially or in whole, to be honest with you need to be ashamed at the tactics they're using right now to keep this project from moving on a timely schedule," he argued.
Interestingly enough, both sides of the issue are heaping praise on the APA and its staff. Green group and supporters of the ACR project say the APA has handled its review of the project fairly. Here's Jim LaValley:
"The Adirondack Park Agency has been nothing but professional with this project," LaValley said. "They've been very clear with what the steps are. Their rules are laid out so the applicant knows what they are."
The discovery phase that led up to the adjudicatory hearing closed last Friday. The hearing itself could begin as early as next month. The testimony and the evidence offered into the record is expected to be highly technical and contentious.