TUPPER LAKE - The volunteer-staffed Big Tupper rehabilitation may have a new voice in Albany, as Assemblywoman Janet Duprey toured the site Thursday and promised to through her political capital behind the project.
"I will continue talking to the Adirondack Park Agency to help them see the light that we need to finalize this, after six years it's been going on long enough," she said. "As a facilitator I lend the voice of my office and say this is huge for the constituents."
Duprey met with representatives of the local community action organization ARISE at Big Tupper. She agreed with their claim that the project is vital for the continued economic viability of the region.
"To see the outpouring of letters and correspondence and support and the enthusiasm," she said. "Now people can get some dirt under their fingernails and say I am part of this project; Tupper Lake is part of this project. Tupper Lake is involved as a community."
ARISE spokesman Jim LaValley said the community is at a "perilous point" and is on the verge of economic collapse. He referenced the recently released APRAP demographic study that found the park is filled with poor and aging communities that are hemorrhaging youth at staggering rates.
Duprey assured ARISE representatives that the Big Tupper Project is at the top of her priority list. The economy of Tupper Lake is based on the approval is the mountain's development, she said. She agreed with LaValley's assertion that environmental organizations wield far too much pull with regulatory agencies and often stand in the way of development projects that would bring hundreds of jobs to Adirondack communities.
Numerous environmental organizations have labeled the project as needless in-park over-development.
"It's the case not just here (Big Tupper). We saw it with the cell tower projects," she said. "Unfortunately somebody had to die before we realize we had to do something about this."
Duprey said direct state funding for the volunteer rehab is unlikely, because the mountain is privately owned by Preserve Associates - who hopes to include Big Tupper as part of the planned 6,400 acres Adirondack Club and Resort.
However, she may be able to find state-owned ski equipment and technical expertise to assist the volunteers.
She is currently in close correspondence with the Adirondack Park Agency over permitting for the project.
"They keep telling me they are working on the paper work and that their willing to sit at the table and get it done and understand the importance of it," she said. "We are in the process of setting up a mutually convenient time."
Duprey's visit comes after her office received dozens of letters from Tupper Lake residents who were concerned that the project may never get off the ground.
The ACR project has been on hold for nearly six years as the developers have been in mediation with environmental groups and state regulatory officials.
Preserve Associates walked away from negotiations last month. The developers are currently seeking the necessary permits from the Adirondack Park Agency to begin construction.
After negotiations broke down, ARISE took action - the plan is to get the T-bar and four trails up and running for the coming ski season.
LaValley said around 250 volunteers from Tupper and throughout the region will begin work at the site in the next two weeks. The current plan is to get the T-bar up and running as well as four trails, he said.