LAKE GEORGE - Standing on a plot of land near Lake George that is scheduled in several years to host a stormwater-scrubbing wetland, New York's Secretary of State Lorraine Cort s-V zquez praised local politicians and environmentalists for their ability to cooperate in working toward creating a $15 million environmental park that is expected to enhance the lake's water quality.
Cort s-V zquez visited Lake George Tuesday, meeting and chatting with local officials and leaders of environmental organizations - in addition to offering a ceremonial speech at the site of the pending West Brook Environmental Park project. Initial construction and demolition work on the park is scheduled to begin this fall.
"I'm enthused about the spirit of cooperation in Lake George between public officials and environmentalists," she said, noting the millions of dollars that the state has committed to the project. "It's a treasure and a pleasure to work with you in this delicate balance between economic development and environmental protection."
The tension accompanying that delicate balance, however, was evident in the differing words that environmentalists and politicians used in their speeches to describe the project. Regardless of differences of opinion on the project, all parties praised the state liberally for their participation in funding it.
Lake George Association's Walt Lender noted how the restoration of the wetlands destroyed many decades ago was vital in protecting the lake's water quality, and this ecological aspect was always the prime focus of the project. Plans call for not only for construction of stormwater-cleansing wetlands, but for development of walking and hiking trails, nature overlooks and interpretive signs.
"We hope your visit brings the spotlight back to the environmental aspects," Lender said.
Apparently "we" didn't include Warren County Board of Supervisors Fred Monroe.
He shifted the focus on the festival space, the 2.5 acres of the park that county Supervisors negotiated control over - for hosting festivals and parking. The controversial aspect of the project for many months has been whether or not to retain two buildings on county's portion of the park lands to host festivals and events regardless of weather conditions.
"We appreciate the Dept. of State support, as it's a very important project both for water quality and for festival space, which will result in a great benefit to the economy of the area by attracting new events," Monroe said.
Lake George Town Supervisor Frank McCoy, who has fought to retain the former Cavalcade of Cars and Opera House buildings on the former Gaslight Village amusement park site, echoed Monroe's sentiments.
"The environmental initiative will save the lake, and the festival space will help revitalize the village," he said looking at the gathered state officials. "We couldn't have done it without you."
Peter Bauer of the Fund for Lake George said it was appropriate that the gathering and speeches were held in front of the former Charlie's Saloon, which was scheduled for demolition as the ground underneath would in due time host constructed wetlands, replacing natural ones that were destroyed many years ago by the state and developers.
"I forgot to ask you to bring your sledgehammer," he said to Cort s-V zquez, noting the former tavern and dance hall was one of the buildings scheduled for demolition.
He added that environmental enhancement was intimately linked with environmental protection, as preserving the lake was fundamental to retaining tourism.
"This project is an investment in the local economy as well as its ecology," he said.
Lake George Mayor Robert Blais, who has championed the demolition of the buildings, said the park represented an landmark environmental venture for the region.
"This project is one of the most important initiatives ever taken in the history of the lake," he said.
Cort s-V zquez said the project could serve as a model of inter-agency cooperation for the entire nation.
"When we have a project that serves as a model as this one has, we need to show it off," she said.
After an overview of the former Gaslight site with environmentalists, Cort s-V zquez visited Bolton Landing to review the Pier development project in Rogers Park.