LONG LAKE - For the third year, traditionally contentious groups sat under one roof and conducted a civil, day-long conversation about the pressing issues in the Adirondack Park - primarily the local economies which are stressed, good times and bad.
Included in the discussion was a pledge by Adirondack Park Agency officials to attempt to amend the APA Act to make it work better for everyone involved.
The annual Common Ground Alliance meeting was held Wednesday in Long Lake, and it featured a diverse group of people and opinions, all of whom agreed that something must be done to reinvent the Adirondack economy.
Balance was the most referenced term, as over 100 local government, state and environmental organization officials hashed out the best approach boost jobs, income and opportunity.
Many officials expressed concern over the findings of the recently released Adirondack Park Review and Assessment Project report, which concluded that Adirondack Park residents are older, poorer and less educated than other upstate residents. It also found that area youth are leaving the region at extremely high rates in pursuit of greater economic opportunity, and the fabric of Adirondack life is fading as empty vacation homes replace year-round residences on the landscape.
Terry Martino, the newly appointed Executive Director of the Adirondack Park Agency, said that balance is the key and the goal of the Alliance.
"There has to be a commitment to economic sustainability as well as environmental stewardship," Martino said.
Local officials have argued for decades that over-regulation is choking small Adirondack towns and resulting in an apparent brain-drain. But for Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages President and Town of Wells Supervisor Brian Towers, the discourse was welcome.
"This is the first time I have heard people who you would think are at the extremes come into the middle," Towers said. "We are hearing from the environmentalists that they support economic development where it is suitable."
The primary focus of the Common Ground discussion was the creation of a regional economic development plan.
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred Monroe, who chairs the Adirondack Local Government Review Board, said it was time to relax restrictive state laws and unleash free enterprise.
"We have to get government out of the way," Monroe said.
Dan Plumley, the director of the newly consolidated environmental organization Protect the Adirondacks, offered opinions that to many seemed as a new direction for environmentalists, who have traditionally shunned economic development in the park.
"We believe that economic development and environmental sustainability are not mutually exclusive," he said. "It is important to promote development in the hamlets, but not in the backcountry."
Plumley and many other environmental leaders said that bringing young interns into their organizations has been a viable model for bringing young people into the park.
Plumley said that sustainable forestry would bring high-paying jobs to the region and add a great deal to the local economy.
Other primary areas of agreement among the parties involved were the need for greater broadband access and traditional infrastructure development, like municipal sewer and water systems.
Towards the end of the meeting, some of the more contentious issues were addressed, opening the door for future debates that could redefine the park. Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth said he welcomes a debate about the State Land Master Plan and that the discourse would be good for everyone.
The master plan is often seen by local officials as an outdated document that does not allow for a community's viability. It is the basis of almost all of APA rulings.
APA Chairman Curt Stiles said that before the plan can be addressed the APA Act would first have to be changed.
"Regulatory reform is a passion I share with many of you," Stiles said. "It must be done with a bottom-up approach. We cannot continue to do business as we have always done."
Stiles said that the APA Act is packed with cumbersome language that is difficult to interpret.
"We will get to work on revising the APA Act by summer's end," he said. "But we have to make sure we look for some kind of consensus on this - it has to be done roughly right and directionally correct."