TUPPER LAKE - A coalition of state representatives and local leaders from the Adirondacks met with residents here last week and brainstormed ways to improve economic conditions for communities inside the Blue Line.
The Adirondack Caucus held the second in a series of town hall meetings at Tupper Lake High School May 20 in an effort to hear suggestions from the public as they work to establish a special "economic zone" in the Adirondacks.
Assemblywomen Janet Duprey and Teresa Sayward headlined a panel that also included some officials in local government.
Duprey said one of the main goals of the Caucus is to establish a program that will offer tax credits to small businesses within the park, even those with as few as two or three employees.
Garry Douglas, president and CEO of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce, praised the idea of an Adirondack caucus as a way to get strength in numbers.
"The state has acknowledged consistently that this area is a unique area," said Douglas, "and it has a unique responsibility to tackle the economic sustainability of the communities in the park, whether that's taken from a special zone or some other means."
Several people in the audience took the opportunity to comment, many addressing concerns about the APA permitting process as a deterrent to businesses.
Jim LaValley is president of Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving their Economy, a grassroots group of volunteers who pooled their resources to renovate and re-open the Big Tupper ski area. He said enough is being done to make sites available for development, but not enough is being done to quell the fear of potential developers.
LaValley was one of several people to point to the ongoing adjudicatory process surrounding the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort project, a multi-million dollar development project centered around Big Tupper.
"There are another two handfuls of business looking to move into this region," said LaValley, "but they're waiting for the ACR to be approved.
Sayward mentioned the possibility of trying to establish an "economic arm" to the Adirondack Park Agency that would allow economic impact development projects to be weighed in the review process and hopefully allow such projects to be permitted faster.
Some hinted the addition of economic-focused staff at the APA may be timely amidst the pending retirement of Steve Erman, the agency's former Special Assistant for Economic Affairs.
"We're going to be looking at how to fill that position," said APA Executive Director Terry Martino, who called the concept of an economic "branch" at the APA "something we would encourage talking further about."
Martino called the dialogue at the meeting "refreshing" and noted some of the ideas currently being considered within the APA to benefit communities in the park, such as using the money collected from penalties and fines in a "planning fund" to be used by Adirondack towns and villages.
"I think the comments tonight were fantastic," said Duprey, expressing optimism for reform through collaboration.