John Sheehan, communications director for the Adirondack Council, spread out the big multicolored map of the Adirondacks and pointed to the red and orange areas — the most developed areas in the Adirondack Park outside of hamlets, he said.
And there they were, circles of red and orange surrounding lakes, like rings on a dartboard.
The point, Mr. Sheehan said, is lakeshores are being overdeveloped and the shoreline density requirements overseen by the Adirondack Park Agency are too weak.
But you couldn’t help noticing, looking at the map, how thin the circles of red and orange were and what a tiny percentage of the Adirondacks they cover compared with the huge areas of green, sprawling across hundreds of thousands of acres, where little development, or none, can ever occur.
Yes, lakefronts have been largely built out, but only within the framework of the APA Act, and in many places, that process is over. Most lakeside building lots are gone, so why move now to restrict shoreline development?
Meanwhile, in the Adirondack backcountry, where all that green spreads across the map, groups like the Adirondack Council have persuaded — and even helped — the state to acquire enormous parcels, adding tens of thousands of acres to the state’s Wild Forest. Thousands of more acres are protected by conservation easements.
So, while Mr. Sheehan is busy promoting the council’s 2012 agenda to tweak this and adjust that, it’s fair to point out, from a broader perspective, the fight to preserve the Adirondack wilderness has already been won.
A recent deal orchestrated by the Nature Conservancy to acquire more than 160,000 acres of land owned by Finch Paper led to the state acquisition of conservation easement on 89,000 acres of forest, with the outright purchase of tens of thousands of more acres of environmentally sensitive lands expected in the next few years.
Other purchases made over the past decade have filled in gaps in Adirondack wilderness areas and added woods and waterways to the state’s holdings that environmentalists had long coveted.
Even if you think the state’s priorities were misplaced in buying up Adirondack forests while North Country school districts were struggling to pay teachers, you cannot dispute the gloriousness of the natural legacy New York can now leave future generations.
More wilderness land — much, much more — is under the permanent protection of the state than 40 years ago. And the development that has occurred, such as the building of second homes on lakeshores, has been within the guidelines and oversight of the APA.
The Adirondack Council should be throwing the APA a 40th anniversary victory party.
Instead, the council is foraging for things to complain about, like the Adirondack Club & Resort project in Tupper Lake. Although the council supported the project, because it followed the law, it is now arguing that APA rules should be tweaked to require housing in large developments is clustered, instead of being scattered across a huge area.
We think the council is being a sore winner. To accommodate the APA Act, the Tupper Lake developers planned their homes for huge lots, minimizing their impact on the environment. It’s hard to consider that a loss, if you’re an environmentalist, although some have tried.
Also on its agenda, the council is pushing some practical suggestions, such as having the APA charge permit application fees, on a sliding scale, to give the tiny, cash-strapped agency a modest revenue stream; and encouraging lakeside towns to put septic system regulations in place, as Inlet has done, requiring upgrades when properties are sold.
These are sensible suggestions. And we see nothing wrong, either, with the agency reviewing its rules and regulations for ways they can be improved.
But the council and its allies should approach the ongoing discussion on Adirondack land use with the understanding the big battles have already been fought, and they won.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley and citizen representative Jody Chwiecko.