Monthly Archives: December 2012

Middle Schoolers’ Endstate

Earlier this month we had the pleasure of facilitating two half-day workshops with the 7th and 8th graders at Long Lake Central School.  The process we used was really the idea of the teachers there.  For the first session, we worked with the students to imagine what a future endstate for their community and school could look like.  We also looked at some of the broader possibilities for the Park as a whole.  For the second session, we had the students think about what events would have to happen to make their endstate come about.  At the end, we asked them to think about the ways in which they could participate in making three of those events happen some day.  The teachers are going to continue working with the students to help them understand what they have to learn during their time in school in order to be able to make those contributions.


The students were thoughtful and creative and easily engaged with the major issues, such as balancing environmental protection with developing the local economy.  They also wanted more local control and less imposition of rules by people who live outside the Park.  This is the endstate that they came up with.

Long Lake and the Adirondack Park in 2028

A Stronger, More Vibrant Community

More jobs, residents, and families,

A bigger hamlet with a new neighborhood, more buildings

More visitors and retirees, who create jobs by spending money in the community

More jobs in agriculture, logging, light manufacturing, healthcare and using the broadband network; maybe a community college

More services: stores, bakery, restaurants, movie theater, arcade, retirement home, cellphones

Using Greener Energy and Less Fossil Fuel

More renewable energy like solar, wind, hydro and biomass based on wood pellets; the conversion to renewables will generate jobs and save money in the long run

Waste less energy and save money

More electric and hybrid cars, more use of synfuels, especially as gasoline gets more expensive

Revive the rail system

More biking, walking, ride sharing so you use your car less

Government and Adirondack Park policies that support renewable energy including wind turbines

With Smaller, More Local Government

Less waste and duplication.  Share government positions with other towns in the county (e.g., tax collector, highway supervisor, coroner, town and school boards).

More local control: People who live in the Park should have the say over the rules in the Park.  Lessen the role of the APA and let local communities regulate and enforce laws in their own towns.  Let towns modify hunting regulations.

Cut through the red tape and be more self-reliant.  Government that this friendly toward economic growth, that promotes good projects and helps then succeed.

A little bit bigger school that is more diverse, and shares resources with neighboring schools

And That Protects the Environment

Adirondack waters need more protection from invasive plants and animals, storm water runoff from farms and lawns, and leaking septic systems

The Park is large and can support many kinds of recreation, some wild and some not, some with and some without motors.

The people of the community want to protect the waters and forests and wild life of the Park from pollution and over use. Responsible hunting, fishing and logging don’t degrade the environment.

The Role of Manufacturing in the ADK Futures Strategy

A couple of times now when we give our standard talk about the ADK Futures project and the consensus vision, someone asks us why there is no manufacturing in the plan. Although it doesn’t receive strong emphasis, there is mention of manufacturing in the vision.  In the 45 minute version  of the talk it often gets dropped.  But it actually is a big deal.

Many of the areas just outside the Blue Line are experiencing a manufacturing boom.  The Saratoga/Capital region, in particular, is experiencing an incredible high-tech boom in nanotech and semiconductors.  There is the potential for much further expansion there, too.  Meanwhile there is expansion at Bombardier in Plattsburgh and the Army in Ft. Drum and Fage Yogurt  south of the Park in Johnstown. International Paper’s Ticonderoga Mill is in the Park, producing copier and office printer paper. The Finch Pryun mill in Glens Falls produces also produces printing paper.

There are many ways in which the edge towns of the Park that are near these growing areas can benefit from this mini-boom.  Some employees in these new or expanding plants will choose to live in a quieter community with more open space somewhere just over the Blue Line in the Park. Others will want vacation homes in the Park.  Most will at least visit regularly.  The management of some of these new companies in the region may decide to build a Corporate retreat somewhere currently up for sale.  Notice I haven’t even mentioned fracking and its potential economic impact on the southern areas of the Park?

People throughout the Park with broadband Internet access will also be able to participate in various ways in the growth in manufacturing and other jobs in the ring of cities around the Park, as subcontractors and remote employees, or as providers of necessary business back office services.  People can work from home, but also easily show up in the office when necessary.  Some smaller subcontractors may find it cheaper to set up shop in an Adirondack town than in the booming capital region.  With most business interactions being over the Internet anyway, you don’t have to be co-located in the same office Park as your client.

All of this requires getting in front of the people who are hiring and growing these businesses around the edges of the Park in order to promote the region as a place to live, vacation and recreate. Some of the community development organizations around the Park are working on this we’re told. We need to dispel the myth that a business can’t get started inside the Blue Line because of APA and DEC red tape and restrictions. We have industrial parks, waiting. We have a large industrial site in Clifton Fine with fiber trunk line and potentially restored rail freight service.  Information businesses, in particular, should raise no serious environmental concerns.

Inside the Park, we have some light manufacturing that can grow.  Here are some examples. Saranac Lake has several biotech companies.  North Creek has Creative Stage Lighting doing well enough to expand.  In Willsboro, General Composites is a custom manufacturer of hi-end composite components. In Piseco, Wilt Industries fabricates advance annealing ovens to produce, for example, silicon ingots for chip companies like Intel.  Placid Boatworks makes canoes.  Hi-end craftsman make rustic furniture, guide boats and taxidermy.

These are niche businesses.  “Niche” means they are large enough to be real businesses, but their markets don’t attract the 1000 pound guerrillas of industry.  These fit the Park better than large mines and mills, employing many hundreds of people.  When these big business fail or leave, the towns involved crash, often losing 2/3 of their population.  Look at Port Henry, Newcomb, Clifton-Fine – all are case studies.  The Trudeau Sanatorium in Saranac Lake was a huge employer and shut abruptly in the summer of 1954 when effective antibiotics were introduced.  It took decades to the village to get back on its feet.  Light manufacturing, involved in niche markets, is our sweet spot.  But you have to find a lot of them.

Biomass: Some Hype, Some Hope

Usually when the topic of biomass comes up in our various discussions around the Park, everyone is gung ho and nod their heads positively.  Biomass is an important component of the ADK Futures strategy for both lowering our carbon footprint and keeping employment in the forestry sector.  It is also an important component of the North Country Regional Economic Development Strategy.  The Northern Forest Center also has made biomass heating a focus of new market development.  We are told that there is a lot of interest in biomass as a renewable, low net carbon contribution fuel source at the State and Federal level.

So, how big is this new market and how does that compare to our forest’s production?  There are a few researchers who have been looking at the numbers and one we have recently talked with is Dr. Charlie Canham, who is a Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY.  Charlie’s detailed work looks at like available supply and at the efficiency with which various kinds of wood supply can be converted to energy of various types. He looks are the entire Northern Forest; State level detail is the best available.  Charlie concludes that, regionally,  only very modest portions, in the 5% range, of most energy markets could be met through biomass fuels, but there are a few that could be more significant. One that is promising is using biomass for heating.  Specifically, base load heating for larger buildings like schools, government offices, prisons, etc.

Because pulpwood prices are so low, and our available wood supply is not sufficient to substitute a lot of fossil fuel, Charlie worries that a real boom in biomass might lead to unsustainable harvesting of forests and that would negate much of the carbon emission benefit of the fuel.  The image of trains loaded with pellets leaving the region come to mind, but it is never going to happen.  Pipeline natural gas will keep the use of biomass contained to areas like the Park with plenty of wood and no gas pipelines.  Also, there are other government estimates that are higher than Charlie’s. So we’re not currently worried about over using our working forest.

The proposed use of biomass in the ADK Futures strategy is actually pretty limited.  We propose to focus on converting from fuel oil to biomass heating systems in the Park using the modern gasifier furnaces that emit little in the way of smoke and pollutants.  We propose to meet the heating needs of the 130,000 people and large buildings within the Blue Line.  Most of the Park is never going to get gas lines, and this makes it a good market for locally sourced biomass as a heating fuel.  The idea that train loads of pellets with head from the region to replace coal in power plants is never going to happen, but biomass will be a great low cost local heating fuel for Park residents.

Using biomass for electrical power production in co-gen facilities is a good thing, but it isn’t likely to do well in plants just generating electricity and dumping the heat – it is too inefficient to compete with hydro power capability in our region.  The ReEnergy project at Ft. Drum is a large 60 Megwatt power plant.  It was built as a coal fired co-gen plant but the steam distribution part of the system failed and has been abandoned.  It will burn wood, including whole tree chips, wood waste from sawmills, crop fuels like willow, and other material like shredded tires. It will probably be a one-of-a-kind facility in the region, although the company has a dozen plants burning various fuels elsewhere.

The other point that Charlie and we agree on is that it is reasonable, over the next 25 years, to expect one or both of the two remaining pulp mills in the region will close.  Their closure won’t be for lack of wood, but for the decline in printing paper markets.  We will need new pulpwood markets just to keep the current logging industry in business.  Luckily biomass heating using pellets requires the same pulpwood now going to our two pulp mills (Ticonderoga and Glens Falls).   We need these markets to buy our low value trees, leaving higher value trees to grow into saw logs for later harvests. Think of these markets as providing funding for weeding our forests periodically.

The best feed stock for biomass heating is pellets produced from pulpwood, not debris from logging operations.  There is an argument that it is best to leave logging debris on the forest floor as the carbon is better sequestered that way and the material decays to provide nutrients for the next generation of trees. It is ugly, but most forest operations are ugly. Removing the entire above ground biomass of a forest may look better, but is not as healthy for the forest.  Finally, logging waste makes lousy dirty fuel and it is expensive to collect.

If the pulp mills close, we can imagine the possibility of re-purposing a pulp mill to synfuel production, similar to ethanol from corn, but that is a long way off.  So, it feels like expanding biomass heating in the Park now is a good way to get us on the path to continued productive use of our working forests in renewable, low carbon energy markets of the future.

There is going to be temptation for many land owners along the way to deviate from sustainable harvesting practices.  Some may be unwise enough to let saw logs get diverted into energy.  The industry, DEC and NYSERDA need to think now about the kinds of monitoring programs that will need to be in place to warn us that we are loosing the carbon emission advantage that we set out to achieve with these conversions.  We also have to win the war against invasive pests that could seriously destroy significant portions of our working forest.

For more info specifically about biomass in the Park, we recommend Jerry Jenkins book, Climate Change in the Adirondacks, The Path to Sustainability, pages 122-125.  Reading this section will answer a lot of questions.