Category Archives: Economic Development

August 16 Symposium “Toward a More Diverse Adirondack Park’

The Park’s first diversity symposium is on Saturday August 16 at the SUNY ESF Newcomb Campus from 8am-5pm.

The web site with registration information, the agenda and details can be found here.  For additional information please call John Sheehan at the Adk Council, 518-432-1770

Participating organizations include:  Adirondack Almanack, Adirondack Council, Adirondack Foundation, Adirondack Futures, John Brown Lives, SUNY ESF, the Common Ground Alliance  and The Wild Center.

Here is a link to a post abut the event on the Adk Life blog.

For background, see this current report analyzing diversity in enviro groups and this article about the same issue.  It is a bigger issue than the Adirondacks, for sure, but go look at the Boards and staff of the enviro groups related to our Park for some insight about us.  It isn’t conscious, I don’t believe, but the situation speaks for itself.

The Park’s demographics are strikingly at variance with the rest of NY State, and particularly the cities, in most every dimension from age to race, to language, to sexual orientation and on down the list.  This widening gap is one possible route to failure in the Park’s future. Today we get the full attention of Albany, but there is nothing the suggest it will stay this way.  A big election, with high city voter turnout, could change a lot of things pretty quickly.

A few decades back, the issue was ‘home rule’ being trumped by excessive outside attention. But now the risk suggested by demographic trends is the actually opposite.  It is the possibility that the Park will become a largely neglected, abandoned, and increasingly irrelevant backwater of the State.  We need to find ways to make the people who visit and live here a better reflection of the state’s population.

The Park and the Forest Preserve exist at the pleasure of NY State voters.   The lofty notion that it is ‘forever’ is only actually true until an amendment on the ballot changes it.  It is not nearly the bedrock certainty that the tone of the Forever Wild language implies.

Please come join us at this symposium to share,  to think, and to learn about this challenge to our region.  Think of this as a starting point.  See you on August 16th?

Thanks to Pete Nelson for actually getting attention focused on this issue.

CGA Amendment Working Group Offers Whitepaper

At the CGA Forum in July 2012, we presented the results of the ADK Futures work, and a number of working groups dove into various topics during the afternoon.  BTW, this year’s CGA Forum will use a workgroup format again.

One of those July 2012 groups discussed amendments to help towns get broadband, water, rebuild bridges more wisely, etc.  Neil Woodward and Kayrn Richards left with the task of writing up the notes and getting others involved.  By October 2012 a working group had organized itself and I wrote about it here.

Now it is June of 2014, and we are pleased to say good work has been done on the data gathering and legal thinking.  It has come far enough to be worth sharing for considered discussion.  There is no rush.  It’s taken 22 months to get this far, and it improved over time.  This is a complicated topic.  So, we offer a deeply considered proposal that we hope will find wide support and success over time.  We want your pubic voice in support, and we also want to hear concerns.  Take the time to download the map data (warning, large files involved) and read the other two appendices. This is not intended as a yes-or-no offer, it is an invitation for ideas to resolve the issues we find present.

Please pass along this information as you wish.  We welcome comments here (you need to create an account with your real name and log in) and anywhere else discussions might take place.  We expect to write followups here as the summer unfolds so you might want to check back from time to time.

Click here to download the CGA Amendment Working Group White Paper.

Two More Sets of Ranking Data

Even though the main thrust of the ADK Futures project has moved on to implementation and tracking progress toward the vision, we continue to give talks where we introduce new groups to the original six scenarios and the issues that they frame for the Park.  There are plenty of people that have not heard them yet and there is always a good discussion.

Recently we gave a talk at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.  About 40 attended and we had an excellent discussion about the scenarios.  In the middle of our talk, after we presented the endstates, we asked them to do the ranking exercise for desirability and attainability.  The results from 31 people turned out to line up very well with the overall results from the workshop series as you can see in the table below.  The ranking on desirability is almost identical to the workshop series.  The attainablity rankings were slightly different, putting the Usable Park (B) first instead of Sustainable Life (C).  Also, surprisingly, the Adirondack County (D) endstate was seen as more attainable than in the averages but thinking of the Park as a region is much more widely talked about now than it was.

ADK museum ranking result2

In addition, we published a condensed version of the six endstates in Adirondack Life this spring with a link to the magazine’s website where readers could do the ranking exercise. Although hundreds of people started the exercise, only 91 completed it.  These rankings are shown in the table below.  C and B are still the top in desirability.  But the Wild Park (A) ranks third instead of fourth with this group.  Also Adirondack State Forest (F) got a slightly higher score and is fifth instead of sixth.  The attainability ratings are very different with Sustainable Life (C) is only third.  Wild Park (A) again ranks higher than in the workshop series.

These results are similar to those of two half-day workshops we did during 2012.  One was with a group of seasonal residents.  The other was a group of Paul Smith students in a land use planning class.  The Wild Park scenario was an attempt to capture the point of view of a person who doesn’t live in the Park and is not involved in the issues of economy and community building in the region.

adk life ranking results

These two data sets overall continue to support the consensus vision that is based on the Sustainable Life (C), with a sustainable version of the Usable Park (B), and continued protection of the Forest Preserve as a Wild Park (A).

What We Learned at the Clean Energy Conference

NCCECWe spent the past couple days at the North Country Clean Energy Conference sponsored by ANCA.  It was a great opportunity to learn a lot about a wide variety of approaches to energy conservation, generation and regulation.  We came away amazed by the creativity and innovation that is happening in the energy sector.

Here are a variety of things we learned at the conference.

Public Projects Everywhere

Many municipalities have implemented or are in the planning stages for clean energy projects, typically putting in solar cells to generate electricity (known as photovoltaics or PV systems) or biomass systems for heating.  There was a presentation by Fred Monroe about their positive experience with PV in Chestertown.  Fred noted that even though some of their PV systems are installed at the side of the school playing fields, the panels don’t break when hit with a baseball or soccer ball.  It’s good to note they are pretty rugged.  Another presentation showed how a number of towns along the St. Lawrence River (Ogdensburg, Clayton, Gouvenour and others) have collaborated on a single contract to procure and install PV systems at 15 to 25% savings.  The Thousand Islands Central School also participated.  The projects are pitched to residents as a way to save money and stabilize energy costs.  The  green benefits are a plus but not the motivator.

Biomass Bandwagon

Biomass energy is widely accepted as an important way of reducing fossil fuel use.  There were a number of projects described, the largest of which is the major ReEnergy conversion of a coal-fired power plant to biomass fuels at Ft. Drum.  You can argue about whether using biomass to generate electricity is wise as a general policy due to efficiency issues, but this reuse of an existing facility seems poised for success.  The plant went operational just over a month ago and has been harvesting wood since February.  The key point is that ReEnergy’s commitment to sustainable harvesting of biomass is real and serious.  For example, they are buying state-of-the-art logging equipment and leasing it to some of their loggers supplying the plant so that they can do low impact collection in the forest. They are also in the midst of planting thousands of acres of shrub willow, which can be harvested sustainably every three years. This facility is able to generate enough electricity to meet the needs of 55,000 homes.  It will be an important part of the Army’s commitment to move to more renewable energy sources.

There was also a very impressive presentation on the North Country School’s use of wood for heating using a variety of different technologies and fuel types from cord wood to pellets to chips.  They are currently saving over $50,000 a year in fuel costs.  They are also doing other things to reduce energy use such as switching to LED lighting, green roofs and some PV systems.

The success of biomass in larger, institutional applications has not been matched by success in the residential arena.  There are many concerns about the viability of home biomass including issues of safe storage of pellets and emissions profiles.  Overall, there remains significant prejudice against heating with wood in the general public, some of which derives from old wood furnaces that do belch smoke and particulates and would create a public health problem if used even more widely.  But the new biomass furnaces are very different and the technology is able to lower emissions levels below heating oil.    More education on why the new technologies are clean, safe and carbon neutral is still needed.  It was suggested that NYSERDA set aside a percentage of all grant funds for outreach and education.

Looking at the longer-term effects of major use of biomass, we see nothing but benefit to the North Country.  Developing a new and growing market for wood from our private forests is necessary to counter the steady decline in demand for wood for pulp mills as paper use tapers off – biomass energy will keep our logging industry viable.  The low-grade wood that feeds a pulp mill is equally suitable to feeding a pellet plant.  Biomass collection can also be a cost-effective adjunct to existing harvesting for saw logs, using tops and branches.  Sustainable harvesting of low quality trees from a forest can improve the value of the forest over time, reversing the decades of “high grading” that has occurred in many of our norther forests.

Solar: Do I Have a Deal For You

There are lots of companies out there that want to bring you no-money-down deals for converting to PV or biomass.  The idea is called operational financing.  The company essentially funds the capital cost of the system using the savings from the project.  Usually the company buys the equipment and then enters in an agreement with you to sell you the power or the heat they generate at a reduced price over what you are paying now.  But the majority of the savings go to pay back the install cost.   For schools and municipalities, the company can take benefit of the tax incentives that non-profits cannot use, further increasing the attractiveness of the deal for all.  It appears that more companies are entering this green energy financing in our region.

The State is setting up a billion dollar “green bank” to provide wholesale funds to companies that would set up individual deals with businesses, municipalities and maybe even home owners.  If you have the capital to invest on your own in these green technologies, then your savings will be bigger and start accruing immediately.  But if you don’t, the operational financing approach allows you to make the conversion, go green, and get some savings.  For many, a stable, known cost of energy is a benefit even if it doesn’t represent huge savings off today’s prices.

Community Net Metering Is a Game Changer

There was a lot of talk at the conference about a regulatory change in the works that is called Community Net Metering.  The current situation for someone that installs a PV system is that the electricity produced is fed back into the grid through your own electric meter.  The energy you produce is netted out against what you use, watt for watt,  hence the term net metering.  In this way you can actually reduce your electric bill to zero (but not below) if you have a large solar array.  But the panels need to be near your meter.

Community net metering (also called Virtual Net Metering) allows the solar panels to be remote from your meter, tied into the grid at a different location through a different meter, and yet have the electricity generated net out against what is billed through your own meter.  The purpose of such a set up is to establish a community power production facility and allocate the energy produced to various subscribers and have them get the same benefits as if the energy production was co-located at their personal location.  This program is funded by on charge on everyone’s electric bill, so this is a way to allow everyone to benefit, even a house in the woods.

The immediate implementation would be community solar farms where a large number of solar panels are located at one place and individual home owners or businesses can subscribe to the service.  This would allow buildings that are not favorable for placement of solar panels to benefit from a conversion to solar energy.  A prime opportunity is set up one of these solar farms on closed town land fills.  You can’t build on these landfills but you can put solar panels on them (since the panels are designed to go on roofs, they can easily be sited on a capped land fill without having to penetrate the earth).  It is estimated that only about a quarter of all homes in the US are suitable for placement of solar panels.  So this kind of community set up could unlock a whole new round adoption of PV technology.

But the idea could apply to other forms of alternative power generation too.  If you were the operator of a hydro facility such as the one in Wadams or St. Regis Falls, you could use this community net metering to directly sell your power to nearby customers rather than just wholesaling your power to the grid.  Towns in Europe buy a large wind turbine and allocate its power to individual homes in a similar fashion.

The community net metering approach is fully operational in Vermont and Massachusetts and more restrictive versions of it are in use in a few other states.  The bill (S.4722-2013) before the NY State Senate to enable this is modeled after the one in Massachusetts.  There are many details to work out but there is hope that this can be approved before the end of the year.  Betty Little, our Senator, is the sponsor of the bill and needs to get email supporting S.4722:  little@nysenate.gov

New York State Strongly Committed to Clean Energy

NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, is funding all kinds of research and development in clean energy, especially solar.  They are funding utility-scale solar generation projects of multiple millions of kilowatt hours as part of the effort to increase the amount of energy produced from renewables in the State.  The old Benson mines site in Clifton-Fine could be a great site for such a utility-scale solar array.

The State clearly has more policy changes planned in the energy arena.  There is a strong commitment to moving to more distributed power production both to lessen the need for further investment in long-distance transmission but also to improve reliability.  It feels like the 1970’s when we started to dismantle the old, centralized telco systems in favor of distributed systems oriented toward high-speed data. We will see the energy industry move away from centralized, large-scale generation to a more diverse approach that features many distributed generation approaches.  Policy needs to be set so that the existing large players don’t impede progress toward a more flexible and reliable approach.  Distributed power production makes a great deal of sense.

The Zero Waste Stream Company.  Casella May be in Our Future

Some of the presentations drove home the idea that moving to clean energy has positive business benefits.  You save money, improve your image, and possibly participate in new market opportunities.  There was a great presentation by Casella, the waste management company headquartered in Rutland VT and operating for our region out of Plattsburgh.

Because of their large-scale investment in single stream recycling or what they call zero sort, recycling levels at their customers go up typically by 25%.  They really accept almost everything and make it as easy as possible.  But their commitment to sustainability is company-wide. For example, they are converting their truck fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG), which is a huge improvement over the diesel engines  in terms of cost, emission, sound levels.  They are also collecting the methane generated at the 7 land fills they operate and using it to generate electricity or heat a nearby building.  Next, they want to use it to power their CNG truck fleet.  Capturing this methane not only displaces other fossil fuel use but it also prevents this very powerful green house gas from entering the atmosphere.

New Micro-Hydro Technologies Coming

There were presentations about a couple of new micro-hydro technologies that can generate steady streams of electricity in smaller stream situations.  One was called Hydrocoil.  It is a turbine designed to fit inside a 6 inch or 12 inch pipe and generate 1.5 to 2 kW.  It has many applications.  You can put it directly in a stream or feed it with a pipe on land.  But you could also use it in the pipes draining water out of a water tower or in a large building.  Imagine all the potential energy that could be tapped with a simple, flexible, plug and play technology such as this.  This company is still trying to get financing so that they can scale up for production.  They are located in Potsdam and expect to actually manufacture in the north country.

Do you have an old, unused, spring house on your land?  Or a small brook?  There was another, much smaller scale, micro-hydro system presented that would be suited to these situations.  It was incredible simple.  The presentation on it is found here.  Look at the one called “Big Energy from Small Systems”.  We have seen something like this before, called the Stream Engine, from Canada, but this is from Morrisville State College, part of the SUNY system.

Biodigesters in Dairy Land

Although we didn’t spend a lot of time in sessions on the topic of biodigesters we did learn that the main application here is likely to be on dairy farms for processing cow manure.  These systems can generate power that is fed right back into the dairy operations, reducing the waste problem and lowering energy costs.  With the growth in dairy farms, there should be a good market for this technology.

Electric Vehicles have a Big Future

There were hints that electric vehicles (EVs) will be part of our green energy future in the North County.  Although general purpose use of them is still not viable, there are situations where they make sense even now.  North Country school converted a big dump truck to a smaller electric vehicle that the use on campus to transport trash and other materials on the campus.  The mainstream EVs like the Chevy Volt, the Nissan LEAF, and the Mitsubishi i-iEV have a range of at least 60 miles now and are suitable for many people’s daily commute.  If you have solar panels generating your electricity and you use it to charge your EV battery every night, then you can include the gas you didn’t use in your calculations on payback for the solar system.  Gas is a lot more expensive than electricity (you almost certainly spend more per year on gas than you do on electricity) and hence using your PV to charge your EV instead of just offsetting your electricity bill represents a much higher value application.  It can cut the payback period for your panels in half.

Over time batteries will improve further and the range of these EVs will increase somewhat.  If we have a large number of EVs someday (20 years from now) their batteries could become an important part of the way the distributed grid operates.  Turns out that a fully charged EV battery could power your house for a number of hours.  No need to spend on a backup generator any longer.  The grid could use all these batteries for load leveling, charging them up when it has extra capacity and drawing on them to meet peak needs.  All this would have to be managed by very sophisticated software that took into account individual preferences and constraints, but it could be done.  Next year’s Clean Energy Conference will feature an entire track on transportation and how we move off fossil fuels there.

Thank you to ANCA and conference director Dan Mason (yes he’s Dave’s brother) for helping us all move closer to a green economy.

Feels Like Progress

In the past few weeks we have attended Local Government Day, Adirondack Day in the Capital, and the Adirondack Research Consortium.  In each case, we were left with the feeling that the Adirondacks is moving forward on many fronts.  There is a sense of optimism and progress.  Most importantly, collaboration and Park-wide thinking are the rules of the day.

Local Government Day

This is an annual event co-sponsored by the APA and AATV (Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages).  Usually this event happens in March when we are away but they moved it into late April this year and we were pleased to be able to attend.  The senior management from both DEC and APA were there listening hard to the large number of local government reps who came.  The Adirondack Partnership and its Director, Bill Farber, were front and center touting their new Economic Strategies development project that has been awarded to a group of consulting firms led by River Street Planning and Development of Troy.  This project will take the work of the ADK Futures project as a starting point to develop much more detailed strategies for economic development in the region and test them against market data.

The main focus of the day we attended was the economic potential of tourism. There was a presentation by Jim McKenna on the about-to-be-released Adirondack Park Outdoor Recreation Strategy, which is the product of a 25 person volunteer team comprised of public, private and non-profit leaders.  This effort has characterized the main factors that hold back better development of the Park’s resources to provide more economic opportunity to the towns and villages of the region.  The group made it’s initial priority the development of a web portal to bring together all information about recreational opportunities, facilities and visitor amenities across the entire Park.  This is aimed at what the team saw as a key problem: inadequate information available to prospective visitors about the diverse recreational opportunities in the Park and the poor distribution of activities and events across the entire area.  This web portal was recently funded in this years Regional Economic Development grants and its development has already started.

Next we heard about the potential economic benefits of better developing the recreational opportunities of the Park.  Most importantly, we learned how the five towns (Newcomb, Minerva, Indian Lake, North Hudson and Long Lake) affected most by the new NYS acquisition of Finch Pruyn lands are working together to come up with plans for developing recreational and visitor facilities to capture some local economic benefit.  The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has included a half million dollar grant to the towns to help in this effort.  DEC is working closely with the team, too.  This kind of partnership is a major step in the right direction and TNC, in particular, should be commended for their efforts to insure that all benefit from the biggest addition to the Forest Preserve in 100 years.

Overall we heard that there is great potential if we diversify the offerings to visitors, most of whom only want a 1 to 2 hour hike.  This means diversifying access and making it possible for the less fit or elderly to enjoy a portion of the outdoors. Others want something other than hiking, such as biking, boating, etc. Visitors also consider sight seeing, relaxing, dining and shopping an important part of their vacation.  Grassroots efforts to develop new activities are also key, such as the Cranberry 50 development of hiking trails.  In the end though, there needs to be investment in lodging if we are to unlock the economic potential of the region.  We need to think hard about the kinds of incentives and grants that can be put together to attract the necessary private investment.  Our relatively short visitor seasons and increasingly iffy winter weather make these kinds of investments very risky and they won’t happen if local and State government don’t sweeten the pot.

What struck us overall about the event was the lack of griping and pointing fingers.  Instead there was a refreshing sense of optimism and cooperation.  The ADK Futures project was cited repeatedly as one more sign that we are in a new era in the Park, one in which we are moving forward.

Adirondack Day

April 29 was the first Adirondack Day in the “well” of the State Legislative Office building in Albany.  Groups around the State use this space to promote their region or cause to legislators, their staff, and executive branch staff.  With an incredible outpouring of volunteer support, our region pulled together rich  displays about conservation, fighting invasives,  recreation, culture, history, and our successes on the economic development front.  Most prominent, though, were the displays and samples of our burgeoning local food movement.  It was great to see so many of our key organizations working together to promote the entire region.

It turns out that this very day the Governor announced his White Water Canoe Challenge.  The effort clearly paid off in terms of greater awareness in Albany to the many ways the Adirondacks are moving ahead these days.  At one point, Mr. Cuomo did make an appearance accompanied by Senator Betty Little and visited a number of the displays. Betty spotted us and steered the Governor our way for a brief introduction.

Jim and dave with Cuomo and Little

Adirondack Research Consortium

Last week we participated in the Adirondack Research Consortium (ARC) conference in Lake Placid.  The opening keynote speakers were Andrew Revkin author of “Dot Earth” blog on the New York Times, and Stephen Jackson, Director of the Southwest Climate Center.  Both held balanced views on climate change that emphasized the adaptability of nature and avoidance of extreme points of view.  Dr. Jackson showed fossil data that indicated fast and major swings in climate have hit the planet before and had nothing to do with humans.  Although we are clearly the major factor driving climate change now, we are not the only part of the system that can do so.  Mr. Revkin introduced the idea that all environmental thinking must now include humans as part of the system, part of the solution and he pointed to the Adirondacks as an example.  Getting to a pre-human wild state is simply not possible.  For better or worse we are like gods, but as Stewart Brand said, “we better get good at it”.  He made the point that climate change is a big messy problem with humans right in the middle of it and the Adirondacks are a big messy problem with humans in the middle of it.  Dr. Jackson also talked about the need for researchers to learn how to better communicate and engage with the public.  Scientists need to understand the public doesn’t react to data the way they do.  In general, data never changes anyone’s mind. We need more people and organizations that are boundary spanners, that can bridge gaps between researchers and stakeholders.  The Adirondack Research Consortium is one of those.

Bob Stegemann, DEC Region 5 Director, next stepped in for Joe Martens, DEC Commissioner, who had to be at a meeting with the Governor that day.  Bob’s message was that the Adirondack’s are doing better than they have in many decades.  We are completing the largest addition to the Forest Preserve in 100 years and all 26 town boards affected agreed to support it.  And in the past 20 years we have added nearly 800,000 acres of easement lands inside the Blue Line.  But, he emphasized, the towns and villages now need to thrive as the Forest Preserve has thrived.  We need to work harder to ensure that the State land benefits local communities.  We need stronger communities if they are going to be able to adapt to climate change and the more severe weather it is going to throw at us.

Bob also pointed out that as the Forest Preserve has grown (it is four times as large as it was when Article XIV was enacted) the issues for towns and villages with regard to the Forest Preserve have grown.  He argued for consideration of an expanded transportation land bank to cover county and town roads.  The current one only covers State highways, but they are not the only ones with bad curves, utility poles that are hazards, culverts that need upgrading, etc.  He also suggested that a utility land bank be considered to enable modernization of existing utilities where Forest Preserve prevents siting of power, communications, water and sewer lines.  We, too believe that carefully crafted and vetted versions of these ideas could be effective win-win modifications to the existing regulatory strictures in the Park.  He also encouraged passage of the Transferable Development Rights (TDR) bill before the legislature and that more towns use APA map amendments to implement community development proposals.  He ended by emphasizing the threat the invasive species pose to our great Park.

Next there was a panel of energy industry executives, but I must admit to not really learning much that was new, except that the big generators are concerned about the “threat” of distributed power production.  We are so reminded of the way the Internet threatened the old, stodgy telcos.

Day 2 of the conference was kicked off with a panel of Dave Mason, Steve Englehart of AARCH and Kate  Fish of ANCA.  In keeping with the theme of the conference, Dave presented the 25 year future vision developed by our project.  Then Steve provided the historical perspective on how the vision is rooted in our traditions and out landscape.  Kate then talked about all the projects and efforts that are moving us toward the vision, emphasizing the two big wins for the North Country in the Regional Economic Development Council process.

In response to some questions after the talk, the Futures Project with CGA agreed to compile suggestions for a research agenda for the region as input to the Consortium.

This was our third ARC and this one was very different in tone and substance from the first one we went to in May 2011.  We were just starting our research about the Adirondacks for the Futures project.  The final plenary presentation that year was about the APRAP report, all doom and gloom.  That effort provided an important baseline of data, but it didn’t point to a way out of the funk we were in.  When we were doing our strategic planning consulting back in the ’90s, we found over and over again that data, by itself, doesn’t usually change people’s minds or lead to action.  People use data to support what they already believe.  To make progress you need to get people to let go of past beliefs and assumptions, to unlearn them as we used to say.  Until you can crack open the current belief system or mental models of people, they can’t look afresh at a situation and see the possibility of positive change.  We may be seeing that happen now.

What is happening to boost tourism?

There are lots of projects aimed at visitors

A group that was hatched at Common Ground to write a Park wide recreation plan has completed its work and it will be presented at the July 2013 CGA event in Newcomb.  In cooperation with AATV, they received a NCREDC grant ($108,000) to build a new web based  recreation portal for Park visitors to showcase everything a visitor might want to know about the park, indoors, outdoors, all seasons, all over the region.  The goal is to spread visitors around more, use specifically promoted events as season extenders.

A spinoff effort from the same group is working with local people in the five towns impacted by the Finch land acquisitions.  They are charged with coming up with a plan that turns the new Forest Preserve additions into a much needed economic boost for the towns based on recreation.  At the closing of the recent phase of sales to the State, The Nature Conservancy contributed $500,000 to help the five towns with this effort.

Governor Cuomo has set up a Whitewater Challenge, for July 21 in Indian Lake as a promotional effort to bring attention to recreation on the new Forest Preserve land acquisitions.

The are quite a few projects underway aimed at improving tourism facilities using REDC grant funding:

The ADK Mountain Club has $221,000 to upgrade hiker facilities at their Heart Lake facility.  Port Henry on Lake Champlain has $250,000 to rebuild the Bulwagga Bay recreation facilities. Wilmington got $251,000 to upgrade 3 waterfront parks.  Inlet has $248,000 to redesign and rebuild Arrowhead Park.  Northville will see $75,000 in improvements for two waterfront parks.  Tupper Lake and the other communities hosting the 90 mile ADK Canoe Classic will see $445,000 in projects.  Lake George will see new public docks ($170,000) and park improvements.  Lake Placid will build multi-use recreational fields (think Lacrosse) on top of closed landfills.

Also, a $2 million capital loan fund was set up for tourism projects.

Separately, DEC has plans to replace the docks at Second Pond, a heavily used place to put in boats near Lower Saranac Lake.

A big private initiative is construction of a new 100 room hotel in Lake Placid.  The Sagamore in Bolton Landing on Lake George announced it will be open all year and the same owners have purchased The Lake Placid Lodge.  Maybe some hi-end tourism will move people around the Park?

DEC has opened a new 12 mile inter-hamlet trail between Inlet and Raquette Lake for snowmobiles, hikers, bikes, etc.  At the same time, DEC closed 2 miles of road and 46 miles of back country snowmobile trail, and then the APA reclassified 15,000 acres as wilderness instead of wild forest.  Protect thinks accommodating today’s machines that groom snowmobile trails are illegal, so they sued the State.  It is not clear how the suit will impact other inter-hamlet trail projects.

The Rail-Trail debate has stepped ahead.  The State DOT will open and review the plan for the Utica-Lake Placid rail corridor.  This could take a year or two.

Use of the back country, at least by people intent on becoming 46ers, is doing well.  So well in fact, that the volunteers that run the 46er club say they added 412 people to their 7000 members in 2012 alone.  Saying it is now too much work, they are changing their policies.

Lake George, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake are all working on Main Street revitalization plans.

If we were to name all this diverse activity it would be the “Whole Park Tourism Initiative”.  By “whole” we mean geographically but also indoor as well as outdoor recreation, accommodations, places to shop, eat and so on – the “whole visitor experience”. The big change is to promote the broad scope of possible experiences for visitors to the region, putting emphasis on the scale and scope of the entire region.

And, in the “never going to happen” category…

It is clear now that, other than specific fees for, say, a campsite, ski pass, fishing/hunting license, or a bed tax,  there will never be a general ADK Park user fee.

But, one day, there may still be a no-fee system to limit the flow of people in crowded places at peak times – a free system (e.g. Cascade Mtn or some boat launches).  If you want an example of this, check out how free admissions to the 911 memorial in NYC are handled.  Here, you could get the permit off the internet and wear it on a trail, like you do a ski pass, hunting license, etc.   This isn’t needed all over, just is busy spots, just in busy season.

The Village of Lake George and, separately, Essex County have sent notice to the Governor’s office that, if casinos became legal in NY, they would be interested in being a site for one.  Since then the Governor signed a deal with the indian casino that leaves the with the exclusive gaming location in the 8 northern counties.  So we won’t be seeing a casino in the Adirondacks.

What is happening with economic issues?

Like all things economic, there are two views to express:  there is good news and bad news.   (Note: this doesn’t cover tourism and recreation where a lot is going on and will be covered in a separate post.)

First the good news

The idea of an ADK Venture Fund has been the subject of volunteer effort and an excellent and a large experienced advisory group.  This group raised the money to hire two people.  Reviews during the summer will get to a go/no go decision.  If we can do this w/o State funds in the first round, and prove it will work, then a second round might involve State development monies.  To be clear, the goal of the current effort is to prove that money making private sector ventures can be built here.

The Adirondack Partnership is working with two grants aimed at finding and assisting specific projects.  This is the follow-on work to ADK Futures.  Project principals are encouraged to engage with this effort now by using this survey:  http://www.surveymonkey.com/ADK-economic-strategy-key-projects-step-one-nominations.  Fill in what you can and ask for the help you need.

The construction of broadband is continuing all over the Park.  There is a new project in Indian Lake called Adirondack Teleworks that is hoping to get the teleworker job model going there.

There is movement on the energy front.  There are several schools on biomass boilers now and other bio-thermal projects are being built in Old Forge, Blue Mtn Lake, and 4 in the Albany area.  The pellet plant in Malone is being up graded for energy efficiency.  In other energy news, a bill (S. 4722) has been introduced in the NYS Senate to allow community net metering, similar to the law in Massachusetts.  This will allow people with homes in the forest (most of us) to buy solar panels that are grouped nearby with panels owned by others.

Global Foundry’s chip fab in Malta (Saratoga) is up and running with 2000 people.  Another $2.3 billion is being spent on an expansion.  There is rumor of another company building a chip fab in the region but no specifics have been released.

Bombardier in Plattsburgh makes subway cars and they have won large multi-year contracts with New York City, Chicago and San Francisco resulting in an expansion.  Nova Bus in Plattsburgh won a contract for 300 buses for the Chicago Transit Authority.

The Town of North Elba and the Village of Saranac Lake won a $463,000 grant to develop a comprehensive plan to revitalize the two areas.  The idea of joint planning looks good to us.

Lake George has a big ($545,000) “gateway” project to improve walk-ability, safety and water quality.  Lake George is also working on a revitalization plan, but with a budget of only $38,000.  Lake George is also considering zoning changes to allow a rebuilding and upgrade of the core village up to 4-6 stories.

Now the bad news

The last gas station (a Wilson Farms shop) in Wilmington is closing soon.  There might be a buyer hiding somewhere, but they have not surfaced.  Drivers will have to go to LP or Jay for gas.

There are reports that the remaining food store in Long Lake now plans to close off-season.  That leaves a Stewarts open in winter, but no other market.

The branch bank in Newcomb is closing.  People will need to go to Long Lake where there is another bank branch.

Federal workers at the Ray Brook prison are being laid off due to the sequester.

Protect’s lawsuit has stopped work on the the resort project and related renovations in Tupper Lake.  It appears the suit is about the permit process, suggesting the actual project is legal from a zoning perspective under the law since that was not challenged.  Now that it is in the legal process, there are no clues about when or what the next steps might be and there is no public involvement.  Even if it moves ahead legally at some point, like any business, it isn’t a sure-fire bet that it will be successful.

Ecotourism

We spent the month of February traveling in Central America, mainly Costa Rica.  When we left Keene we joked that we were doing “research on ecotourism” but, in fact, we did learn a lot about the subject.  Here are a few observations.

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A Mix of Public and Private Reserves plus a Wide Spread Eco Ethics

In Costa Rica, there are national parks (25% of the total area of the country) and also private reserves (8%).  Overall, the country is about double the size of the Adirondack Park.  So its national parks are about equal to our Forest Preserve which is about half of the total Adirondack Park.  This is pretty good in terms of land set aside for conservation.  Costa Rica is frequently cited for its high level of commitment to environmental sustainability.  They have set a goal of being carbon-neutral by 2021.  Something like 95% of its energy is derived from renewable sources, mainly hydro, wind and geothermal (they have a lot of volcanoes).  More than any other country in the world they have branded themselves an ecotourism destination.

Admission Fees for Foreigners

Both Parks and private reserves charge admission with different rates for citizens vs. visitors.  They all have gates with attendants and posted hours of operation and a formal sense of the area as a Park.  The national parks charge $10 per person for foreigners.  Fees at private parks vary from $15-$25.  The all have bathrooms at the entrances.  The private preserves also tend to have small shops selling things like hats, sun screen, insect repellent, bird identification cards.  Some have small simple restaurants offering light food and drinks.

Excellent Guides Everywhere

In every case the guides make it clear that the funds from tourist traffic support more conservation and jobs in the region. An important point is that the private preserves are set up so only a small part (2%) of the land is accessible by visitors with the rest devoted to preservation of natural habitat and protection of wildlife.  This often meant that a hotel had as small a footprint as possible.  Some have highly developed trails.  Most walks are short, maybe 2 hours.  The funds go to research programs, typically on other parts of the property.   The government provides small financial incentives for private land owners to turn their properties into preserves rather than farms, plantations or pastures.

Guides point out basic flora and fauna as well as local exotic stuff, if any.  They carry scopes for birding, take photos with visitors’ cameras, and they carry laser pointers that are great for pointing to birds.  The guides work as teams; each guide has only 2-5 people with them, but if they find something of special interest they use smart phones to text each other in order to share sightings. Most excursions are half-day programs.  There are also early morning (dawn) and early evening (sunset + 2 hours) walks.

Guides are very well trained, certified and licensed.  Schooling appears to be 2-3 years of work at a community college level or higher.  They are expert bird spotters, and explain plants, tree types, canopy fungi, soils…lots of facts about how the ecosystems work.  They are deeply enthusiastic in explaining things to people of all types from many countries.  They are cross-trained so one day they are walking guides while the next day they are raft drivers.  Most are employed by tour operators, although some are independent.

Transportation Problems Similar to the Adirondacks

The primary tourist towns are a few hours apart, and 2-3 hours from the larger airport (there are some smaller airstrips).  The tour companies use small comfortable vans for airport pickups and to take people from town to town.  The drivers who run these transfers make the trips interesting, stopping at good view spots or to see a random animal.  In effect, the transport becomes another excursion. They talk happily with passengers about anything using either English or Spanish.  Many visitors rent cars as well.

Regionally, they leverage the variability of the country….the fact that it is really different in each region is made to be of interest and a reason to travel around.

Other Tourist Activity

It’s not all about birding and species identification.  There are lots of visitor-related recreation and entertainment attractions:  zip lines, rappelling, balloon rides, horses, boat trips, rafting, coffee farm tours, mangrove swamp tours, chocolate plantation tours, artist coop visits, butterfly gardens, orchid farms, beach towns, etc.  The main focus is wildlife and understanding the complex and varied ecosystems of this diverse country.

Hunting is illegal in all of Costa Rica.  Animals with behavior issues (e.g. crocodiles) are captured and released where they are not dangerous to people

Recycling is ubiquitous in the country and they are always looking for markets for recycled materials.  They explained that now they make all decks and walkways in the parks out of recycled plastic rather than wood.  In the tropical climate the wood rots in as little as 5 years whereas the plastic will last essentially forever.  Hotel gift shops offered a range of things made from recycled materials.

It wasn’t just professional guides and tour operators who seemed to get the idea of conservation and ecotourism.  The attitudes about protecting the environment and being proud of the environmental achievements seemed universal.  We heard that the private reserves are better protected than the National Parks, where budget limitations make enforcement personnel scarce.  Mostly this creates problems with timber poachers coming in from bordering Nicaragua, not with local  people, we were told.

There are still conflicts here between the needs of development and the goals of environmental protection.  A recent project to widen and modernize a key highway going to the southeast of the country met with some resistance because long stretches of it ran through a major preserve.

Thoughts on Ecotourism in the Adirondacks

Older ADK ‘attractions’ like Ausable Chasm, High Falls Gorge, Natural Stone Bridge and Caves, could be marketed as ecotourism.  There are already farms tours and farm stays.  Many hotels and restaurants are tied to sustainable operations and local food.  The Wild Center is an obvious center piece. We would benefit from more study the special natural ecosystems that support birds and wildlife – they are a tourist attraction.  Some way of using tourism (fees) to generate a funding stream for environmental research and protection  (e.g., programs against invasives) could be made attractive to tourists here as it is in Costa Rica.  Eco-tourists feel good when they know that they are contributing to protecting the wild environment.  Spending a few dollars as a contribution to the good work going on there feels like a good thing, not a burden.

North Country Sustainability Plan

On January 23 we attended the summary presentation of the North Country Regional Sustainability Plan at the Wild Center.  This is an effort out of NYSERDA, modeled after the Regional Economic Council process, to create an overarching plan for improving the economic and environmental health of the State.  Like the broader economic councils, this effort was organized at the level of 10 regions across the State.  The North Country effort was led by Essex County and included Hamilton, Clinton, Franklin, Lewis, St. Lawrence, and Jefferson counties.

The place to start is with that over-used word sustainability.  The key idea is that our communities, economy and Park lands are managed and used in such a way that finite resources are conserved and reused so that they will be available to future generations. This includes finding ways to be more efficient, i.e. using fewer resources, as well as using more renewable resources like the sun. Implicit in this definition is the need to limit green house gas (GHG) emissions which are the root cause of climate change and tied to non-sustainable use of fossil fuels.

But sustainable, especially when applied to our communities and economic systems, also carries the connotation of strong, resilient and self-reliant.  When it feels like many of our Adirondack towns are shrinking, sliding into oblivion and need regular infusions of aid from Government, the economy doesn’t feel very sustainable.  One professor from Paul Smiths, Brett McLeod, suggested we talk about creating durable communities.  We like that and suspect it will go over much better with many North Country residents than sustainable, which unfortunately is also associated in some people’s minds with liberalism, climate change and a plot by the UN to take over all private property.

The sustainability plan, whose development was led by the team of ANCA and the consulting firm Ecology and Environment (E&E), was based on two main pieces of input.  The first was a detailed inventory of current green house gas emissions in our region.  This will serve as a baseline for both prioritizing future efforts and for measuring success at reducing our use of fossil fuels.  The second input came from a fairly large-scale public outreach and stakeholder engagement effort.  We participated in a couple of working group sessions as well as a major input session that brought all seven working groups together in an information sharing day.

The GHG inventory has lots of interesting data and some good news for our efforts to become a greener economy.  Because of the large amount of hydro and wind based generation of electricity, primarily in the St. Lawrence river valley, 94% of the electricity that flows through the power grid is generated from renewable sources.  This doesn’t include the electricity that is generated by small-scale solar, wind or geothermal.  This is a great place to start on a sustainability plan.  Looking at our non-transportation energy use, 30% of the energy is produced by wood for heating, but this only contributes 1% of the GHG emissions.  Meanwhile, fuel oil represents 35% of our energy use but contributes 48% of our GHG emissions.  Similarly natural gas is 30% of energy use and 40% of emissions.  Thus, a major strategy is to substitute biomass heating systems for those based on fuel oil and to some extent natural gas.  At the residential level, there is a lot to be gained by converting the 39% of homes heating with fuel oil to high-efficiency wood burners, and this is a centerpiece of the ADK Futures strategy.

The real problem is in energy use for transportation, which accounts for 40% of our GHG emissions (residential energy use accounts for only 17% of the total) and 42% of per capita energy consumption.  Three quarters of this is for basic cars and trucks on the road.  Farming, forestry, snowmobiles, ATVs and recreational boating account for 21% of transportation-related emissions.  Strategies for reducing emissions due to transportation are much less clear as our large distances in the North Country require a lot of driving.  Long-term efforts to encourage clustering of both businesses and residences in towns can help to promote walking, biking and use of electric carts.  Unfortunately, the data says that in our region, the number of people living in a city or town center went down from 53% in 2000 to 46% in 2010.

The real key will be getting people to use alternatives to single occupant vehicle traffic by building up bus systems and creating support systems for ride sharing. Surprisingly, the study estimated that 18.5% of commuters in the North Country travel via car pool, public transit, biking or walking. Presumably most of this is in the larger towns and cities outside the Blue Line.

In our view, the GHG emissions due to transportation within the Blue Line can only come down significantly when we have affordable electric vehicles that have sufficient range to meet the needs of our dispersed region.  Since our electricity is almost entirely based on renewables, this can be an effective long-term strategy.  Use of biofuels may also be significant if technical breakthroughs increase the efficiency of their production.

The stakeholder input effort was organized into seven working groups with overlapping and inter-related issues:

  • Energy
  • Transportation
  • Livable communities and land use
  • Economic development
  • Materials management (i.e., recycling as much waste as possible in an energy efficient  way)
  • Water management
  • Working landscapes (agriculture, forests, recreation)

The proposals in these groups are very similar to those developed through the ADK Futures process:  encourage more local food and local energy production, cluster development in town centers, use the land productively but in a sustainable manner for farming, forestry and recreation, protect the quality of our water, plan at the larger level of watersheds, use new technologies for water treatment that are energy efficient, and increase reuse and recycling of waste, especially for organic waste through composting and digesters.

The data again has some interesting points.  Energy usage by farms has not been a focus before and there is great potential to make them more efficient as only 1% of farms have ever done an energy audit.  Although our solid waste disposal per person is 22% less than the State average, we are 4x less effective at recovering materials from the waste stream.  DEC currently estimates that a quarter of the water bodies in the North Country are impaired in some way with pollution, invasives, acid rain, etc.  34% of North Country communities are considered “food deserts” by the USDA, i.e., you have to travel over an hour to get to a supermarket.

We certainly applaud this major effort and look forward to seeing it refined into more concrete proposals for new investment, education and incentives from the State.

Adirondack Non-Profit Network

The varied non-profits of the Adirondack Region are critical to successfully moving toward a better future.  So we were pleased to have the opportunity to spend a day last week with the Adirondack Non-Profit Network (ANN), an informal network of leaders from organizations serving the Adirondacks that has been organized by the Adirondack Community Trust (ACT).  Non-profits in the arts, community development, healthcare, environmental research and advocacy, social services, tourism (e.g., museums), education and others were represented.  A major goal of the group is to foster more integrated, Park-wide planning and cooperation, which we endorse wholeheartedly.

ANN

The goal of the half-day workshop we organized for the group was to explore the ways in which the non-profit sector can contribute to progress toward the ADK Futures vision.  The group prioritized these top areas:

  • Adapting to climate change
  • Developing support services to better enable mid-career families to move here
  • Getting somewhere on the diversity issue
  • Developing a vision and strategy for public education in the Adirondacks
  • Making the Arts a growing economic sector
  • Dealing with a growing number of poor in the Park
  • Getting water quality efforts better organized, networked and coordinated
  • Getting all the tourism NGOs to strategize together (outdoor oriented but also indoor)
  • Continue the work of Main Street revitalization

The group thought most of this would be difficult, but some areas like getting the tourism NGOs to work together or developing a support system for mid-career families were seen as relatively easy. Large numbers of the non-profits represented could work on climate change, tourism and the Arts. There were fewer who would address water quality improvement, coping with a growing poor segment of our communities or addressing the lack of diversity in the region’s residents and visitors.

Some key ideas from the discussion were:

  • Climate change is still an education issue
  • In education, study the best schools in the Park and create a model of successful small schools
  • Create a Park-Wide Arts organization – conceive of the Park as an arts center; this is a major hole in the Park’s non-profit infrastructure.
  • Non-profits need to help a few key towns to revitalize that don’t have the local organizations and experienced people to pursue this.  For example, adopt Port Henry.

Overall, the big theme was thinking Park-wide, collaborating, networking and making connections all the time.