Mayor should foster, not squelch, public debate

In the April 4 Enterprise, Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau attacked Protect the Adirondacks for raising questions about the 300-foot long, 59-foot high, $15 million hotel proposed for the north shore of Lake Flower. Protect asked some legitimate questions about this project in an article at the Adirondack Almanack website.

The mayor mischaracterizes our piece in the Almanack. It was a fact-based assessment of three proposed developments and of alternatives. We even quoted the mayor at length. It did not take a stand either for or against anything. It basically said that if these projects proceed, they should be done right.

In response, the mayor chose to recycle tired claims that we have “a very dark agenda: eliminating ‘people’ from the Park.” The use of such inflammatory and ridiculous rhetoric by the mayor undermines the causes he champions.

Here’s a reality check. Since 2000, there have been over 10,000 new residential, commercial or recreational buildings constructed and an even greater number of new lots created in the Adirondack Park. Most of this is of the house-here, house-there variety, but there have been a handful of major projects that garnered interest and intervention from the environmental community, totaling around 1,000 lots combined in the last decade. A few were even in hamlet areas.

Most of these projects were eventually approved, and only a few were actually blocked. The notion that Protect’s actions, or those of any environmental group, have somehow limited development or economic opportunities simply doesn’t add up. The proof is in the better than 10,000 buildings built since 2000.

Protect has many members in the Saranac Lake community who are concerned about the Lake Flower inn project and expect us to provide responsible, independent public oversight. We will continue to monitor the review of this controversial project and provide comment. (It should be noted that many Protect members also strongly support the rehabilitation of the Hotel Saranac as an essential element in the economic and social well-being of the community.)

As stated in the Adirondack Almanack piece, the issue is not about stopping development in the Adirondack Park but about stopping pollution. Lake Flower is a stressed lake, with some of the lowest water quality of the major lakes in that area. Stormwater is a key issue, but so are the many other impacts that could result from the scale and location of this proposed building. The project is proposed in a designated floodway. We also believe there may be alternatives to the Lake Flower inn project with much greater long-term benefits for the village of Saranac Lake.

A week ago in another piece in the Daily Enterprise, Mayor Rabideau called on everybody to keep an open mind about this project. The mayor should follow his own good advice.

We call on Mr. Rabideau, as a local elected official who will actually cast a vote on this project, to encourage a robust and vigorous review of all environmental and community impacts associated with the Lake Flower inn. In this spirit, Mr. Rabideau should welcome input from every concerned person or organization.

Public officials like Mayor Rabideau should not be in the business of trying to squelch public discussion. They should be in the business of encouraging open, transparent and vigorous debate.

Peter Bauer is the executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, based in Lake George.