Zip-Line Creates Furor Near Lake George

     QUEENSBURY, N.Y. (CN) - The agency charged with preserving New York's massive Adirondack wilderness violated its own rules by approving a high-speed zip-line as a new tourist attraction near Lake George, a campground operator contends in state court.
     The permit should be rescinded because the Adirondack Park Agency "improperly weighed the project's alleged economic benefits against its adverse environmental impacts," instead of following the mantra of "environmental concerns above all others," according to the complaint in Warren County Supreme Court.
     The permit is among several approvals needed for the Bear Pond Zip Flyer, proposed by Ralph Macchio Sr., father of the actor best known for his starring role in "The Karate Kid" movies.
     The complaint says riders of the tree-top zip-line would reach speeds of 60 mph as they descend the undeveloped and forested summit of French Mountain, just south of Lake George, a popular summer vacation spot.
     Both the mountain and the lake are in the Adirondack Park, a 6-million-acre swath of public and private land in a dozen counties north of Albany and east of Watertown that stretches almost to the Canadian border.
     "The zip-line and its associated wires, tower, platform and clearing would disturb the mountainside, negatively impact the views from public roads, destroy mature trees, and result in structures on steep slopes," the complaint states.
     The plaintiff is Lake George R.V. Park Inc., the longtime operator of a 120-acre campground for recreational vehicles near French Mountain. Up to 35,000 people stay there annually to take in the scenery and hike the mountain, according to the complaint.
     Named as defendants with the Adirondack Park Agency are Bear Pond Ranch and French Mountain Bear Pond, two LLCs established by Macchio, a Long Island resident who owns a Western-themed attraction near French Mountain.
     Macchio proposed the zip-line three years ago as a way to help resurrect Wild West Ranch & Western Town, which he and his family purchased in 2005 but closed in 2007, according to local newspapers.
     The complaint says the zip-line would use four parallel steel cables strung between 34-foot towers to carry riders from the top of the mountain to the flatlands below - a descent of 800 feet along nearly 3,500 feet of cable. All-terrain vehicles would transport riders to the summit on an old logging road
     Macchio owns the 650 acres on which the project would be built. It would operate year-round.
     The ride would traverse two jurisdictions: the town of Queensbury, where the summit of French Mountain is, and the town of Lake George, where the flatlands are. While the latter approved the project last year, it continues to be reviewed in Queensbury.
     The Adirondack Park Agency, which oversees development in the park, gets involved in local land-use issues when a project is designated a "Class A regional project" - which the zip-line is under Queensbury town codes. As a result, the project also needed approval from the agency.
     But the complaint claims the agency erred in approving the zip-line because projects deemed "tourist attractions" are not allowed in areas of Queensbury zoned "rural residential," such as the French Mountain summit.
     The agency also should have rejected the project because it failed to meet the town's standards for protecting mature trees - a wide swath would be cleared or trimmed along the zip-line path - and for protecting natural vistas - the zip-line would be "highly visible" from nearby highways, beaches and trails, according to the complaint.
     The agency's "overriding mandate is the protection of the environment in the Adirondack Park," the 37-page complaint states, citing court decisions that underscore its duty to put "environmental concerns above all others" as it evaluates projects.
     Under state environmental law, review bodies may need to "strike a balance between social and economic goals and the protection of the environment," according to the complaint, but the Adirondack Park Agency "is not charged with such a balancing of goals and concerns."
     "The APA Act does not authorize the APA to weigh and balance the alleged financial and fiscal benefits of a proposed project against its environmental impacts," the complaint states. Those considerations can come into play only when "assessing the ability of the public to provide facilities and services" to a proposed project, such as municipal water or sewer.
     But the complaint says that during agency deliberations on the zip-line in March, the likelihood of new jobs and sales tax and property tax revenue were "weighed and balanced" against potential environmental impacts "as a purported justification for approving" the project.
     "Regardless," the complaint states, "any claims of economic benefit from the project are legally irrelevant, since APA may not weigh them against the project's adverse environmental impacts."
     The complaint seeks to annul the agency's approval of the project and the permit it issued. It also asks for legal fees and other expenses.
     Claudia Braymer of Caffry & Flower in Glens Falls represents the plaintiff.
     A spokesman for the Adirondack Park Agency could not be reached by email for comment Sunday night.