An Analysis of Confidential APA
Documents that Reveal the Adirondack
Park Agency's Duplicity
Pretending publicly that it needs money
to help the Adirondack people with
planning, development and efficiency in
But privately amassing an electronic GIS computer mapping system that
sets the pace worldwide,
will peer into every detail of private property,
and will make enforcement of iron- tight controls quick and effective.
Published by the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.
Copyright 1994 Carol W. LaGrasse
Property Rights Foundation of America
Abridged version copyright 2001 Carol W. LaGrasse
Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be copied or reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission of Carol W. LaGrasse, President, Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.
Printed in the United States of America
Copies may be ordered for $3.50 plus $2.00 shipping from:
Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.
P.O. Box 75
Stony Creek, NY 12878
(518) 696-5748 Stand-by phone (518) 761-3620
Preface The World's Premier Environmental Snoop
1. The Adirondack Park Agency Shell Game
Computerization of the APA Official Maps
2. Major APA Development Analysis is in the Works
3. The Powerful Base System for the APA's Computer Maps
New York Natural Heritage Program
4. The Full Extent of the APA's Computerized Map Data Bank
5. Advanced Computer GIS Mapping
Sophisticated Computer Simulation Models to Predict and Monitor Pollution
6. The APA's Data Capacity Extends Beyond the Adirondack Park
The APA's Federal Grants for Wetlands/Watershed Mapping
New Official APA GIS-generated Wetlands Maps to be Promulgated for Entire Park
8. Enforcement Efficiency Means Effective Control
Table 1 APA Computer Relationships - Agencies and Major Organizations to Whom the APA GIS Computer Mapping System is Connected by Direct Link or Direct Communications
Table 2 Selected GIS Maps Produced Recently by the APA
The World's Premier Environmental Snoop
The Adirondack Park Agency is perfecting a system to totally
monitor private property that will be a world-wide model for environmental
Knowledge is power. The APA is applying this maxim to an extent unimaginable to any but technical specialists.
Every detail of information related to private land in the Adirondacks from any data bank accessible to the APA or that can be sensed or seen from the air is being computer mapped by the APA.
The APA's computer technology is integrating the space photos from NASA with tax assessment information taken on foot by local assessors. Infrared photos of natural and man-made features keen enough to trace makes of cars and tiny "wetlands" as small as puddles will digitally combine with a manual inventory for tax purposes of kitchen cabinets and backyard woodsheds. All this material is being churned automatically into maps.
On these automatic maps, the APA is computer coordinating layers of government snooping and data collection from the United Nations down to the local assessor.
Every local assessor whose records are computerized unwittingly engages in surveillance for the APA. Instead of recording the new back porch or driveway solely for tax distribution purposes, the assessor, without his knowledge, also becomes the APA's informer when his now computerized data is transferred to the State's central assessment data system.
Property owners across the U.S. fear Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's National Biological Survey. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife data and Department of Interior data are only a fraction of the material in the APA's computer file. The APA in effect really has the much feared "little green men in space" monitoring private property, and computer snoops feeding it data.
An Adirondack property owners' group, the Blue Line Council, complained that the APA, with a $3 million annual budget, spends about $10,000 for each of the 340 permits it processes annually mainly for small projects and single family houses.
What does the APA use its budget for? A study of several years of internal APA financial documents and analysis, along with APA reports to the legislature, revealed surprising directions of expenditures by the APA for field checking the three million acres of private land in the Adirondacks for violations, a problem it claims to find insurmountable. Its internal documents confess that nearly all its current enforcement results from informers. No, the APA is spending money on becoming more powerful and sophisticated. It won't need the informers or field surveys. Using computers, the APA is setting the world pace for efficiency in environmental control.
Note: This version of The APA Shell Game is
abridged from the original. In addition, the preface has been
slightly revised to clarify the APA's increasing ability to use
assessment records for enforcement purposes and to call attention
to the fact that all information in this report is from official
-CWL, February 2001
Under a cloak of increased "responsiveness," the "kinder, gentler" Adirondack Park Agency is quietly honing itself into a world-class electronic snoop center over private Adirondack property.
The eyes of the Legislature and property owners are on the APA's effort to become more palatable to the hostile property owners of the region. Through programs such as the Governor's APA Task Force and the APA's Public Issues Forum, the APA is attempting to make its permit and jurisdictional work speedier and more predictable and to relate itself more smoothly to the people of the region.
But internal APA documents reveal that the APA is focusing on something more significant. It is creating digitalized electronic maps that process information of such a range on such a level of sophistication that the agency will be unsurpassed in the world in its automated map and enforcement capacity. The APA has always been at the cutting edge of land regulation. Now the APA's automated mapping and its data processing and retrieval capacity will securely place its key personnel at the forefront of the world's environmental elite.
For all its claims to fame, such as George Davis's flying off to Lake Baikal in Russia to initiate environmental planning and the National Park Service modeling its national partnership land-use programs after the APA, the APA has been a pokey back-mountain agency engaged in constant bicker with local inhabitants, and buried in and embarrassed by its inefficiency. The APA bemoans the 50% enforcement record of violations reported to it, largely by grudging neighbors and environmental snoops.
Federal grants and increased State dollars for staff "needs" are expanding the APA's Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which are an immensely powerful electronic tool of coordinate-based maps processed digitally into a computer.
The APA has been setting up a system whereby when a bureaucrat punches in a property owner's tax lot number, out will instantaneously come the owner's APA land classification, acreage, soil type, buildings in detail down to interior finishes, dates of construction of every part of the house, permit history and much more, superimposed on other automated diagrams showing wetlands, threatened and endangered species, and significant habitats, and other biological information.
At the same time the APA is building this enormous data bank and enforcement capacity on the Adirondacks, it is making its place outside the Adirondacks by storing GIS information for analysis and enforcement related to land beyond the boundaries of the Park in the state and the Northeast.
While it was playing humble pie to the friendly review of the Governor's APA Task Force about its incredibly slow record processing jurisdictional inquiries and permit applications, the APA also sought both a new records management specialist and a new cartographer, and planned to put someone mapping wetlands full-time. The very-special records management clerk is to work full-time integrating formation into the APA's computer GIS. This specialist is to integrate all the information into the ARLM tax and property ownership data files.
The ARLM computer records are legitimate property records kept by local assessors whom the State has pressured town by town, or at a county level, to convert to this State-compatible computer system. The records are then stored in the State Department of Equalization and Assessment's central data bank from which they are lifted and transferred to the APA, in betrayal of the public trust and confidence.(*)
People who support ever bigger government assert that the raw data has always been accessible from the assessors' card files. But this has been only theoretically the case. Without computerization, it is impossible for a government agency to make practical use of assessment records for enforcement.
Many people are outraged about the computer's capacity in the wrong hands to be an efficient invader of their privacy. They fear that extensive computer files kept on them by federal bureaucracies, credit bureaus, merchandising companies and banks can be used against them. In the Adirondacks, the APA is compiling a computer dossier on every parcel of land. These APA dossiers will be a ball and chain on land use just as any FBI, IRS or other file could be used against an individual if the day were to come that people had to apply to these agencies for freedom of movement. The difference is, that the APA dossiers really exist and land-owners really do apply to the APA before they use their land - and the APA really is setting up its computer capacity to catch them even if they do not apply.
Computerization of APA Official Maps
The APA is computerizing the Official Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan map. The new land-use map will likely be promulgated in conjunction with the computerized official wetlands maps that the APA is perfecting. The official map will be converted from the present small scale map to the large scale map which is now in the computer as a working document at the same scale as typical tax maps.
All of the official map "determinants" in APA regulations are being thoroughly mapped and converted to computer for the new official map:
proximity to State-owned land
proximity to services
Existing land use
A few hand-colored copies of the updated computerized official map have been made for selected towns by the APA.
(*) This is comparable to transferring U.S. Census data to the IRS. Although not guaranteed to be confidential by statute, the assessment information was given in a trust to be used for equitable distribution of a tax burden, not intended to become raw data for environmental enforcement by the APA].
The 1990 study of development in the Adirondack Park by APA planner John Banta has never suited the APA's purposes. A more fine-tuned study will allow the APA to focus on areas it will deem vulnerable and to easily select data useful to its "overdevelopment" thesis.
The APA is using the GIS combination of its permit records and the large scale New York State Department of Equalization and Assessment real property information about private parcels to do a major analysis of development in the Adirondack Park for use in legislative and policy debates.
The internal document which states this points to the likelihood that with this information the APA may be ready to provide the support data for a major initiative comparable to the 1967 Temporary Study Commission or the 1990 Twenty-first Century Commission.
The computerization of determinants and characteristics for the official map is only a small fraction of the computer power being developed by the APA.
The basic computerization of everything the APA will put into its database will begin with these classes of information as the base:
the Wild, Scenic and Recreational River system;
watersheds and hydrography;
and the Natural Heritage resource information.
Hydrography includes 200 hydrographic maps from the Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation, a 1:24,000 hydrography database completed parkwide in 1993. Highways include the entire DOT database.
New York Natural Heritage Program
The Natural Heritage resource information system would make many landowners' hair stand on edge. This program to protect biodiversity is a joint venture between the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) house in a common office of the DEC Bureau of Wildlife in Latham, which receives most of the funds from "Return a Gift to Wildlife" on State income tax forms.
The New York Natural Heritage Program is part of an international program using TNC's standardized GIS information gathering and data management techniques called BCD (Biological and Conservation Data System). In addition, the New York data comes from hundreds of sources. The New York Natural Heritage data system can use the BCD system to link to a host of databases such as legal transactions and land ownership. DEC says that the use of the BCM database exemplifies the "shining" "public-private partnership." Actually, the joint DEC/TNC database is an efficient tool to extract habitat reserves from private owners.
In principle, the National Heritage program is not new to New York. Two Years ago The National Park Service was roundly reprimanded by the Interior Department Inspector General for creating an inventory of National Natural Landmarks without the knowledge of private landowners whose property was listed. This year, the property owners in Erie County, Pennsylvania were up in arms because the county was taking a Natural Heritage Inventory - in conjunction with Western Pennsylvania Conservancy - without consulting landowners.
These other programs were seriously faulted irrespective of the computerized aspect. The objections raised recently in Pennsylvania mirror the major objections raised over The National Park Service Natural Landmarks, and apply to New York's Heritage Program:
Failure to notify property owners that their property
was being studied
Failure to notify property owners of the results of that study when the results recommended "protection" for their land
Recommendations for "buffer zones," timber cutting limitations and pesticide controls to be applied by permitting agencies
Use of code numbers to identify endangered species so that property owners and taxpayers cannot understand the study
Use of vague phrases recommending strong protections without definitions of requirements or scientific basis
Failure to share information with local zoning boards for comment(*)
In addition, the use of third party land trusts or conservancies such as The Nature Conservancy as the right hand of the governmental environmental agency poses a fundamental threat to liberty. The muting of the boundary of private and government functions by the use of non-profit organizations gets around freedom-of-information and open meetings law requirements for public hearings and public notice and other ethical strictures imposed on government to protect citizens. The use of land trusts to conduct governmental biological inventories is an extension of the custom of using the trusts as straw men for land acquisition. The two illegitimate functions work hand-in-glove with each other.
(*) Henry Ingram, Pennsylvania Landowners, July 1994 p7
The APA's automatic digitalized maps will include all of the data and systems of data listed below, and all data will be keyed to property parcels and owner information.
1. All local tax assessment and property ownership records that have been converted to the State's ARLM computer system(*)
2. All 6,500 APA permits granted back to 1973 (number as of 1993)
3. All APA jurisdictional determinations back to 1973
4. All projects approved by the APA
5. All APA project site boundary maps. A special project for 1993 was to digitalize all 1973-92 project site boundary maps.
6. All the APA's continuing ecological and natural resource data, including:
(1) biological habitats
(2) soils data
(3) water data
(4) APA slope data
7. DEC's mapped habitats on state-owned land of "rare," "endangered" species, and "species of special concern."
8. APA's demographic data and U.S. Census data
9. APA's economic data and NY State economic data
10. APA standard permit clauses.
11. All APA mapped information such as
(1) APA land use classifications
(2) Sensitive areas and fragile ecosystems
(3) Lands sought for acquisition by DEC, TNC, US Forest Service and other agencies and land trusts.
12. APA Biological Inventory information above plus:
(1) Unique, Natural and Cultural Features
(2) The Nature Conservancy data
(3) Adirondack Council 2020 Vision publication
This will incorporate the nationwide habitat classification system of the biodiversity survey of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and TNC.
The GIS computer digital mapping system and data will facilitate the APA's goal of ongoing assessment of cumulative impact on biodiversity (including cumulative impact on physical and biological resources such as wetland loss, phosphorous loading, change or loss of habitat).
13. "Park Character" features
(2) Travel Corridors
(3) Proximity to State-owned land
(4) Proximity to Services
14. New Plan for scenic travel corridors including visual analysis and mapping
15. Public facilities
16. Existing land use
17. Wetlands maps, including
(1) 15 US quad maps promulgated by APA for Lewis and Oneida Counties
(2) 20 APA-prepared quadrangle maps for Clinton County
(3) the revised 29 quadrangle maps for Warren County
The APA is maintaining wetlands inventory for Warren, Essex and Hamilton Counties.
The APA is also seeking jurisdiction over parts of lakes as "deepwater wetlands."
The APA made 154 office wetlands determinations in 1993-94, 133 wetlands field trips to flag wetlands delineations, prepared wetlands maps for 2 DEC campsites, made 25 wetlands enforcements, and other wetlands permit and enforcement work.
(4) Air photo interpretations of wetlands for Herkimer, Washington, Fulton and Saratoga Counties
The APA is also developing "criteria" for "buffer areas" for wetlands, beyond the "delineated" wetland established by water, soil or plant types. (The APA already has statutory jurisdiction for 100 ft. around wetlands.)
18. High-water mark
19. Pre-existing subdivisions (pre 1973)
20. All local development records
(1) County plats
(2) Local town, city and village project approvals
21. Landowner lists
(850 landowners electronically mapped 1989)
22. Landowners of 1,000 acres or more
23. Roads - Federal, State, County and Town
24. Utilities - Poles, above and below ground transmission, substations - electric and gas
25. Agricultural, Forest and Soil Conservation Data
(1) General Soils (MESO Soils-US Soil Conservation Service)
(2) Parent Material (Surficial Geological Material)
(3) Slope (Slope Classes)
(4) Stoniness (Stoniness Classes)
(5) Forest Productivity (potential forest productivity from General Soils)
26. Critical Areas
Elevations over 2,500 ft. and Wild River corridors
27. Wild, Scenic and Recreational River System
28. Hydrography including the 200 hydrographic maps and watersheds
29. New York Natural Heritage Program database
30. Elevation - Using USGS elevation models
31. Satellite imagery - Landcover
(Lanset Multispectral Scanner Data classified and rectified)
Satellite imagery can discern vegetation cover, moisture characteristics, development and other features. Satellite imagery that analyzed land cover and other features has already been digitalized into the APA computerized mapping system.
32. Air Photos to be Computerized
The APA is developing a new computer file of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) new 1994 air photos of New York State, which will also be computerized.
APA's 1978 Air Photo Index is computerized on the GIS, allowing it to be overlaid on the parcel database. This allows APA to instantaneously determine which aerial photo out of 3,000 in the Adirondack Park covers a given parcel.
APA is incorporating 1994 federal high-altitude color infrared photography (1:48,000 - ½ quads).
33. U.S. ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) database
34. New York State Regulatory Wetlands maps
(existing computer information and analysis)
35. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service GAP Analysis of significant habitats - Biodiversity
The APA is exchanging computer information and analysis with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife "GAP Analysis" seeks to maintain the full spectrum of variation of ecological communities.
This relates to biodiversity preservation as set out by Scott etal. in "Gap analysis of species richness and vegetation cover: An integrated biodiversity conservation strategy" in an edited 1991 volume on endangered species preservation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pursues the biological diversity project with a major part of its staff. The APA will get all this data into its computer.
36. Northern Forest Lands Inventory GIS data project data coordinated from and exchanged with:
(1) SUNY Syracuse College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY Research Foundation) and SUNY Plattsburgh
(3) Tug Hill Commission
(4) St. Lawrence-Eastern Ontario Commission
(5) Counties and local governments
The APA has its own Data General (DG) Workstation for the NFL
Inventory, which expires in 1995.
According to an APA document, "Preliminary results include consistent computerized GIS maps of significant forest resources, including data describing economic and environmental significance, and related recreational opportunities for the whole 15 county region."
37. Recreational opportunities for 15-county region including Tug Hill, St. Lawrence, Eastern Ontario, as noted above.
38. For all Private and Government Parcels in the Park
Currently up to date:
(2) Significant biological diversity sites
(3) Natural Heritage Sites
39. Public access maps for easement lands where the APA feels is legally appropriate
40. Coordinated data from many Federal, State and non-governmental agencies on a wide range of "resource" areas.
(*): The APA's automated comparisons of the official maps with tax rolls has already begun to demonstrate its efficiency with a large number of official map corrections.
The APA inaugurated its GIS mapping in 1980 and has constantly improved the system.
The APA's capabilities include virtually all combinations of any computerized map and map information into one electronic or paper (printout) map. Advanced APA Geographic Information Systems include ARC/INFO in use at most government agencies and ERDAS. Terminals can view and print in black and white or color.
The APA is phasing in a UNIX network to replace the PRIME mainframe. The new UNIX system will automatically rescale map information to a common reference. All PC's and the UNIX will be linked. The GIS/UNIX network will make readily available to all staff real property (assessment), permit history, zoning, wetland and other regulatory and ecological map information. CD-ROM based legal, census and ecological reference materials will be accessible at some network locations.
The equipment specifications include four networked UNIX workstations providing access to an estimated 40 gigabytes of map and image data, and 44 windows capable personal computers with a network server providing about 4 gigabytes of document and database storage, at an initiative cost of $500,000. Over five years, the prototype Center for Technology in Government project will be implemented for the entire park.
The APA modestly stated in a recent financial presentation: "The Agency has been at the forefront of the computerized mapping technology called Geographic Information Systems."
The APA was honored for its computer innovation under the Center for Technology in Government grant as one of "ten leading edge governmental technology projects for demonstration at 'Interchange 94,' a national technology symposium in Washington, DC," according to its recent financial analysis.
Sophisticated Computer Simulation Models to Predict and Monitor Pollution
The APA intends to incorporate state of the art computer simulation models dealing with environmental pollution into its GIS, for analysis of major development projects. Simulation models will churn out predictions related to pesticides, groundwater, housing density, and other variables.
The APA's computer retrieval for permit and enforcement will access all of its data because the entries for biological diversity (habitats), soils, slopes, site design requirements, permit language used for applicants will be standardized and recallable in the database to be applied again and again.
The APA is a direct data-gathering and disseminating agency for at least two agencies beyond the Park:
1. Northern Forest Lands Area
(New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine)
The APA received a US Forest Service grant to analyze data measuring wetlands areas and land cover characteristics, a natural areas inventory.
2. Lake Champlain Management Conference
(New York and Vermont)
The APA is involved in a natural areas inventory, wetlands, eutrophication, and general needs assessment for this project, which is jointly funded by the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Interior.
According to an internal APA document, the Lake Champlain Management Conference entails extensive staff involvement in a five year "effort at a bi-state integrated land and water management plan for the Lake Champlain watershed."
The APA has computer relationships with a host of agencies and organizations as depicted on Table 1.
Agencies and Major Organizations to Whom the APA GIS Computer Mapping System is Connected by Direct Link or Direct Communication
1. The Nature Conservancy
2. SUNY Syracuse School of Environmental Science and Forestry
3. SUNY Plattsburgh
4. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
5. New York State Department of Transportation
6. New York State Department of Economic Development
7. New York State Department of Equalization and Assessment
8. Tug Hill Commission
9. St. Lawrence-Eastern Ontario Commission
10. Lake Champlain Management Conference (NY & VT)
11. Northern Forest Lands Council (NY, VT, NH, ME) - inventory functions transferred to SUNY Syracuse
12. Soil Conservation Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
13. U.S. Forest Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
14. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Interior Department)
15. U.S. unofficial biological survey (Interior Department)
16. National Park Service (Interior Department)
17. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
18. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
19. U.S. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
20. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
21. U.S. Department of State
22. United Nations (UNESCO Biosphere Reserve program)
Watersheds, groundwater, drinking water, wetlands these are the venues for environmental control in the future. If the APA is to be truly a premier environmental agency in the world, it is not surprising that it is the lead player in wetlands issues in northern New York, and that it is especially honing its computer capacity in the area of wetlands.
The APA's Federal Grants for Wetlands/Watershed Mapping
The APA shares jurisdiction over wetland with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In fiscal year 1993-94 the APA received a $126,000 grant from the U.S. EPA State Wetlands Program for a "watershed characterization" study in the Oswagatchie-Black River basins in the Adirondack Park. Part of a new $250,000 EPA wetlands grant will add data and additional computer capacity to the Oswagatchie-Black River basin study and in the current year the APA is using the first part of the new $250,000 wetlands grant to study the watershed of the Upper and Lower Hudson and Lake Champlain drainage basins.
The APA prepared the contract materials to provide for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wetland mapping of the Southern Adirondacks.
The APA expects to also receive a $100,000 grant from the Center for Technology in Government for computer and scanning technologies.
The APA also expects to receive a total of $250,000 in ISTEA (Federal Intermodal and Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) funds for environmental enhancement and "scenic byways" protection, which means purchasing viewshed easements.
New Official APA GIS-generated Wetlands Maps to be Promulgated for Entire Park
All of the APA's quadrangle-by-quadrangle GIS wetlands maps will ultimately become the official APA series of wetlands maps for the Adirondack Park, with the APA continuing as the enforcement agent for the DEC and the United States EPA/Corps of Engineers.
1. "Prototype Map of Northern New York: Forest Cover Types, Residential Areas, and Ownership Over 5,000 Acres" (also includes railroads and certain river systems) distributed only to DEC, Northern Forest Lands Council, The Nature Conservancy and SUNY Syracuse College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
2. Digital base map for recreational management of Hudson River Corridor
3. 87 maps of visually scenic resources for New York Power Authority
4. GIS demonstration for DEC's Spill Recovery Project for Lake Champlain Vulnerability Assessment
5. Wetlands maps to New York State Thruway Authority for canal lands inventory.
6. Pilot study to ultimately determine APA land classification for all private parcels. (APA did 2,100 parcels in North Elba)
7. GIS map Town of Johnsburg land classifications for local planning.
8. GIS map Active/Inactive Railroads in Northern New York
9. GIS map Airport Locations in Northern New York
10. GIS map Large Blocks of Forest Land in Northern New York
The APA Wants Efficiency, But Not to Make Life Easier in the Adirondack Region
Year by year, the APA seeks more personnel.
Publicly, the APA blandishes its efforts toward speedier processing of permits as a reason for more personnel. Its failure to comply with the time frame in law has been an embarrassment.
The APA bemoans that it had 80 projects per review officer during each year from 1986 to 1992, up from 45 in previous years. With additional staff, zero tardiness in permit processing is promised.
Permit Compliance Enforcement Efficiency
In private, the APA also frets that virtually all compliance checks are initiated only after a complaint is registered by a "neighbor, concerned citizen or watchdog group."
An APA document admits:
"The Legal Staff's inability to follow through on a significant percentage of reported enforcement matters is devastating to the regulatory program." (emphasis added)
With more personnel the APA will have no problem doing periodic site investigations and will not have to rely entirely on neighbors squealing to settle grudges and on unscrupulous environmentalists.