April 28, 2008

EDITORIAL: Justice, notchicanery, should prevail in APA legal case

When a newspaper covers certain stories, it's almost impossible to learn enough about them to offer a thoroughly informed opinion on what the outcome should be. Court cases and some administrative procedures come to mind.

Typical of this genre of developing news story is the continuing -- and apparently escalating -- conflict between the Adirondack Park Agency and Salim (pronounced like the city, Salem) and Barbara Lewis, owners of Lewis Family Farm Inc.

The essence of it is that the Lewises own one of the biggest farms in Essex County, and by all accounts (most notably Essex County Cooperative Extension) a model of application of progressive methods of organic crop production. They are not generational farmers. Mr. Lewis, who is better known as "Sandy," was, according to The New York Times archives, one of Wall Street's most powerful operatives until barred after pleading guilty to helping manipulate a stock price. He was subsequently pardoned by President Bill Clinton, which provoked his detractors to charge that, typically, he had not been innocent but had exerted influence to which few have access. He was exonerated two years ago. In spite of what his detractors say, the record indicates he never intended to profit from his offense and didn't.

In his Essex County community, he is both glorified and vilified by neighbors.

All that aside as mere background, the Lewises and the APA are in dispute over three houses the Lewises have built to house farm workers. At $300,000 apiece, they are magnificent by farm-worker standards. The APA is requiring permits for the construction of those buildings. The Lewises say State Agriculture & Markets law specifically exempts such buildings from APA oversight; the APA says it has jurisdiction.

We find two actions by the state, in this case, troubling:

The APA at first ordered that the Lewises could not offer a legal challenge to its assertion of jurisdiction.

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