Enck wrings success from 'thankless job'

Enck wrings success from 'thankless job'
Spitzer deputy secretary for environment seen as moving force behind deal
By ALAN WECHSLER, Business writer
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First published: Thursday, September 6, 2007


KINGSTON -- When the news conference was over, Judith Enck walked up to environmental advocate Eric Goldstein and handed him a 28-page contract to sign. When he did, she gave him a hug.

"So, we did it!" said Enck, Gov. Eliot Spitzer's deputy secretary for environment. She then moved on to get another signature.

During the hourlong news conference Wednesday announcing a deal between the developers of a controversial project in the Catskills and the environmentalists who opposed it, Enck sat quietly in the background, grinning but saying nothing.

Yet it was Enck whose name kept coming up. By all accounts, without her the deal never would have happened.

Even Spitzer, in disclosing the deal, said he never expected an agreement to be reached on the Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, a massive project that originally called for two hotels and two golf courses in the mountains.

"There's times as a manager you give people thankless jobs that you know won't succeed," he said.

But perhaps he underestimated Enck.

A former advocate for New York Public Interest Research Group, Enck once spent a year in the late 1970s almost single-handedly campaigning to create a bottle recycling law in New York -- and that was as a college student.

For this project, she asked lawyers, environmentalists and other parties involved in the project -- at times almost 30 people -- to meet regularly at the state Capitol. They convened in early February and met as often as twice a week through the spring and summer. Sometimes the meetings lasted until 11 p.m.

"Both sides agreed we were better off doing this around the table," said Tom Alworth, executive director of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, an advocacy group. "When we walked in the room, it was like 'Let's give this a chance.' "

But it wasn't easy. Environmentalists wanted to reduce the project by half, and backers said it wouldn't make enough money that way. Weeks of deadlock passed.

"It's like dating for the first time," Alworth said. "You'd just begin to build a relationship."

Meetings were held mostly in the Capitol's Blue Room, a large space often used for news conferences. The lighting was bad and people had to speak up because their voices were lost in the large space.

A turning point came when, at one point, the developers were asked to consider, just for a minute, what might happen if they agreed to set aside their plan to develop the east side of the project. It contained the more controversial of the two hotels, since it was in the Catskill Park and closer to the wilderness.

They considered it. And the state threw them a bone, offering to expand Belleayre Ski Center via an old ski hill called Highmount. The state would buy Highmount and connect the trails to Belleayre, giving one of the proposed hotels a connection to the mountain.

But with the state's offer on the table, developers saw an opportunity, said Daniel Ruzow, a lawyer with Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna LLP in Albany who represents the project backers.

Eventually the number of issues to be resolved was reduced to five, then three, then two, then one. On Friday, in a meeting that lasted until late into the evening, an agreement was finally hashed out.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us," Ruzow said. "But I'm very optimistic. We now have a new relationship with the environmental groups that is very constructive. We trust each other a lot more."

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