Monday, October 18, 2010

Commentary: No Elections for APA Commissioners

North Country Public Radio‘s Adirondack Bureau Chief Brian Mann has apparently begun campaigning for the election of some Adirondack Park Agency (APA) commissioners. One of his first public forays into the debate came in August at the Adirondack Museum during a presentation he called “Adirondack 3.0” – billed as a lecture on the “reinvention of the Adirondacks.” His latest came on the NCPR blog in a piece entitled “Yes, some Adirondack Park Agency commissioners should be elected“. Read the whole piece; but here’s the gist of Brian Mann’s argument:

“A far better way to choose in-Park commissioners would be to hold direct, Park-wide elections, allowing Adirondackers to cast their own ballots and make their own picks.

Imagine for a moment the kind of democratic debate that would ensue. Locals would have a chance to discuss openly their concerns, their desires, and their ambitions for the Agency.

Supporters of strict environmental protection inside the blue line would be forced to find electable candidates, who can engage communities directly, reaching out and making their arguments.

They would have the chance to do some educating, but they might learn a few things themselves about local attitudes toward conservation and the outdoors.

Opponents of the APA’s broad mission, meanwhile, would be forced to go beyond ad hominem attacks and zingers.”

It’s hard for local media to not be part of a story. Any reporter worth their weight in salt knows that they frame the discussion of their story from the start. For example, Brian Mann isn’t calling for an expanded role for the APA, or for requiring those towns who still have no serious zoning and planning in place to enact them. What he is calling for are elections to decide the future of the Adirondack Park, America’s most important state park.

I suspect Mann’s arguments are authentic and genuine, but I think it’s the worst idea to come up the pike since David Paterson tried to stop paying local taxes on state land. It’s no surprise they share the same flaw – they seem to forget that the Adirondack Park isn’t a political entity with competing constituencies, it’s a unique natural place with a statewide, regional, and even national historical and cultural significance. Despite the occasional angry bumpersticker to the contrary, the Adirondacks is a park, and an important one.

That park, the country’s largest National Historic Landmark, is all of our responsibility to manage and maintain. Offering an opportunity for one special interest group to use their media and financial friends to get their candidate elected in an attempt to dominate decision-making at the Adirondack Park Agency threatens to destroy an already weak institution; the only institution holding official responsibility to protect the Adirondack Park – our last public wilderness in the east – from over-development.

Perhaps advocates of elections for APA commissioners don’t appreciate the two great forces at play in these mountains. On one side, the constant march of development that has left this small part of the Eastern United States a virtual oasis of woods in a sea of a suburbia of 100 million people. On the other side is the natural world itself, which for millennia had staved off the harshest scars of development by being remote and rugged.

The battle began to shift after the Civil War as we abandoned our fear of the woods and came to revere them. Travelers, once forced to travel on foot or by rough road, were soon arriving by steamboat and rail, and by the 1950s, some roads were choked with cars.

In the 1960s, the Adirondack Northway (Interstate 87) opened a pipeline for development to move north and the accompanying second home market spread a kind of dispersed suburbia into the heart of the Adirondacks.

It was in response to this turn in the long arc of Adirondack history that the Adirondack Park Agency was established in 1971. Its purpose was to limit the worst of the development excesses in the Adirondack Park – excesses that were just then beginning to take hold.

So by geography and history this place was marked-off and it now remains the only wilderness park there will ever be as the 100 million people that surround us continue to multiply.

It shouldn’t need to be said that we have a duty to the eastern half of America not to screw it up by turning it over to a regularly scheduled local media circus fueled by special interest money.

UPDATE: Brian Mann has a thoughtful response to this post over at The In Box.

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37 Responses

  1. Dave/Towns and Trails says:
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