Advocates for the Adirondack Park say they are disappointed at the close of the 2019 legislative session, because the Governor failed to nominate a diverse slate of six or seven nominees for the Adirondack Park Agency board that environmental and other advocates could support, and that the Senate would approve.
The APA board has no chairman. Of the eight citizen members of the APA board, nominations are needed to fill seven: three vacant seats, three expired terms and one seat whose term expires Sunday.
“This session was an unprecedented opportunity for Governor Cuomo and the Senate to appoint and confirm a slate of candidates that would improve the Park Agency board by adding strong conservationists with experience in land use, planning, environmental science and conservation law,” Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway, said in a statement sent to the press. “The Governor proposed only a partial slate. His short list included some exceptional individuals whose skills are relevant to the APA board’s mission. But he didn’t offer a full, balanced and diverse slate of new and returning board members to ensure a strong, independent agency. A full and diverse slate should promote enhanced protections and responsible development in a forum reflecting statewide concerns.”
“It is not possible to assess the potential impact of a partial slate of candidates for the APA board,” said Neil Woodworth, Executive Director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. “Regardless of how we feel about the three people who were nominated, we are left with an incomplete picture of how the APA will function over the next year or more.”
“The agency’s board is not only rudderless at this moment, it lacks people with backgrounds in environmental law, ecological sciences and land use planning,” said David H. Gibson, Managing Partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. “Governor Cuomo should be alarmed with the status quo in Ray Brook. He should want strong leadership and a full slate of qualified nominees ready to stand up for the APA’s role as land use planner for a Park as cherished as the Adirondacks. And the State Senate should remain firm and confirm only qualified nominees.”
“Well into his ninth year in office Governor Cuomo has squarely run the Adirondack Park Agency into the ground,” said Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks! “The APA is at the weakest point in its history. The Governor has refused to strengthen the APA board with people with professional experiences in the fields of environmental law, environmental science, and regional planning. Instead the Governor has taken the position that all five in-Park APA board seats must represent the interests of either local government or business – the very entities the APA was created to regulate. The APA Board desperately needs broader talents. We call upon the Governor to diversify the APA Board with appointments of people with a broad range of professional experiences and expertise.”
The Adirondack Park encompasses 9,300 square miles of public and private forest lands covering one-fifth of New York’s land mass. It comprises the world’s largest intact temperate, deciduous forest and is the largest park in the contiguous United States.
It includes 2.7 million acres of constitutionally protected public Forest Preserve; more than 750,000 acres of private forest protected from development by state conservation easements; and 90 percent of the wilderness and old growth forests remaining in the Northeast.
The park agency oversees land-use, planning and zoning on both public and private lands, in cooperation with other state agencies.
“Serving as an APA board member is a complex task. It requires a detailed understanding of 14 separate public and private land use classifications and how they work together to protect the wild character and ecological health of the park,” the press release sent by Park advocates said. “It requires skill and experience to protect this national treasure while also hosting 12.4 million visitors per year and serving as a home to more than 130,000 year-round residents, and nearly twice as many seasonal residents.”
The APA board at full capacity includes 11 members: three represent state agencies, three must live outside of the Adirondack Park, and five must live in one of the 12 Adirondack counties and be full-time residents of the Park. The eight citizen members are nominated by the Governor with the advice and consent of the State Senate. APA Board members serve four-year terms, two of which expire each year. No more than five of the eight members can be registered with one political party. No county may have more than one citizen board member. The structure of the appointees is designed to represent statewide interests in the Park, while protecting local rights.
When the Legislature created the APA in 1971, it sought to make it independent from the Governor’s day-to-day influence by granting board members four-year terms during which they couldn’t be removed from office, except for official misconduct. However, APA board members whose terms have expired may be replaced with new nominees any time the Senate is in session.
Currently, the board has a retired professor from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry who is a public lands management expert, two local government officials, and two business leaders. As of June 30, four of those members will be serving on expired terms and three other seats are vacant. The final unexpired term is set to expire next year: June 30, 2020.
Photo of APA Building in Ray Brook NY.