Saturday, November 26, 2022

Questioning APA transparency

roads in wild forest

The Adirondack Park Agency has received criticism for what some say is its lack of transparency regarding the release of old memos about questions staff have posed to commissioners that would interpret a cap on roads in wild forest areas. Commissioners made no determinations at the APA meeting last week, but staff hinted they could be looking for decisions, soon.

Here’s a reminder, quoted from APA Deputy Director of Planning Megan Phillips’s presentation, on the questions:

  1. What road mileage existed on Wild Forest lands in 1972? What road mileage exists on Wild Forest lands today?
  2. What mileage increase is allowed without constituting a material increase?
  3. Does CP-3 mileage meet the definition of road in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and therefore require inclusion in the total Wild Forest road mileage calculation?

If all of this sounds like gibberish, you can read our past coverage here:

Commissioner Zoe Smith asked Phillips about what would be expected at the next APA meeting. Phillips said they are “hoping to advance the conversation in a more meaningful way at that time.” Meanwhile, there are memos from the 1990s that environmental groups know exist and have asked for from the APA related to this issue. APA has declined to disclose them, citing certain exemptions in the Freedom of Information Law. Comments from retired APA staffer Walter Linck, which referenced those memos, have not been accepted by the agency. Barbara Rottier, former counsel for the APA, spoke before commissioners during the public comment period on Thursday asking for these memos to be released.

“The issue of no material change was in fact considered a big deal and considered by agency staff,” Rottier said. “A determination was made and that determination was sent to DEC and it was never appealed by DEC. … You have the authority to make a different determination, no question about that … but you should have all relevant information at your disposal.”

No one from the agency addressed Rottier’s comments after she finished.

Not all feel the APA is being secretive. Jerry Delaney, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, commended APA for its presentations on the roads issue at the end of the meeting last week. He called staff “really transparent.”

John Burth, an environmental program specialist, reported to APA’s regulatory committee planned changes for the agency’s website, also addressing transparency. On APA’s public comment page there will soon be links to a project proposal’s site plan so “commenters will have a better understanding of the project,” Burth said. Currently the agency provides a brief paragraph describing the project and those wanting more information must file a freedom of information law request.

Another noteworthy change, APA commissioners and the public may be able to see an advanced list of completed projects up for board approval. Burth said that change will make commissioners “aware of these projects 30 days or more before the meeting, rather than the agenda the week before. … We’re trying to give more lead time for projects that are complete and will be coming to you for approval.”

For Adirondack Park residents, forms are also moving to the web to cut down on mailing paperwork.

Commissioner Zoe Smith asked if the agency was going to post APA permits that have been issued on its website. Some permits do not require full board approval and are issued by staff, though that information is not made readily available unless it’s requested. Burth said the agency is working on some “technological questions” to address that but it is something the agency is “looking at rolling out as well in the near future.”

Image at top: A map from the Adirondack Park Agency shows public motor vehicle roads in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest. 

This first appeared in Gwen’s weekly “Adirondack Report” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Gwen is the environmental policy reporter for Adirondack Explorer.

One Response

  1. Todd Eastman says:

    The APA could use a dose of administrative sunshine if it wants to be trusted in fulfilling its legal role in the Park…😎

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