Recent pieces in the Adirondack Explorer (see here and here) have attempted to assess the implications of the decision by New York State’s highest court in Protect the Adirondacks v Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency. The Court of Appeals found that these state agencies violated the state Constitution in their efforts to build a network of new extra-wide snowmobile trails in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. These commenters have derided the decision because they say it’s focused on tree cutting, which they argue is a poor standard to evaluate the constitutionality of management actions by state agencies under Article 14, Section 1, the Forever Wild Clause.
Hamilton County has been trying to expand its emergency communications network for years. The county has dead spots for not only cell service but for its emergency communications system too, especially in the southern part of the county. The only viable option for the county, given the widely and most commonly used emergency communications equipment in New York State, is to expand its network of line-of-sight towers powered through utility lines, with emergency backups, and are accessible by motor vehicle for servicing. The south end of Hamilton County has limited police and EMT communications service.
Protect the Adirondacks supports a proposed Article 14 Constitutional Amendment for the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex outside Lake Placid. At the Mt. Van Hoevenberg complex, the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) currently manages around 1,220 acres of Forest Preserve classified as Intensive Use by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). Abutting these lands is 319 acres of land owned by the Town of North Elba. Together this complex houses the Olympic bobsled and luge track, cross-country skiing and biathlon trails, and associated facilities, with most of the intensive buildings and facilities located on the town lands.
The current New York State Forester at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that he is retiring in April. This position doubles as the Director of the Division of Lands and Forests, and as such is the top public lands manager in the state, supervising the management of the 3-million-acre Forest Preserve, more than 750,000 acres of conservation easements, over 700,000 acre of State Forests, and thousands of acres of Wildlife Refuges and various other properties.
The current state Forester has held this position for a quarter-century, since being appointed during the Pataki years in the late 1990s. The Division of Lands and Forests at the DEC includes, among other things, the Forest Preserve Bureau, the center point for setting Forest Preserve policy and administering public use. Given the importance of this position at the DEC, the Hochul Administration and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos must conduct a nationwide search for a new State Forester and bring in somebody with broad experience and a strong track record in public lands management.
Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed redistricting legislation to create new districts for the 26 US House of Representatives in New York State, 63 State Senators, and 150 Assembly members. Redistricting is a process that occurs every ten years and follows the decennial US Census. The first elections for the new districts will be in June, when New York has a series of state and federal primaries, followed by the November 2022 general election.
Redistricting this year has changed things for the Adirondack Park in both subtle and substantial ways. Click here for a good interactive map of the current and new districts.
We’ll know the answer to this question when the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) meets on January 13-14th. On its agenda is a draft permit for a new granite quarry in White Lake in the town of Forestport in the western Adirondacks. This project is widely opposed by neighboring landowners, residents, and property owners in the general area. There have been very few private land development projects in the last two decades that have engendered such a high level of public involvement and concern.
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has organized a working group to assist the department in revising and amending a series of policies for Forest Preserve trails stewardship. The DEC organized this working group through the membership of the longstanding Forest Preserve Advisory Committee (FPAC). The working group includes members from trails building organizations, local government, and the environmental community. DEC stressed that this is a unified management effort for the entire Forest Preserve, and the working group includes members from the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.
DEC is embarking upon this effort largely in response to losing an 8-year lawsuit with Protect the Adirondacks where both the Appellate Division, Third Department and the Court of Appeals, New York ‘s highest court, ruled that the DEC violated Article 14, Section 1, of the State Constitution, the famed “forever wild” clause. The Court of Appeals ruled in early May, and the DEC spent the summer obstinately denying the reality and substance of the Court’s decision. Calls by Protect the Adirondacks, and others, for Forest Preserve management reforms at the DEC were resisted and unheeded for months.
A very strange thing happened this fall in the High Peaks Wilderness Area. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) worked for weeks in 2021 with heavy machinery to rebuild an old logging road in the Dudley Brook area of the MacIntyre East section of the High Peaks Wilderness. This is the same area where the DEC had worked for months in 2019 and 2020 to tear apart old logging roads. However, the DEC says they’re not rebuilding the road; they say they’re simply correcting a massive mistake that somehow its leaders in Albany had failed to notice for the last two years.
This is one of the strangest things I’ve seen in Forest Preserve management at the DEC in the last two decades.
One big change that the Andrew Cuomo years brought to the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) was that the senior staff and the APA Board refused to send a single development project to a formal adjudicatory public hearing. This defies logic in many ways. Based on information from a Freedom of Information request, from 1973 through 2010 there were 151 projects in APA history sent to a formal adjudicatory public hearing. Yet, somehow, during the Cuomo years, the Governor’s staff that managed the APA, and the APA senior staff, never allowed a single formal adjudicatory public hearing.
Recently, we saw news that Governor Kathy Hochul has instructed state agencies to develop and submit plans for greater transparency. As I wrote in a related piece, this is good news and welcome news. I’ve watched over the decades as state agencies have restricted more and more of what was once basic and easily accessible public information.
In a related piece I wrote about how the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) could improve its work and embrace openness and transparency. I provided a list of suggestions for ways to change its Forest Preserve work and other items relating to the Adirondack Park. These ideas would make meaningful and important reforms and should be included in the DEC’s “Transparency Plan” that it is soon to submit to Governor Hochul.
Last week, we saw news that Governor Kathy Hochul instructed state agencies to develop and submit plans for greater transparency. This is good news and welcome news. I’ve watched over the decades as state agencies have restricted more and more of what was once basic and easily accessible public information.
The administration of former Governor Andrew Cuomo was the worst from a public information standpoint, and state agencies, which were often managed by his political appointees in the image and temperament of the former Governor, shared the former Governor’s desire to control all public information. Under Cuomo, state agencies required Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests for just about everything, and then they dragged out the response time for these requests like no other.
It’s back to school time in the Adirondacks and New York State. One of the things that always happens at this time is reports about school district enrollments year-over-year in a particular area. These stories are useful and interesting, but they usually lack context.
With the beginning of the release of 2020 US Census data in August, Protect the Adirondacks is starting an update of its study The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010. The 2020 US Census will enable us to look at a 50-year trend line.
The new sustainable hiking trail under construction to the summit of Mount Van Hoevenberg is expected to be completed in the early fall. This project has been a priority of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). This project started in 2018 and marked a completely different approach to hiking trail building in the Forest Preserve and the High Peaks Wilderness.
For the first time, the DEC committed to a multi-year effort to showcase new sustainable trail design and trail building techniques for the Forest Preserve. In many ways, this trail marks a new beginning for the state’s approach to hiking trail building in the Adirondack Park.
Among Adirondack Park leaders, blaming the Park, the Forest Preserve, environmental protections, and environmental groups, is fashionable. Population trends are often cited, along with things like school district trends, to substantiate this narrative. Hardly ever do local leaders attempt to place Adirondack population or school district trends in a statewide or national context.
The US Census allows us to assess what’s going on in the Adirondack Park in a statewide and national context. The US Census just released its first cut of the 2020 decennial census. This data is very informative, though we’ll know more in late September when town-level data is released, and we’ll learn even more in 2022 when age and race data along with economic data is released.
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