Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced that New York State has acquired 69,000 acres of the former Finch Pruyn and other Nature Conservancy lands throughout the Adirondacks. A statement by the Governor’s office called the acquisition “the largest single addition to the Adirondack State Forest Preserve in more than a century.”
Cuomo pointed to additional recreational opportunities, and the increased revenue from tourism as the reasons behind the purchase. Some of the lands have been closed to the public for more than 150 years.
At the 40th Anniversary of the State Land Master Plan (SLMP), Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve has issued a report that calls upon Governor Andrew Cuomo and state agencies “to advance and expand upon the many positive values of wild lands in our Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve.”
“The Forest Preserve was placed into state laws and its Constitution. It is where wilderness preservation began,” said Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson in a prepared statement (Gibson is a regular contributor at Adirondack Almanack). “However, government often approaches such an important landscape with a muddied sense of mission, and in an uncoordinated and shallow way. We are urging parties to venture deeper, and with greater purpose.” » Continue Reading.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a $5,120,000 investment for NY Works projects that will allow for eight flood control system and dam repair projects in the North Country. Projects slated for the Adirondack North Country include the Lower Lows Dam and Upper Lows Dam on the Bog River. Those dams, made of concrete and located in a area classified Primitive, are favored by paddlers on the Bog River, Hitchins Pond, and Lows Lake. The other dams slated for repair are Palmer Lake Dam in North Hudson (popular with anglers); Taylor Pond Dam in the town of Black Brook, southwestern Clinton County (part of the Taylor Pond Wild Forest); Kingdom Road Dam which holds back Lincoln Pond in Elizabethtown; Main Mill Dam in the City of Plattsburgh; and Whiteside Dam. All are considered “Critical Dam Repairs.” The funds will also support a Malone flood control project. Two notable back country dams gave way late last summer during Hurricane Irene. The Marcy Dam is expected to be rebuilt. DEC has decided that the Duck Hole Dam will not be rebuilt. » Continue Reading.
Will New York build upon its historic leadership as a steward of our protected Adirondack Park, home to people and wild nature, exhibiting the highest standards for ecosystem management? Or will that promise be lost to the lowest common denominator, where the most specious claims to the economic bottom line win the argument, a “go along-to-get along” mindset? Following the issuance of a permit by the Adirondack Park Agency for the sprawling Adirondack Club and Resort, citizens around the state are wondering. Remember what APA permitted in January: 706 residential units, 332 buildings, 39 large “great camps,” 15 miles of new roads, sewer, water and electric lines, fences and posted signs spread across 6,200 mostly undeveloped forest acres – 75 % of which is in the most protected private land classification in the park, Resource Management. Remember what this permit jettisons: a variety of traditional backcountry recreational uses, including hunting leases as well as forestry operations. The permit sanctioned real estate estimates shown to be highly exaggerated and completely unreliable. The applicant’s payments in lieu of taxes scheme is probably illegal. This is speculative development at its worst. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Council is calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the NYS Legislature to make sweeping changes to the rules for private land use and development in the Adirondack Park.
“The current rules for development are too weak and outdated to protect the park’s pure waters, wildlife and unbroken forests,” said the Adirondack Council Executive Director Brian L. Houseal said in a statement issued last week. “Conservation science and smart growth principles have advanced a great deal since 1971. Unfortunately, the Adirondack Park Agency’s regulations have not.” The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) was created by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1971, after resort development and the construction of an interstate highway (I-87) through the Adirondacks prompted a public call to protect the park. None of those rules has been amended since 1978, when several were weakened, the Council asserts, adding that “a recent resort review illustrated why the rules need attention.” » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Council has called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to realign and reform state agencies to better manage the Adirondack Park. The plan, which they have presented to the Governor, calls for administrative changes at the Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation, funding for local government planning assistance, and more. What follows is a statement the Council released late yesterday:
The Adirondack Park’s largest environmental organization today called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission to change the way state agencies serve the Park and its people in an effort to save money and better protect the Park’s natural resources. » Continue Reading.
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered an inspiring State of the State message, which I heard on the radio this week. He invoked the past, gave us all hope for the future, and had a long list of policy accomplishments to point to. He pointed to the need to invest state dollars in the upstate New York economy, especially people who are struggling in Buffalo and surroundings. He spoke up for major state investment in our aging infrastructure. He spoke glowingly of the performance of his economic development councils, and public-private partnerships. If I had to sum it up, in his speech the governor tried to set a high standard for New York, and inspire its citizens to reach for such a standard. However, the governor said nothing about the high standards of New York’s environment, and how much the state benefits from this condition. One very distinguishing high standard for New York State is and has been its tremendous water supply and water quality, which derives from its undeveloped, mountain forest headwaters – in the Catskill Mountains, in the Finger Lakes, in the Adirondack Park, in the Long Island Pine Barrens, in the Schenectady aquifer, and found in many other very valuable, special places. Lt. Governor Robert Duffy, a former upstate Mayor, understood the value of watersheds for his City of Rochester. As Mayor, he championed the Environmental Protection Fund for its role in preserving his city’s clean water supply from the Finger Lakes.
Governors should never forget how, for instance, the three million acre Forest Preserve in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks distinguishes the state from every other state, and every other nation on earth. These wild lands, just hours distant from twelve million people, provide water to urban and suburban areas which does not require filtration to meet clean drinking water standards. These wild watersheds provide nature benefits which, if they became polluted and not usable, would cost the state many billions of dollars, with untold other costs not measurable in dollars.
In his formal office at the Capitol, Governor Andrew Cuomo has replaced the portrait of former Governor Theodore Roosevelt with one of a former Governor he admires even more, Al Smith. Regarding a proposal to dam an Adirondack river for hydroelectricity back in 1926, here is what then Governor Al Smith had to say about the Forest Preserve:
“In view of the definite attitude of the people of the State with regard to the preservation of their rights in the Forest Preserve, and in view of the further fact that by no stretch of the imagination can this River Regulating District be brought within the purview of the Constitution, I respectfully suggest that the application be denied” (it was).
On another occasion, Governor Al Smith said:
“We owe it not only to ourselves but to the generations to come that the Adirondack Preserve be kept the property of all the people of the state, and should any part of it be flooded, the floodings should be restricted to the public benefit now set forth in the constitution and not for exploitation by private interests.”
Al Smith thought past his own generation, and understood the long-term values of protected Adirondack watersheds. He is the same governor who blocked his ally, the powerful parks council chairman and builder Robert Moses, from constructing an automobile “tourway” around the shore of Tongue Mountain by buying the mountain for the Forest Preserve. Smith also opposed Moses in his bid to construct rustic motels, roads, and gas stations in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. He is the same governor who in 1924 put up a state bond for $15 million – a great sum in its day – to acquire Forest Preserve, including many miles of the eastern Lake George waterfront for the public.
I am hopeful that Governor Cuomo pays attention to this part of Al Smith’s legacy, and internalizes for himself the great competitive advantages in keeping and wherever possible expanding the quantity and quality of large blocks of intact, forested landscapes, many of which are embedded within our State’s Constitution.
Yes, Governor Cuomo and his team have pledged not to compromise “forever wild” principles, which of course is entirely laudable and sensible from an economic as well as environmental perspective.
But isn’t it long past time simply to treat “forever wild” as a rule not to flout, and limited to just the Adirondack and Catskill Parks? Why should it not be an eminently successful and advantageous ethic and policy to embrace and affirm in a State of the State address? Why not propose to strengthen the state’s environmental quality review to measure and control the carbon emissions of many different types of development? Why not study the advantages of expanding the boundaries of the Catskill or Adirondack Parks? Why not pledge to acquire Follensby Pond, or the Essex Chain of Lakes? Why not embrace the Park’s status as an International Biosphere Reserve, and encourage the world to invest in climate and ecological research here? Why not assure localities of the full taxation of the public’s Forest Preserve by placing such a commitment within the Constitution itself? If, in the environmental resilience it gives us, and in its component parts “forever wild” is indispensable as policy, why not develop ideas to investigate and stop any degradation? Why not buttress it, and offer incentives for state and localities to expand upon forever wild in other parts of the state?
One answer may be that there are always strong temptations, matched by lack of awareness and understanding, which can result in great damage in order to achieve short-term ends, even in the Adirondacks and Catskills, much more so everywhere else. Hydraulic fracturing for gas, on the scale contemplated (several thousand permits per year), will forestall the re-wilding of watersheds across a million or more acres of the state. The spidering of roads, trucking, lighting and drilling from the Marcellus shale formations will industrialize a good bit of the state’s rural landscapes, damaging what are now pretty intact forested uplands, wetlands, streams. Were the values of these landscapes monetized, and their nature benefits calculated, the cost-benefit analysis of hydraulic fracturing might be weighted heavily on the cost side of the equation.
Another example where the governor’s high standards are not yet being applied is his Adirondack Park Agency, which should be setting the highest standard for review of development, as well as promotion of applied “smart growth.” Instead, the Agency may be poised to deliver a permit for the worst kind of speculative, sprawling subdivision in its history – the Adirondack Club and Resort – which has failed to properly value its forests, watersheds, water quality, and wildlife, and which greatly overestimated its real estate, tax and sales projections – in a Park which the statutes say must be protected for future generations, and must avoid unnecessary environmental impacts.
Many Governors, and their Lieutenant Governors, in depressed and good economic times, have embraced the idea that managing forest land for ecological integrity is their highest and best use. These leaders have done so despite the ever-present siren song of short-sighted exploitation. Consider these words of Lt. Governor Frank Moore, c. 1951, during an address at the Buffalo convention of the New York State Conservation Council:
“Over the years the greatest enemy of the Adirondacks has been man himself. For almost a century the fight has continued to protect them from the despoiler…The people of the state unquestionably need more water power, but the place to get this…is from the Niagara and St. Lawrence, not by destroying the virgin forests of our great Preserve; not by destroying the Adirondack sponge which is providing our greatest water reservoir. In the solution of our water supply problems in this State we may find our greatest asset to be the Forest Preserve.”
The same could be said today by Governor Cuomo or Lt. Governor Duffy concerning carbon storage and sequestration, stormwater management, water quality to urban and rural areas, and educational, recreational and tourism benefits, among many others. Your honors, it’s a year to go beyond lip service, and embrace our wild watersheds.
Photos: Elk Lake and the High Peaks beyond; Article 14, Sect. 1, NYS Constitution.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that the North Country Regional Council Strategic Plan will be awarded a $40 million bonus to fund economic development, one of four regions sop awarded. The complete North Country regional plan includes 70 projects totaling $103.2 million in state support. A number of additional projects were funded through the Mohawk Valley and Capital District regional councils which could also impact residents of the Adirondack region.
According to a statement released by the Governor’s Office, the North Country Regional Council Strategic Plan is designed as a long-term roadmap “to attract private investment, promote and facilitate connectivity between communities, and create a climate that will allow entrepreneurs to flourish. It put forth ways to achieve its vision by capitalizing on the region’s natural assets, talented labor pool, and entrepreneurial population.” The projects are expected to focus on high-tech and traditional manufacturing, green energy production, agriculture, tourism, and arts and culture. Included are a number of large grants:
$9.9 million will rehabilitate the Newton Falls Rail Project to rehabilitate, reopening the 46 mile Newton Falls Rail Line. This project will service the paper mill at Newton Falls and the operations at Benson Mines.
$900,000 will support improvements to the Village of Gouverneur water distribution system in support of the Kinney Drugs Distribution warehouse.
$4 million will support the development of community rental housing in the area of Fort Drum.
$3 million will support the construction of the new Clayton Hotel along the St. Lawrence River.
$397,000 will restore the 1924 Strand Theatre to the Strand Performing Arts Center in downtown Plattsburgh.
$2.5 million will support the expansion of Bombardier’s plant in Plattsburgh. The project includes a 57,000 square foot increase of the main plant, a 2,100 square foot expansion at the off-site testing facility, and electrification of an additional half mile of railroad track at the test facility.
$1.8 million will expand C Speed’s manufacturing center in Potsdam.
$1.2 million will support modernization new hiring at Saranac Lake’s Trudeau Institute research campus.
$472,000 will be provided to Frontier Communications to increase Hamilton County broadband access. This project is expected to install fiber optic broadband service to several communities that currently have no existing broadband capacity.
A full list of funded projects is available online [pdf]. Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties can be found in the Capital Region section; Fulton, Herkimer and Oneida counties are in the Mohawk Valley region; Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Lewis and St. Lawrence are in the North Country Council.
What follows is a guest essay by Frederick H. Monroe, Executive Director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board (LGRB). The LGRB was created by the Adirondack Park Agency Act “For the purpose of advising and assisting the Adirondack Park Agency in carrying out its functions, powers and duties.”
Through his vision and leadership, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has offered to the communities of New York a major opportunity – with the potential for large rewards: The chance to set our own economic agendas, regionally, with the ten Regional Economic Councils. And, initially, a piece of the $200 million in state funding that goes along with them. » Continue Reading.
It is heartening to know that Governor Cuomo has twice visited Keene Valley, and other Adirondack communities so hard hit by the hurricane. And to see that Rt. 73’s rebuilding in St. Hubert’s, and along its corridor to Lake Placid has become a high state priority. Clearly, the Governor is doing his utmost to release emergency aid for homes, businesses, roads, bridges and other critical needs.
I am puzzled, however, by the instinct in this Governor to order that environmental permits from agencies like the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency be waived. Governor Cuomo announced August 30 that “government needs to do all it can to help devastated communities and homeowners get back on their feet,” but that doing so also means that government must “get out of the way and allow for quick rebuilding and restoration.” It is as if those DEC or APA permits are fifty-foot high obstacles to getting reconstruction or restoration work done, and have absolutely nothing to do with the quality, effectiveness or durability of the work. It is as if DEC and APA field personnel want merely to push papers as obstacles to cleaning up and restoring the communities in which they and their families also live and work. It is as if government is there to only throw money, but not good, experienced minds, at emergency situations. It is as if the quickest action in an emergency is assumed to be the best action.
I disagree with those premises. I don’t think recent history in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill would suggest that the quickest action in an emergency is always the best action. Both DEC and APA staff, for instance, have demonstrated an ability in the past to issue permits from the field, and rapidly in emergency circumstances while influencing decisions which, from an environmental, engineering, economic and other perspectives may save time, money, labor and environmental quality in the short and longer-term. For example, emergency work done in a stream or river bed, or along its banks can be done in ways which appear to help the situation in the short-term, but which actually make matters far worse downstream in the mid or longer-term. Both DEC and APA, as well as the Ausable River and Boquet River Associations and others, are trained and knowledgeable in how rivers work in general and particular (fluvial dynamics), enough to offer practical as well as prudent permit advice which addresses both the immediate and longer-term problem. Where and how to reconstruct may not be as much about butting heads as it is about adding heads from varying disciplines to reach better decisions. APA and DEC staff should be part of that mix.
Of course, Governor Cuomo and his aides might have thought that there are so few DEC and APA regional permitting staff that it would be near impossible to get field involvement or permit decisions made in a timely fashion to address the emergencies across DEC Region 5. If so, I think that sells his own state personnel short. The efficient teamwork at DEC Region 5 and at the APA has been tested often by storms of all kinds in this and past decades, and performed remarkably well – and there has never been a decade I have seen where DEC or APA had enough staff – and there never will be one.
Furthermore, local governments and agencies attempting to reconstruct want clarity about what is required or expected, as much as any regulated business wants to know what is expected of them. The Governor’s announcement of the waiver of permits may have the unintended consequence of injecting confusion into an already confused situation. It cautions that reconstruction, restoration and other work should be sensitive not to unnecessarily harm or damage natural resources. For instance, would a town supervisor or engineer find clarity or confusion in the following words contained in the Governor’s press release:
“Permitting for construction and repair projects in these areas is suspended. When possible, work should be undertaken in consultation with the DEC to ensure that the project will be carried out in a manner that will cause the least adverse impact to natural resources. To consult on environmental impacts in the wake of Hurricane Irene, individuals and businesses may contact the Regional Environmental Permits Office.”
Local government might be forgiven if it misinterpreted these words as “DEC will get out of the way, but rest assured, I had better call them, they sure as heck won’t be calling me, but their eyes will be burning into the back of my head.”
Wouldn’t it better to have the clarity and certainty of regulators working in the field with the authority to both consult on difficult restoration and reconstruction work and to issue field permits for reasonably well thought-out solutions that take environmental conditions into account?
The Governor’s statement releasing communities in this emergency from the burdens of government regulation perversely also contains the following regulatory language: “In an effort to keep overall cleanup costs to a minimum and to reduce the overall impacts from the disaster debris it is important that those conducting the cleanup be mindful to separate out those waste materials which are benign or exempt from regulation, such as tree branches and limbs, from other more environmentally concerning debris during the cleanups. Care should be taken to set aside such materials as household hazardous waste, gasoline containers and propane canisters and other regulated solid wastes that would require special handling.”
In general, I think that waiving environmental permit requirements in an emergency like this in the Adirondack Park, with all the cautions and caveats thrown in, is
• unnecessary to getting good work done reasonably quickly
• insulting to knowledgeable, experienced DEC and APA regional permitting staff
• conducive to making quick decisions that may have negative consequences
• inimical to a place as important as the Adirondack Park
I hasten to add that I am ready to be proved wrong or ill informed, and that DEC and APA staff are actually in the field helping their local counterparts where help is needed or requested, with or without permits in hand. I also hasten to add that the Governor’s press release also may have contained helpful information that “DEC is also providing general assistance and guidance to help local communities address damaged facilities, debris disposal and solid waste. DEC has developed guidance for storm-related waste from damaged areas. Responsible parties should contact the DEC regional office for specific project applications.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo came to the new Lake Placid Conference Center on Wednesday to promote three initiatives he wants the State Senate and Assembly to pass before the end of the legislative session.
Village of Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, fresh from Daffodil Festival, made a rare appearance in Lake Placid. The Governor notably referred to the Mayor as “my good friend.” Impressed by the abundance of meeting facilities available in the neighboring village, Mayor Rabideau returned home determined to bring the Olympics to Saranac Lake.
Mayor Rabideau handed off the introduction to “Lake Placid Supervisor Roby Politi.” North Elba Supervisor Politi thanked Mayor Rabideau for “the sincere introduction,” receiving the biggest laugh of the afternoon.
The capacity crowd at the mint conference center gave Governor Cuomo a warm welcome. The governor’s PowerPoint presentation, refined over recent weeks at locations across the state, addressed the issues of a property tax cap (popular among realtors in the audience), government ethics reform, and gay marriage (popular among local event planners).
Joe Martens, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s choice to become the state’s new Commissioner of Environmental Conservation, was instrumental in protecting the 1,423-acre Berry Pond Tract on Prospect Mountain that includes the headwaters of West Brook.
Protecting the land was a crucial part of the West Brook Conservation Initiative, a $15 million project to restore the water quality of Lake George’s south basin; as president of the Open Space Institute, Martens arranged a $2.64 million loan to the Lake George Land Conservancy to buy the property. “We wouldn’t have been able to protect the Berry Pomd Tract without OSI, and Joe Martens was instrumental in securing the OSI’s loan to the Conservancy,” said Nancy Williams, executive director of the Lake George Land Conservancy.
“Joe Martens understood the importance of the Berry Pond tract and the necessity to protect it from development if we are to protect the water quality of Lake George,” said Walt Lender, the executive director of the Lake George Association.
When Cuomo announced that he would nominate Martens to head the Department of Environmental Conservation on January 4, Lake George conservation groups were unanimous in their praise.
“Joe Martens has a strong grasp of the importance of Lake George to this area’s economy and way of life. We expect him to be an advocate for protecting the environment around the state and around Lake George; we all know that when we protect the lake, we protect this area’s most important economic asset,” said Peter Bauer, Executive Director of the FUND for Lake George.
“It’s a positive sign that someone who’s already familiar with our issues, who has an intimate knowledge of Lake George and the Adirondacks, has been appointed to the position,” said Lender.
“We feel his experience and leadership on conservation issues will set a good precedent for the Department and hopefully sets a strong commitment for the new administration on environmental issues,” said Chris Navitsky, Lake George Waterkeeper.
According to The Fund for Lake George, Martens brings a long resume in state government to the new position. In addition to serving as president of the Open Space Institute and president of ORDA, he worked in the State Legislature, as an administrator at the Adirondack Park Agency, and as a top environmental aide to Governor Mario Cuomo.
Martens studied Resource Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and received an M.S. in Resource Management from the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University. Photo: Tim Barnett, Adirondack Nature Conservancy; Dave Decker, Lake George Watershed Coalition; Peter Bauer, The Fund for Lake George; Mayor Bob Blais, Lake George Village; Walt Lender, Lake George Association; Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward; DEC Region 5 director Betsy Lowe; Nancy Williams, Lake George Land Conservancy; with Joe Martens in Lake George to announce the protection of the Berry Pond Tract, 2008.
Here are some of the Adirondack Park related highlights from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2011-12 Executive Budget, his first plan for closing the state’s estimated $11 billion deficit.
Cuomo’s budget plan would maintain the state’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) at $134 million, the same spending level as in the current budget, but would further reduce the budgets of the Adirondack Park Agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation, close several prisons (possibly including some in the North Country), and disband the Tug Hill Commission. “We have to consider this a victory,” said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) said in a statement about EPF funding. “Under the circumstances, it could have been much worse. Deep cuts in the EPF would have had a substantial and long-lasting impact on New York’s natural resources. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo had the wisdom and foresight not to do that.” » Continue Reading.
Adworkshop, Lake Placid’s employee-owned digital marketing agency, announced this week that it is now a certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise through New York State’s Division of Minority and Women Business Development (MWBE). Adworkshop, established by Adele and Tom Connors more than three decades ago, is now listed in the Directory of Certified Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises, which is used by agencies and contractors statewide.
The MWBE certification, which is awarded by the Empire State Development Agency of New York, was given to the tourism marketing agency at the end of December. A majority percentage of the company ESOP shares are now owned by the 16 female employees of Adworkshop and Inphorm. The MWBE program is designed to encourages equality in economic opportunities for women and minorities by seeking to eliminate barriers that may stand in the way of pursuing state contracts. Adworkshop and Inphorm join the more than 6,000 certified women and minority-owned businesses located throughout New York State.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo outlined goals for MWBE’s in his State of the State Address Jan. 5, 2011:
“Of the 1.9 million business entities operating in New York State, more than 50 percent are owned by women or minorities. The vast majority of these companies are small businesses and a critical driver of the New York State economy. To ensure that MWBE’s have the opportunity to earn their fair share of the State’s business, Governor Cuomo directed State agencies to double the current MWBE participation goal from 10 to 20 percent and ease bonding restrictions that they will face and expand the Owner-Controlled Insurance Program model to expand opportunities for small businesses.”
There were hints last week that it would happen, but it’s official, Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) Chair and Open Space Institute (OSI) President Joesph Martens has been nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo to head the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Martens has quite a legacy already in the Adirondack region. Under his leadership OSI secured protection of the 10,000-acre Tahawus property and most recently the 2,350-acre Camp Little Notch in Fort Ann. Martens also spearheaded OSI’s involvement in the Nature Conservancy’s 161,000-acre Finch Pryun purchase. » Continue Reading.