Thanks to Peter Bauer for once again providing us with useful facts and commentary in his “Team Cuomo” editorial. I have no argument with what he says, so far as it goes, but fear that he creates the impression that the more frequent use of formal adjudicatory hearings will restore sound land-use planning to the Adirondacks.
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.
To top it off, this was the first virtual meeting in the last year-and-a-half of the pandemic that the APA allowed for live, public comment. Dave Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, was the only person to make use of the comment period time afforded at the beginning and end of the meeting. In meetings prior, the agency collected public comments through an email address. It’s good to have the public be able to directly address board members again. This also coincided with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plans for all state agencies and departments to draft transparency guidelines, something the APA will have to do soon.
On another note, I’ve received quite a few phone calls from folks asking me how to get a permit or reservation to hike in the Adirondacks. There is still clearly some confusion over the reservation system for the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, a gateway to a number of popular hikes, but certainly not the only spot to see beautiful views. Most of the people who have called me say they have trouble using a computer and wish to book a reservation over the phone. I’ve also gotten quite a few phone calls asking about the status of our autumn foliage colors in the Adirondacks.
The nonprofit advocate Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve has written to the NYS Adirondack Park Agency asking the agency to comply with its own public comment policy by inviting verbal public comment at the Agency’s remote October meeting. The webcast meeting takes place on Thursday Oct. 14.
The agency’s response to Adirondack Wild’s request, so far, has been that they would “take it into consideration.”
Governor Hochul has announced a Government Transparency Initiative which requires all New York State agencies to submit plans this month on how they will improve transparency. That order obviously includes the Adirondack Park Agency. Given that order, APA should be allowing the public to sign up and speak directly to the Adirondack Park Agency’s decision-makers during their regularly scheduled webcast meetings.
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.
Many, many years ago I entered graduate school at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, CT. My graduate interests lay primarily in water resources, so I searched that first semester for a lead professor/advisor in that vast field – and, due to recent retirements, found none.
As luck would have it, a Ph.D. candidate hosted a course in basic wetland hydrology 101 that fall. He was young, energetic, no nonsense kind of person, a stickler for getting out in the field and measuring things like water flow, water inputs, outputs and what was going on underneath our feet and the wet soils he was interested in. He took us to interesting places called bogs, fens, and cedar swamps requiring hip boots. We saw great swamp trees, like tupelos or black gum. We brought back funny looking, stained sketches of bogs and fens, with arrows showing what we thought was the direction of water flow pointing in various directions. I learned that a fen was a kind of boggy wetland where surface and/or ground water flowed through, introducing minerals and oxygenated conditions and thus making a fen somewhat less mineral impoverished than a bog lacking such through flow.
APA mandate is to “ensure compliance with the laws the Agency administers” including the New York State Freshwater Wetlands Act. Instead, APA did the exact opposite with a recent decision permitting the virtual destruction of a Category 1 Wetland- the highest designation for a wetland – on Lot 9, Deerwood, Upper Saranac Lake (USL). For no apparent reason, other than convenience of the new landowner, APA issued an amended permit.
APA@50 Symposium took place on on June 22 and the organizations were happy to host so many lively conversations on the legacy and future of the Adirondack Park Agency. We thank all who attended the live event for your thoughtful questions and input.
All three sessions of the symposium are now available for viewing on our Vimeo page. Links to each session as well as a link to the special preview of the upcoming Mountain Lake PBS documentary on the early years of the APA (based on Brad Edmondson’s new book, A Wild Idea) are below.
In an unprecedented reversal of its prior position, the APA is amending a long-standing 1987 permit to allow a large private residential septic system to endanger to a rare bog and degrade Upper Saranac Lake water quality. The APA has ignored their own 1987 permit requirements.
A coalition of conservationists, engineers, a wetland ecologist, and neighbors of a proposed development within the Class 1 wetlands on Upper Saranac Lake said today that the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) had, over the strong objections of environmentalists, engineers and local landowners, approved an amendment to an existing APA permit. The amendment eases the restrictions normally required for wetlands, and for only the last lot of the Deerwood Subdivision. This amendment allows for an on-site septic system 100 feet from a stream that empties into the Upper Saranac Lake and from the rare Category 1 wetlands boundary.
JOIN OUR ONLINE BOOK TALKS ON THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE APA
June 18 at 2:00 pm — Rural Indigenousness with author, Melissa Otis. The discussion will be moderated by Iakonikonriiosta, Museum Manager of the Akwesasne Cultural Center.
June 30 at 6:00pm — Contested Terrain with author, Phil Terrie. The discussion will be moderated by Ann Norton Greene.
July 8 at 6:00pm —50 Years of the APA: A Wild Idea with author Brad Edmondson. The discussion will be moderated by Jim Hotaling. Register for the talk and receive a 30% discount to order and read the book in advance.
The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) presented a draft of their joint Visitor Use Management (VUM) and Wildlands Monitoring tool during the State Land Committee Report at the APA Meeting in Ray Brook.
ADK applauds the formation and release of this document, which is seen as a big step towards establishing a visitor use management framework consistent with standards set by the Federal Interagency Visitor Use Management Council (IVUMC), something ADK has routinely advocated for over the years.
We have another jam-packed Adirondack Park Agency meeting to look forward to this week.
The board will hear from staff about solar projects in the park, upgrades to the Fish Creek Pond Campground and the long-awaited visitor use management and wildlands monitoring guidance that has been delayed the last couple of meetings. I have a preview of the meeting up on our website. I’ll be covering the meetings, too, for you.
If you’d like to listen in for yourself, go to apa.ny.gov for the agenda and the virtual meeting info.
It’s not on the agenda, but I’m also wondering if the Adirondack Park Agency will discuss the Court of Appeals ruling that was handed down Tuesday last week. The state’s highest court ruled that Class II community connector trails, which are trails big enough and graded to accommodate snowmobiles, were unconstitutional. The majority said the trails required cutting too many trees and violated the “forever wild” clause of the state constitution. The 4-2 decision was in favor of Protect the Adirondacks, which brought the suit against the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency.
What we don’t know yet is how far-reaching this decision is. Protect the Adirondacks and several environmental organizations in favor of its side have said they believe the decision only impacts these community connector trails. Others worry that the decision will impact more than that, including hiking trail maintenance, new hiking trails and campground maintenance. So far the APA and DEC are consulting with the state Attorney General’s Office to get guidance on that. As we learn more, we’ll have more information for you.
There’s an abundance of serendipity in these parts, and in our work.
Often, related themes and stories emerge like magic, to make it appear to readers that we had planned them to run side-by-side in our magazine. Sometimes we do that, but others, like in our upcoming May/June issue, the stars just align. And one of the stars of this issue is an old-time hermit named Noah John Rondeau. (The photo of him here is courtesy of the Adirondack Experience museum in Blue Mountain Lake.)
He lived in the same Adirondack woods where hermit thrushes are now returning for spring, and where hikers and backpackers will soon flock to seek refuge from another pandemic summer. If you’ve been following our online series about the struggle to form the Adirondack Park Agency 50 years ago, you’ve had a preview of the history story in which he’ll make an appearance in print. The writer, author Brad Edmondson, presents him as a sort of bridge from the old and truly wild North Country — squatting on public lands in a time when no one really cared — to the modern, regulated park. He died just as the Northway’s fresh pavement was about to deliver a surge of new visitors.
The state budget was late, but it finally passed both houses last week.
I had a quick overview on our website highlighting that the Adirondacks and Catskills are getting $1.55 million for visitor use management. Of that funding, up to $800,000 will go to Essex County to assist with its pilot shuttle system, front country stewards and infrastructure, like portable toilets. We also have a renewed $3 billion environmental bond act.
The Adirondack Almanack is a public forum dedicated to promoting and discussing current events, history, arts, nature and outdoor recreation and other topics of interest to the Adirondacks and its communities
We publish commentary and opinion pieces from voluntary contributors, as well as news updates and event notices from area organizations. Contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The information, views and opinions expressed by these various authors are not necessarily those of the Adirondack Almanack or its publisher, the Adirondack Explorer.
General inquiries about the Adirondack Almanack should be directed to editor Melissa Hart.
To advertise on the Adirondack Almanack, or to receive information on rates and design, please click here.