On Election Day in November 2018, voters across New York State voted for a new direction for the 63-member New York State Senate. With some races remaining close and needing to be finalized based on a count of absentee and provisional ballots, it appears that Democrats have elected 40 Senators and Republicans just 23. There is no way to overstate just what a sea change this is for New York State politics.
There is also no way to overstate the questions that this sea change raise for the Adirondack Park, which is cut up into four State Senate districts, each steadfastly represented by a Republican. These four Senators – Betty Little, Joe Griffo, Patti Ritchie and Jim Tedisco – led by Little whose 45th Senate District has the majority of the Adirondack Park, were members in excellent standing in the exclusive club of the Republican Senate Majority. With a membership of around three dozen they unrelentingly, efficiently and ruthlessly wielded power and thoroughly enjoyed their political spoils. » Continue Reading.
Since November 5, when voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to permit a mining company to mine 200 acres of Forest Preserve lands, we have learned much more about the proposition than we knew before the vote. We always knew that the company proposed to mine the Forest Preserve, and everyone, proponents and opponents alike, thought it at least noteworthy that two environmental protection groups dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the constitutional clause that states that Forest Preserve lands will remain “Forever Wild,” supported the proposition.
But we did not know that the state officials who were lobbying the legislature to place the proposal on the ballot were unaware that the mining company already had access to a second mine on its own land, which it has not yet begun to utilize. We did not know that the company was spending at least half a million dollars to win passage of the proposition. And that’s not including the thousands of dollars it donated to the campaigns of Senator Betty Little, who sponsored the bill that put the proposition on the ballot. » Continue Reading.
Legislation is pending in the State Legislature for “second passage” of a Constitutional Amendment to transfer 200 acres of Forest Preserve lands in the Jay Mountain Wilderness to NYCO Minerals, Inc. This legislation has strong support from North Country elected state representatives. The Governor supports it and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is taking an active role stalking for the bill.
There are two big problems with this effort. First, this land swap sets a terrible precedent for the “Forever Wild” Forest Preserve. Second, the bill is riddled with inaccuracies, outright falsehoods, and misstatements. » Continue Reading.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed the Invasive Species Prevention Act, legislation designed to help prevent the spread of destructive invasive plants and animals by making it illegal to sell and transport invasive species in the state, amid calls to close the Champlain Canal immediately to prevent the spread of the latest invasive threat .
The new law, said by advocates to have been a collaborative effort by state agencies and stakeholders, including conservation organizations, lake associations, agriculture and forestry organizations, scientists and academia, was unanimously passed in June by the New York State Legislature. The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) and Senator Betty Little (R-Queensbury), creates a statewide regulatory system to prohibit or limit the sale and transport of known invasive plants and animals that impact natural areas and industries that depend on natural resources. » Continue Reading.
I’ll risk it and take the bait in responding to Senator Betty Little, Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward and others concerning a proposed constitutional amendment to permit logging and forest product utilization on newly acquired Forest Preserve.
Their simplistic ecological arguments for the amendment, such as wanting to see more rabbits on the Forest Preserve, or expecting that logging the Preserve would help the climate are being made up as they go along and will not withstand serious scrutiny. I prefer to focus more on their constitutional hurdles.
The Senator is clearly motivated to keep the Finch lands and Follensby Pond out of the Forest Preserve. Unstated may be a desire to maintain certain leaseholders occupying the Finch lands – such as the politically influential members of the Gooley Club west of the Upper Hudson. These are at least rational positions to take and, while I have a different viewpoint, I can respect theirs. They will also attempt to accomplish their objective of keeping the lands out of the Forest Preserve through legislation, and one would think that an easier step than a constitutional amendment. Perhaps they think not. They apparently believe a good way to accomplish their objective is to create a separate class of Forest Preserve that on some date certain, after a constitutional amendment is approved by the voters some years hence, and after new Forest Preserve is acquired will permit the practice of forestry on the new land. They may feel that the public would accept this, knowing that the existing three million acres would still be “forever wild.” They may believe that all they need to do is neatly sidestep a sticky clause in Article 14, Section 1 of the Constitution, and exempt new lands from its provisions. That clause states: “nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”
But that’s not all they have to do. Theirs is no technical amendment. By attempting to exempt only new Forest Preserve from the strictures of Article 14, they must amend all 54 words of Section 1 of Article 14. They must roughshod over the very constitutional language which voters have refused to change – despite given numerous opportunities to do so – in 116 years.
Perhaps they are betting on a constitutional convention virtually doing away with Article 14 as we know it, and I’d say that’s a poor bet.
Section 1 unifies the Forest Preserve. Its first sentence states that “the lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” A simple exception clause for new acquisitions after some date would not do the trick. “Hereafter acquired” means just that. “Forever kept” means forever. The words pertain to any lands owned before, or acquired after the effective date of Section 1 of January 1, 1895. They were reaffirmed at the 1938 and 1967 constitutional conventions, and on many other occasions in the 20th and 21st centuries through passage of over 30 limited, site specific amendments which nonetheless preserve the overarching language of Section 1.
The second and final sentence of Section 1 is just as problematic for the Senator. “They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.” Allowing DEC, a public corporation, to supervise and control logging on newly acquired Forest Preserve would constitute a clear taking of the lands. The legal agreements to permit logging activity by private parties on any parts of the Forest Preserve might likely constitute a lease, further violating that provision. The third and final clause of that sentence – the one that the Senator may think is the only hurdle – speaks for itself.
I conclude that pretty much all 54 words of Section 1 would need to be amended, rewritten and stripped of their present and historic meaning in order to achieve a separate class of Forest Preserve managed for forest products. The public may be willing to make occasional, limited, site specific amendments to Article 14 for worthy objectives that both meet a legitimate public purpose and enhance the Forest Preserve. However, the voters have demonstrated over a very long period that they are unwilling to make substantial changes to the “forever wild” policy because the Forest Preserve as now constituted provides such enormous benefits. It is the envy of the world. It distinguishes New York from all other states and from all other nations. It is woven into our social fabric, as well as our laws. It provides billions of dollars in ecological and recreational services. It pays taxes for all purposes. The voters would be especially unwilling when the reasons for doing so, on economic, ecological, social and public policy grounds, are so questionable.
Prior to 1983, Senator Little’s amendment might have a better public policy rationale and more public appeal. That was when the conservation easement legislation was approved that permits the State to acquire rights in land without the land becoming Forest Preserve, and which has been so effective in keeping forest management and forest employment alive in the Park, which are the stated objectives for the amendment. Putting more resources into effective programs like this would be the more realistic way to achieve them.
The Lake George Park Commission has approved a resolution supporting legislation drafted by the state’s Invasive Species Council that would make it illegal to transport an invasive species from one water body to another.
The proposed law would create regulations stronger than any currently in place on Lake George, said Mike White, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission. » Continue Reading.
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.
It is purposefully difficult to change our Constitution. In thinking about Article XIV of the New York State Constitution, the “Forever Wild” clause, amendments have to undergo tests in two separately elected legislatures. Ill or hastily considered measures to weaken or dilute its legal mandate to ensure a wilderness forever in the Catskills and Adirondacks are weeded out. Overly complex measures are tied up in committee.
Ultimately, the voting public decides whether an amendment constitutes a significant shift away from the mandate of 1894, which is to make the Forest Preserve safe from exploitation as an enduring wilderness for people and wild nature, and a haven for the ultimate expression of our human partnership with nature. » Continue Reading.
We enter the second round of the 2010 Adirondack Bracket with a few upsets to report. Here are the headlines: Bad News for Nuisance Species: Watermilfoil, spiny waterflea, rock snot, Realtors, skunks and porcupines all went down to defeat. Good News for Threatened Species: Bicknell’s thrush, timber rattlesnakes, and proposed APA boathouse regulations prevailed (though tender rattlesnake root, Prenanthes Boottii—correct spelling—proved no match for the heavier boots of Black Brook). » Continue Reading.
“Gov. David Paterson’s nomination of Peter Hornbeck to the Adirondack Park Agency Board was denied today by the Senate Finance Committee,” the first line read. The problem? It’s not true. The Senate Finance Committee has yet to vote, and isn’t expected to vote for some time. The story was concocted by State Senator Betty Little for her own political gain and duly reported as fact, without an ounce of actual journalism, fact checking, or confirmation. The only source Smith Dedam cited in the story was Betty Little’s spokesman Dan Mac Entee. The only evidence cited was Mac Entee’s word that “Senator Little was told late yesterday afternoon that there were — at best — 14 votes in support of the nomination.” To their credit, the Times Union’s Brian Nearing debunked Dedam this morning in a follow-up on the false report.
Unfortunately the damage is already done, as WNBZ’s Jon Alexander (who cut his teeth at the anti-environmentalist, anti-APA, Denton Publications) is also now parroting the one-sided report and saying, without a shred of journalistic evidence, that Hornbeck’s nomination is “on life support.”
Neither stories mention that Pete Hornbeck’s own locally elected representatives in Minerva voted to whole-heartedly support his nomination.
The question local reporters ought to be asking is whether our local Senator is holding up the legislature’s business, as she did when she supported last year’s Republican coup that brought the state legislature to a halt.
More importantly, Kim Smith Dedam and her editors need to explain to us how this “story” – “Hornbeck Nomination Denied” – happened, and apologize, or they should resign.
Local media no longer has a place for corrupt journalism.
BTW: You can reach Kim Smith Dedam at [email protected]
Olmstedville (that’s in Minerva, Essex County) boat builder and businessman Peter Hornbeck has made it through the NYS Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee, the first hoop in his nomination by Governor David Paterson to serve on the Adirondack Park Agency board of commissioners (APA). The vote was a smack-down of sorts for local Republican Senator Betty Little who sits on the committee and has opposed Hornbeck’s nomination from the start. What Little doesn’t like about Hornbeck, she told North County Radio, was “his association as chairman of the Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks.” Little’s spokesman Dan Mac Entee, claiming to represent “dozens” of local officials, told the Plattsburgh Press Republican: “They feel his affiliation with environmental groups suggests he is going to bring an environmental agenda to APA, not an economic-development agenda, which we feel is critically important now.” Little wants Lake Placid resort owner Arthur Lussi, whose term is expiring, to remain in his seat. “We feel he has a balanced approach to economic development in the park,” Mac Entee said. [BTW, the Minerva Town Board disagrees; it voted to send a letter in support of the Hornbeck nomination to both the Governor and the Environmental Conservation Committee.]
What Little says she really wants is to require all five of the in-park APA Commissioners to be chosen by her pet group, the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, who is supported by a gaggle of attorneys, engineers, and development interests. NCPR’s Brian Mann asked the Senator: “Wouldn’t that kind of a measure basically preclude anyone with an environmentalist background being chosen?”
“Not necessarily,” Little responded. “I think that they understand that there is a balance and most likely would know that they would have to have some people on that list who were maybe active environmentalists.” She kind of mumbled that “maybe” so I don’t fault Brian Mann for not following-up with the question, “Maybe Yes or Maybe No?”
Anyone who looks at Betty Little’s record of opposing the APA and the concept of a Forest Preserve can see what she’s really after: a purge of those she labels “environmentalists” from all decision-making related to the Adirondacks. Pete Hornbeck, who employs five people in good-paying manufacturing jobs at Hornbeck Boats, has made a crucial error in Little’s mind, in that he has associated with the wrong people.
“I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five [people] that were known . . . as being environmentalists and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the APA,” Little said.
Just kidding – that was a quote from Joseph McCarthy; just replace environmentalists with Communist Party, and APA with State Department.
McCarthy saw enemies everywhere, including really evil places like the National Lawyers Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union. Little has her own enemies list that includes not just local conservation organizations, but apparently their supporters and members as well.
For background, the APA Board includes five representatives of local interests from inside the Park, three representing the rest of the state, and the state’s Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development, the Secretary of State, and the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation (Pete Grannis). These last three appoint others to represent the interests of their agencies. Regional Director for DEC Region 5 Betsey Lowe (former Executive Director of Wild Center) is Grannis’s substitute on the board; Region 5 includes three-quarters of the Adirondack Park. Lowe recently joined local members in opposing a wilderness classification for Low’s Lake. Fred Monroe of the Local Government Review Board has a non-voting seat on the APA Board.
Six of the eleven voting members (plus Monroe) of the current APA Board are full-time residents of the Adirondack Park. Three members of the APA Board—Curt Stiles, Cecil Wray, and Dick Booth—previously served on the board of the Adirondack Council. How many APA Commissioners are members of a Chamber of Commerce is anyone’s guess. The status of their connections to the Communist Party are also unknown.
Hornbeck’s appointment will need to pass the Senate Finance Committee before a full Senate vote.
Photo: Peter Hornbeck from the Hornbeck Boats website.
The NYS Senate granted unanimous approval (58-0) today to two bills designed to help three small communities qualify for economic development and community enhancement projects through money available from the NYS Department of State and provided through the federal Coastal Resources program. If signed by Governor Paterson, the bills would grant inland waterway status to Lake Placid, Mirror Lake and the Little River in the Town of Franklin. According to the Adirondack Council’s John Sheehan, “these programs encourage comprehensive planning and sustainable economic development, especially projects that also help to protect water quality and other natural resources. Businesses and residents will be eligible for state and federal matching funds for business development and community beautification/revitalization programs.” » Continue Reading.
“How are things in Albany? They’ve probably never been worse,” Betty Little said at an early morning breakfast in Saranac Lake Friday.
Making no attempt to mask her frustration with the Democrats’ ineffectual five-month-long reign over the New York State Senate, the Republican who represents much of the North Country was pessimistic as she gave an audience of Saranac Lake’s political, health-care, education and economic-development leaders her take on the situation in state government. She did not allude to any plans for a Senate takeover, but the candor of her remarks made Monday’s news of Republican blowback in the Capitol a bit less of a surprise. Little was joined by Republican assemblywomen Janet Duprey and Teresa Sayward. All three represent Saranac Lake, which straddles two assembly districts.
The impending closure of Camp Gabriels minimum-security prison is draining a hundred jobs from the area. The inmates are moved out, and only a dozen or so guards and administrative staff remain on duty to shutter the place by July 1. The village got little encouragement on a reuse strategy for the facility.
“I mean there really is no money. We’ve got to face that,” Little said, complaining that the $132 billion budget passed by Democratic governor David Patterson and both Democrat-controlled houses of the State Assembly failed to reduce spending.
The three said executive-branch staff are in such flux that’s it’s difficult to know who the go-to people in state government are. Even things like the senate’s schedule are hard to divine, Little said. There are two weeks left in the session, but she doubted the Democratic leadership would stick to the deadline. Now it looks like the session might be prolonged no matter who is in charge.
“We’re spending a lot of time now trying to correct what was done in secret,” Little said, citing changes to Empire Zone rules and a new law that would allow drug offenders to seal drug-crime records if they feel that they have been rehabilitated of an addiction. “The new process seems to be put forth a proposal, vote on it and correct it because nobody has had a chance to look at it.”
Inevitably Senator Little was asked what she thought of New York’s 23rd District congressional seat, being vacated by Republican John McHugh, who is nominated to become Secretary of the Army. There are only three Republicans representing New York State in Washington, Little noted. “It could have been four. I have to say I know I could have won that seat,” she said, referring to the 20th District, where Democrat Scott Murphy just won a special election to replace Kirsten Gillibrand, who had been appointed to the U.S. Senate. Saranac Lake is split between the two districts.
In an acknowledgement of dysfunction in her own party, Little called for an “open process” and polling as GOP leaders begin choosing a candidate to replace McHugh. The Republicans must pick a person who can win the seat, not just a person who wants it, or else the party could be redistricted out of the state, she warned. In the 20th District party leaders reached over Little to select James Tedisco, the opportunistic former assembly minority leader, who did not reside in the district.
Congratulating St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation Center in Saranac Lake for being named one of the top 20 places to work in New York State, Assemblywoman Duprey added, “Where we’re working is not.”
A week ago today, state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis effectively reopened Old Mountain Road between North Elba (Route 73) and Keene (Shackett Road / Route 40) in Essex County. According to surveys made in 1893-1894 (here, and here), the road had been abandoned since the 19th century; it was believed to have been officially closed when the Sentinel Wilderness Area UMP was ratified in 1974. Beginning in 1986 part of the road has been maintained as the popular 35-mile long Jackrabbit Trail by the Adirondack Ski Touring Council. The Grannis decision was forced by Lake Placid Snowmobile Club President James McCulley who drove his truck down the trail in May of 2005 and was ticketed (he previously beat a 2003 ticket for doing the same thing with his snowmobile). An agency administrative judge later found that the road had never been closed properly (it required public hearings). » Continue Reading.
Five years ago only a third of the 1,000 households in the town of Keene had broadband Internet service. By the end of this year John LaFountaine, lineman for Keene Valley Video (KVVI), the town’s locally owned Internet service provider, expects to string high-speed fiber-optic cable to 90 percent of the homes in the hamlets of Keene, Keene Valley and St. Huberts.
If you live inside the broadband bubble it can be hard to grasp that there are still people out there whose service disconnects or grinds on for ten minutes if someone tries to e-mail them a photograph. But a lot of Adirondackers are still in a dial-up world (there is no parkwide estimate of the number). A few years ago a coalition of Keene residents, school officials, parents and KVVI teamed up to try to figure out how to keep school enrollment strong, how to keep KVVI in business despite a small customer base, and how to wire the town. Their thinking was that with broadband access, more families with school-age children would be able to move to Keene and work from home, and that their own kids wouldn’t have to leave to find work.
Senator Betty Little helped obtain a $100,000 state economic development grant to purchase equipment, and yesterday townspeople and a selected handful of Keene Central School students thanked her in a little ceremony at the Keene Town Hall.
Because of its mountainous topography Keene chose to run state-of-the-art fiber-optic cable house to house, and some other Adirondack towns are looking at using towers to beam wireless signals to far-flung homes. Keene organizers hope their project might serve as an example for other mountain communities trying to expand network access. “We’re ahead of the curve on this,” volunteer Jim Herman said. “This is Keene at its finest. So many people worked together to make this possible.” The first phase of the project will cost about $300,000; $200,000 of that amount has been raised privately, much of it from seasonal residents, and KVVI has donated labor.