The Iowa-Pacific rail company took state officials and environmental activists by surprise in July when it unveiled a plan to store hundreds of drained oil-tanker cars on its tracks near Tahawus on the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness.
Ed Ellis, the president of Iowa Pacific, says revenue from storing the cars will help keep afloat its tourist train, the Saratoga & North Creek Railway, which has been losing money. Critics contend Iowa Pacific is creating a quasi-junkyard in the Adirondack Park. » Continue Reading.
Regional efforts to control the spread of invasive species in the Adirondacks are making advances recently. The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has approved two general permits relating to invasive species. At the same time, Warren County has approved a Framework Agreement for a region-wide aquatic invasive species plan that could mean expanded voluntary boat inspections.
APA General Permits 2015G-1 and 2014G-1A authorize a rapid response to both aquatic and terrestrial invasive species throughout the Adirondack Park by qualified and trained persons. These general permits approve eradication efforts both on a park-wide scale as well as for individual waterbodies or specific locations.
At the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) monthly meeting in September, Fred Monroe of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board made some very confusing statements about transferable development rights, or TDR.
He expressed the notion that annually leased hunting and fishing cabins on the former Finch Pryun lands constitute a guaranteed building right which can be transferred elsewhere “for affordable housing and for facilities needed for tourism.” The state’s acquisition of these lands for the public implies a loss of forestry jobs and taxes, he argued, which should be compensated by transferring building “density” to help the local tax base somewhere else. He further confused matters by stating that eventual loss of some of these camps would deprive Newcomb, for example, of places to stay overnight. » Continue Reading.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent commitment to acquire 69,000 acres of the former Finch Pruyn lands for the publicly-owned NYS Forest Preserve over the next several years completes a 161,000-acre conservation project of national and global importance.
Conservation of the paper company’s lands was a topic fifty years ago this summer when Paul Schaefer had an interesting conversation with then Finch Pruyn Company President Lyman Beeman. Both were members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Natural Resources then studying Adirondack forests. » Continue Reading.
The state’s newly signed contract to buy sixty-nine thousand acres of former Finch Paper lands won’t end the controversy over the future of these forests, lakes, and rivers. The next battle will be over their classification: Wilderness or Wild Forest?
Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed Sunday that the state will acquire the land over the next five years, adding it to the Forest Preserve and paying the Adirondack Nature Conservancy a total of $49.8 million.
The governor’s announcement in Lake Placid put to rest any doubts about the state’s intentions. Some political leaders in the Adirondack Park had been lobbying the state to protect the land with conservation easements rather than add it to the Forest Preserve. This option would have allowed logging to continue and hunting clubs to remain as leaseholders. » Continue Reading.
The Warren County Board of Supervisors has voted almost unanimously to pass an invasive species transport law following a public hearing. The law, which took effect immediately, makes the introduction and transport of aquatic invasive species into Warren County waterbodies illegal.
It is the first county law of its kind to pass in New York State. The law imposes a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 15 days in jail for violators. Chestertown Supervisor and Executive Director of the Local Government Review Board Fred Monroe was the only supervisor to oppose the measure saying the penalties were too harsh. » Continue Reading.
One of the local officials who supported an investigation of the Adirondack Nature Conservancy’s sale of land to the state says he still thinks the state’s land-acquisition policy needs to be reformed–even though the probe found no wrongdoing.
Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, continues to question why the state paid $3.7 million more for the land in 2008 than the Nature Conservancy paid four years earlier. » Continue Reading.
Commendations to the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for its recently released Policy Perspective found on their website [pdf]. It is a substantive policy update and, for a government report, a pretty strong communication piece to the general public as well as to “stakeholders.”
What I especially liked about the APA report and Chairman Stiles cover letter are that:
A. They strongly make the case that the environmental quality of the Adirondack Park is a fundamental prerequisite to a stronger economy.
B. They state in several places APA’s fundamental statutory purpose, upheld by older and very recent court decisions, which is “to serve a supervening state concern transcending local interests.”
The only problem is it’s reactive, not proactive, genesis. The restrained but pointed cover letter from APA Chairman Curt Stiles to Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board (LGRB) Executive Director Fred Monroe makes it clear that Policy Perspective is in reaction to the LGRB paper released two weeks earlier under the kind of catchy headline most nonprofit advocacy groups dream of using, APA: Under the Influence and in Need of Detoxification.
Now, which report do you think the media covered? You’re right! Under the Influence wins the coverage. Of course, LGRB led with its report, and APA reacted, which makes one hope that the APA could be more proactive, and issue substantive annual policy updates about what they are doing to fulfill their mandate.
Section 804 of the APA Act requires the Agency to “report periodically to the governor and the legislature on the conduct of its activities but no less than once a year, furnishing a copy of each such report to the clerk of the county legislative body of each county…and to the review board.” The APA’s published annual reports have probably fulfilled this minimum requirement, but in all honesty these tend not to be overly substantive.
LGRB’s Under the Influence admirably served its statutory purpose of “periodically reporting” about the administration and enforcement of the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan to “the Governor and the Legislature, and to the country legislative body of each of the counties.” Of course, I take issue with much of what the LGRB reports says, and how it says it.
In terms of content, I’ll select just three of the many topics covered in these reports:
1. Does the APA, as the LGRB alleges, sneakily expand its authority by secretly issuing regulations at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve? No. I remember the exhausting TAL (Technical Advisory List) meetings of APA stakeholders following the 1995 report of the Task Force on the Administration of the APA. If there was ever a never-ending “stakeholder” review process on regulations, APA demonstrated it from that day to this. LGRB attended every one of those meetings, and influenced the outcomes. Then, Governor Pataki introduced GORR, the governor’s office of regulatory reform. Every draft APA regulation undergoes months of additional scrutiny.
As to the 2010 boathouse regulation (which was under review for nearly a decade), at the last moment APA bent over backwards for developers, wealthier shore land owners, and the LGRB. The regulation should have been far stronger on behalf of all the other critters that use the shoreline, but who don’t answer to the word “stakeholder.”
2. Is there truly “no official local government role in the APA appointment process?” That is what the LGRB claims. Actually, LGRB has pretty effective influence, as the evidence bears out. All eight citizen commissioners must be confirmed by the State Senate. In thinking about the late Senator Stafford and now Senator Little, it’s hard to say that the Adirondack local government interests are poorly represented in that elected body. And many of those confirmations have been for deeply rooted Adirondackers. John Stock of Tupper Lake served the APA for decades. John was the chief forester for Litchfield Park and I remember the pride with which local leaders viewed his participation on the agency. Former APA Chairs John Collins and Bob Flacke were deeply involved with affairs in Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake and Lake George respectively, and still are. Today, former Johnsburg Town Supervisor Bill Thomas, Lake Pleasant Town Supervisor Frank Mezzano, Webb activist Lani Ulrich, and North Elba businessman Art Lussi comprise four of the eight citizen APA members and all enjoy strong local government support.
The Town of Minerva’s viewpoint apparently didn’t matter to the LGRB. Minerva voted to endorse Gov. Paterson’s nomination of Pete Hornbeck, one of that Town’s esteemed residents, a former member of its planning board and a successful businessman. LGRB didn’t like that nomination, and Senator Little has so far blocked Hornbeck’s confirmation.
Twelve years ago the LGRB was given a non-voting role at the APA table each month, and invited to comment on every agenda item at every meeting. Other organizations and individuals, lacking a statutory role, wait for Friday afternoons every month to communicate in person to the Agency.
Requiring the governor to select solely from a list of people endorsed by local governments in the Park would be dismissive of the interest all New Yorkers have for consideration of people with a broad array of talents, life experiences and motivations to uphold the intent of the APA Act.
3. Are APA enforcement fines against violators regularly unfair and egregious, as LGRB alleges? No. First, there are many potential violations out there, and only a handful of enforcement officers. The facts in APA’s report suggests that most violators who come to the agency’s attention want to do the right thing, and most APA enforcement staff want to work with these people in a respectful, fair and personal manner to heal environmental damage. Civil penalties in 2009 ranged from $100 to $4,000. LGRB hardly makes a strong fairness case here. The cases LGRB raises concern not the “little guy,” but a few high profile landowners whose purpose is to wage a legal and public relations campaign against the APA.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into the state’s purchase of Lyon Mountain and nearby lands from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy stems from a perception—fostered by the New York Post—that the state overpaid for the property.
It’s easy to see how suspicions might arise. The Nature Conservancy paid $6.3 million for the twenty thousand acres in 2004 and sold it to the state four years later for $9.8 million.
A $3.5 million profit, right?
Well, not so fast. The conservancy says it spent $3.4 million in taxes, interest, and other “carrying costs.” If these are taken into account, the organization made only $100,000 on the deal. Nevertheless, the conservancy says the state did not factor the carrying costs into the purchase price. Yet Fred Monroe, executive director of the Local Government Review Board, is not so sure. It was Monroe who tipped off the Post to the story.
In an interview with the Adirondack Explorer last week, Monroe suggested that the state could have inflated the price without the conservancy’s knowledge, out of a sense of obligation to its partner in land preservation.
Of course, this would require that one or more of the state’s appraisers were in on the fix. But perhaps it needn’t have been an outright conspiracy. Appraising is not an exact science. As Monroe notes, an appraiser can place an estimate on the low end or high end of a range in accord with his client’s interest. Thus, the appraiser for the homeowner is likely to come up with a higher appraisal for a house than the appraiser for the potential buyer.
The difference in the Nature Conservancy deal is that the buyer (the state) presumably wanted a high appraisal.
If we accept all this, there is still a problem with Monroe’s theory.
As it turns out, the conservancy says it hired Fountain Forestry to appraise the twenty thousand acres in 2004. Since the conservancy was buying the property, we can assume, following Monroe’s own logic, that the appraiser would low-ball the estimate.
Fountain’s appraisal: $9.1 million.
That’s $300,000 higher than LandVest, one of the appraisers hired by the state, valued the property in 2008, four years later. The state’s other appraiser, the Sewall Company, applied different criteria and came up with an estimate of $11 million—or $1.2 million more than the state ended up paying.
So we have three professional appraisals from private companies, ranging from $8.8 million to $11 million.
What’s more, an expert in the state Department of Environmental Conservation critiqued the LandVest and Sewall appraisals and came up with his own estimate of the land’s value: $9.5 million. Then a second DEC expert reviewed the two companies’ appraisals again and his colleague’s critique and came up with yet another estimate: $9.8 million. This is what the state paid.
That gives us five appraisals. The purchase price, though based on the fourth-highest appraisal, falls in the middle of the range.
The question remains: if the property was appraised at $9.1 million in 2004, why did the Nature Conservancy pay only $6.3 million?
There is a simple explanation. The appraisal looked at the property in isolation. In fact, the Nature Conservancy acquired the land as part of a three-way transaction involving 104,000 acres owned by Domtar Industries. The conservancy bought twenty thousand acres, and Lyme Timber bought the rest. Given the scale of the transaction, the conservancy was able to negotiate a lower price—a wholesale price, if you will.
Furthermore, Domtar and Lyme might have been willing to cut the conservancy a good deal as a reward for brokering the transaction. The New York Post story that prompted Cuomo’s inquiry didn’t delve into any of these details. It merely assumed, based on the difference between the two selling prices, that the conservancy pocketed a huge profit at taxpayer expense.
The Post‘s assumption seems overly simplistic. Nevertheless, we now have a state investigation. Of course, it will be the taxpayers who will be paying for that.
Photo from Lyon Mountain’s summit taken by Phil Brown.
The New York State Senate introduced three measures, advanced by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), which the APA argues will “benefit the Park, its residents and improve overall APA efficiency.” The three bills hope to address the issue of affordable housing, to establish regular funding for local planning efforts, streamline the project review process, and expand flexibility for transferring development rights.
Regular APA critic Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, is first out of the box to question the affordable housing plan. The bill would encourage community housing projects within a three-mile radius of APA-designated hamlets (shown in the map above). In an interview with the Plattsburgh Press Republican Monroe says that that 31 of the 92 towns in the Adirondacks do not have APA-designated hamlets. A look at the map shows he’s exaggerating a bit, as only about a dozen of those towns have any real acreage inside the park and several of those are some of the park’s most remote.
Monroe wants the new law’s hamlet designation to include those areas locally considered hamlet, not just APA-designated hamlets, which are downtowns and population centers where local zoning holds sway. Monroe is the Supervisor of the Town of Chester and Chair of the Warren County Board of Supervisors; Chester and Warren County have some of the highest numbers of APA designated hamlets of all the park’s municipalities. About 3/4 of the Town of Chester would fall into the new designation, enabling development for affordable housing purposes almost anywhere in town.
Here is a description of the three bills from an APA press release (I have pdf briefing documents for anyone interested – drop me a note):
Bill S.3367 would increase affordable housing opportunities within the Adirondack Park on land best suited to sustain a higher density of development. The lack of adequate affordable housing is a problem that must be solved to retain year-round families and ensure community sustainability.
Bill S.3366 would establish a Local Government Planning Grant Program administered by the APA. This would result in steady funding for local government planning initiatives. Grant funding would be sustained through civil penalties, settlement agreements and application fees collected by the APA.
Bill S.3361 would modify the Agency’s project review process to improve Agency efficiencies and reduce unnecessary burden and expense to applicants. This bill would also result in expanded flexibility for transferring development rights. Transferring development potential from more restrictive APA land use areas into less restrictive areas can balance protection of the Park’s unique natural resources with the growing demand for increased development opportunities on land capable of sustaining higher density development.
Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), chairman of the finance committee, introduced the affordable housing bill, which proposes a four-to-one density bonus for community housing built for seniors, low income and workforce population.
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