ALBANY — A former Franklin County legislator and state economic development official is the new executive director of the Adirondack Park Agency.
The APA Board of Directors approved the appointment of Barbara Rice on Thursday.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement of the decision emphasized Rice’s extensive background in government administration, land use planning and development. A non-profit organization devoted to environmental stewardship of the region noted that Rice will be the latest in a series of directors who were politicians or businesspeople rather than environmental professionals.
Rice will replace Executive Director Terry Martino, who is retiring Feb. 23 after more than 12 years of service.
Rice has been a village trustee in her hometown, Saranac Lake; a member of the Franklin County Legislature and the first woman to be its chair; an APA board member; and a member of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.
Most recently, she was Hochul’s assistant secretary for economic development, in which role she oversaw expansion of broadband internet access, supervised $265 million in capital projects through the Olympic Regional Development Authority in preparation for the 2023 World University Games and helped launch the Upstate Cellular Task Force.
In a news release, APA Board Chair John Ernst said: “As a third-generation business owner and dedicated public servant, Barb has the practical experience and proven management skills necessary to successfully advance the mission of the Adirondack Park Agency.”
Asked Thursday about some of the issues facing the region and the agency, Rice told The Gazette via email:
“The Adirondack Park faces many of the same challenges confronting rural communities across the nation. The need for adequate public infrastructure in our hamlet areas is critical to ensure community sustainability, economic diversification and strong environmental protection for the unique natural resources of the Park. I look forward to working with all Park stakeholders to assess infrastructure needs and prioritize regional planning issues in anticipation of the passage of Governor Hochul’s proposed environment bond act.
“Passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act would provide critical resources for Adirondack communities to address public water and wastewater systems, assist homeowners with replacing aging onsite septic systems that threaten water quality, support the need to reengineer storm water infrastructure to adequately address the environmental impacts of Climate Change and help transition us to green energy sources.”
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said Rice is up to the task ahead of her.
“We are confident that she understands the park agency,” he said Thursday. “We believe that she understands the vital nature of the park agency’s mission to protect the environment.”
Sheehan said the council is hoping for a change of stance by the APA on certain types of housing development.
“One of the big concerns we have right away is the agency hasn’t done much to update its toolbox for dealing with large subdivisions,” he said.
A recent, controversial project in Tupper Lake and several others followed the model of suburban subdivisions, with large lot sizes around bodies of water.
The APA already has the power to force cluster development in such situations but has not done so, Sheehan said. That’s a concern, as ringing a pond or lake with a large-lot subdivision puts the water body in danger of degradation, he said.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks!, said Thursday: “We hope she will take a hard look at the agency’s performance over the past several years.”
APA needs to embrace transparency and opennesses and needs to make reforms, he said.
“It’s been a long time since the APA had a bona fide environmental professional running it,” Bauer added. A number of previous directors were politically connected or worked in economic development, he said.
“Barbara Rice is someone who checks both of those boxes.”