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Two prominent state commissioners leaving

Two prominent state commissioners leaving

Seggos and Harvey each served Cuomo administration for years
Two prominent state commissioners leaving
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos makes a land agreement announcement on May 22, 2017.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

CAPITOL -- The heads of two state agencies with major presences in the Capital Region have announced plans to leave in the wake of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's re-election to a third term.

Basil Seggos will be stepping down as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation at an unannounced date, while Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Rose Harvey will also be leaving. The two "green" agencies are headquartered in the same building in downtown Albany.

Seggos has held the $136,000-salary post since 2015, after serving in Cuomo's office as deputy secretary for the environment. Harvey has headed the state parks office since early in the Cuomo administration. No replacements have been announced for either commissioner.

At DEC, Seggos headed one of the largest state agencies, with nearly 3,000 employees. It also has an outsize presence in the Adirondacks, as day-to-day manager of nearly 3 million acres of state-owned land.

During Seggos' term, the state completed acquisition of the Boreas Ponds property in the Adirondacks, and went through controversial processes to classify that land, with debate between wilderness advocates and those who wanted more motorized recreational access. Seggos also oversaw environmental cleanups, including the state's response to industrial chemical water supply contamination in Hoosick Falls.

"He will leave a legacy of fierce loyalty to the governor and the governor's vision of being more fierce and aggressive in protecting environment, protecting people's health, but also in reaching out to communities," said William C. Janeway, executive director of The Adirondack Council, an environmental preservation group.

Janeway said he worked with Seggos for about two years, when Seggos was in the governor's office and Janeway was director of DEC Region 3, in the lower Hudson Valley and Catskills. The men have also worked together -- though sometimes butting heads -- since Janeway joined the Adirondack Council in 2013.

"Basil looked for ways to be pragmatic, because that is what the governor wanted," Janeway said. "He's been results-oriented in protecting the environment and also in trying to address concerns of communities because that's what the governor wanted."

Local governments in the Adirondacks, who at times in the past have felt their concerns with economic development and allowing disabled access to public lands weren't considered, were generally pleased with Seggos.

"He has been very open to discussions with local government. ... We would hope the next commissioner has a similar policy," said Fred Monroe, former executive director and now communications director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board.

"I think the governor obviously ultimately set the policy, but I think Basil as deputy secretary for the environment influenced the governor's thinking, and he continued to do that at DEC," Monroe said. "He has always taken the difficult path of listening to all the competing interests, and then trying to come up with compromise solutions."

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said Seggos' legacy will be a weakening of environmental protection laws in the Adirondacks, so that motor vehicles are allowed in some primitive areas, snowmobile trails have been expanded on state land, and the independence of the Adirondack Park Agency from DEC has been undermined.

"Protect the Adirondacks hopes that the next DEC commissioner will show fidelity to New York's environmental laws, respect the independence of the Adirondack Park Agency for management of the Forest Preserve, make new critical investments in the High Peaks Wilderness, and strengthen not weaken the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan," Bauer said in a statement.

In addition to its prominent role in the Adirondacks and Catskill parks, DEC oversees programs that promote clean air, land and water; combat climate change; regulate energy generation; and promote clean energy, enforce state environmental laws, respond to disasters, manage natural resources, and support hunting, fishing, hiking and boating.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation overseen by Harvey is also prominent in the Capital Region, as manager of Saratoga Spa State Park, John Boyd Thatcher Park in Albany County, and a historic preservation center at Peebles Island State Park in Waterford.

Harvey confirmed her departure, but hasn't set a definite date.

"I feel confident that after nearly eight years of putting Governor Cuomo's bold vision for the state park system into action, I will be leaving it much better prepared to meet the needs of 21st Century park visitors," Harvey said in a statement. "I look forward to staying into the new year and assisting with the transition."

She said highlights of her tenure include the $900 million NY Parks 2020 modernization, park visitorship rising to 71.5 million last year, the opening of new state parks, and work -- now underway -- on the Empire State Trail plan for 750 miles of connected bicycle and recreation trails across the state. She also highlighted the Historic Tax Credit, which her office said has spurred $3 billion in private investment in historic commercial properties.

The commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation earns $126,651 annually.

No timeline has been set for the replacement of either Seggos or Harvey.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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