CAPITOL -- The state Senate on Wednesday approved a slate of new appointments and re-nominations to the board of the Adirondack Park Agency, restoring that board as the Adirondacks face issues, including overuse in the High Peaks region.
The slate, which included people with environmental backgrounds as well as local government backgrounds, appeared to strike a balance that was acceptable to both local officials and most environmental organizations.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office made the nominations this week, after years of not filling vacancies or allowing members to continue to serve even though their terms had expired. The 11-member board has been down three members due to resignations for more than a year.
“With all things in life, balance is so important," said state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, who represents most of the Adirondacks. "I am confident we have a really good blend of local government and environmental perspectives and thank Governor Cuomo and his staff for their thoughtful nominations. We have some long-term experience on the board and now some new faces, which is great."
Little is retiring at the end of this year after nearly 20 years in the state Senate, in which she served on the Environmental Conservation Committee. "While I won’t be serving in office as this board does its work in the years ahead, I am looking forward to continuing to follow the APA and seeing how these individuals collaborate to help lead the Adirondack Park in a positive direction.”
Currently, the APA board has no chairperson, after acting chairwoman Karen Feldman resigned more than a year ago in a compensation dispute. Of the eight citizen members of the APA board, nominations were needed to fill three vacant seats, and four expired terms.
The nominees included environmental scientist Zoe Smith of Saranac Lake; former town of Fine supervisor Mark Hall; Johnsburg Town Supervisor Andrea Hogan; and Ken Lynch, an attorney and recently retired director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation region covering central New York. Lake Placid resort owner Art Lussi and former Lake Pleasant town supervisor Dan Wilt, who were serving on expired terms, will get new terms.
Also re-nominated to a new term was Elk Lake Lodge owner and environmental philanthropist John Ernst of Manhattan. Retired state College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry professor Chad Dawson’s term doesn’t expire until June 30, and environmental groups hope he will also be renominated, though he hasn't yet been.
In 2019, the Cuomo administration nominated four people, including Hogan and Lynch, but the state Senate ultimately adjourned for the year without acting on those nominations -- leading to the larger slate being nominated this year.
“We urged Governor Cuomo and the Senate to appoint and confirm a full and diverse slate that combined new and returning candidates including conservationists with experience in land use, planning, environmental science, wilderness management and conservation law, who would together improve the Park Agency,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “We are thankful. No one got everything they wanted, but everyone benefits from a full board with diversity and that is what we got.”
“This is much improved over the options the Senate was given in 2019, which was an incomplete slate of candidates,” said Michael Barrett, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. “Last year’s list contained some good people, but it was not possible to judge how the whole board would look. This time is different. This list contains people with many of the skills that we were hoping to see on the board, and we look forward to working with them all to sustain the success of the Adirondack Park for everyone.”
The APA, which is based in Ray Brook, is responsible for protection of the state forest preserve, and overseeing development proposals for private lands in the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park.
Among the issues facing the agency are the extent of use in the High Peaks region in recent years, which has caused DEC to crack down on roadside parking at trailheads, required DEC rangers to conduct more search and rescue operations, and raised concerns among public officials and environmentalists about the damage being done to the fragile alpine environments and the user experience.