Brian Houseal will step down this fall after 10 years as executive director of the Adirondack Council.
Houseal told the Enterprise Thursday that his second, five-year contract with the environmental advocacy group will expire at the end of October, and he's decided it's time for a change.
"This is my decision," he said. "It's just a good time to shift onto some other opportunities, both personally and professionally. I'll stay in the environmental field. I've got a couple more acts in my career before I'm done."
Brian Houseal speaks in March 2011 in Tupper Lake at a hearing regarding the Adirondack Club and Resort.
(Enterprise file photo — Jessica Collier)
Houseal will remain in his current position until the end of October, according to a press release from the council. At that point the council's deputy director, Diane Fish of Lake Placid, will become acting executive director while the board conducts a national search for Houseal's replacement.
"The council has been privileged to have Brian Houseal as our executive director for the last 10 years," Ann Carmel, chair of the council's board of directors, said in the release. "He has exhibited leadership and innovation on so many issues affecting the environment and the communities of the Adirondack Park. He is leaving the council in a strong position as it continues to face issues affecting this magical park."
Houseal described his 10 years with the council as "a very stimulating and fun experience." His biggest accomplishment, he said, was working to improve ties between environmental and economic interests in the Park as a co-founder of the Common Ground Alliance.
"I think that I've been able to move the needle a bit in the dialogue in the Adirondacks from the council being just in the environmental department to it being in the solutions department for the communities of the Park," Houseal said. "I knew coming in, from my international work (in establishing parks and wilderness areas in Mexico and South America), that you can't protect a 6-million-acre area unless you take into account the basic needs and aspirations of people who live there. It took a long time to move that concept forward, but I'm confident we've done that."
Houseal said he's tried to shape the council into a moderate voice in the Park.
"The core of the Adirondack Council is the 'forever wild' clause, and to us that's like a true-north compass bearing. You don't abandon that," Houseal said. "But you also think about solutions that benefit the community of the Park and its economies."
The council touted several other accomplishments during Houseal's leadership, including its support for legislation to curb power plant emissions that cause acid rain and mercury pollution in Adirondack lakes, and its efforts to preserve federal funding for long-term acid rain research in the Park.
The council also pushed New York and nine other Northeast states to create the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative during Houseal's tenure. The council subsequently became the first environmental organization to participate in a government-mandated carbon auction. The group says it and its supporters have retired more than 12,000 tons to date.
The council also noted two state constitutional amendments it lobbied for that improved Adirondack communities' infrastructure. Such amendments require approval votes by two separately elected legislatures and by voters statewide.
In 2007, the council worked with officials in Long Lake to promote an amendment allowing the hamlet of Raquette Lake to secure a supply of potable water for its residents. The council also credited Houseal with helping negotiate an amendment in 2009 that allowed a new power supply line for Tupper Lake to cross state Forest Preserve lands alongside state Route 56 in the town of Colton, instead of sending the lines on a longer path through private, well-preserved backcountry land.
Houseal also was at the council's helm during the state Adirondack Park Agency's review of the controversial Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake, which was approved earlier this year. The council supported the agency's decision while other environmentalists in the Park did not.
Looking forward, Houseal said there are many things left undone, including reforms to the Park Agency's rules and regulations, improving water quality in the Park and revitalizing local communities. He said the council will continue to have a role in those and other important issues.
"As people across the globe look to our Adirondack Park as an ongoing experiment in how conservation can adapt, evolve and be strengthened, I see the Adirondack Council as an organization with a bright future, one whose influence will extend far beyond the Blue Line."
Town of Morehouse Supervisor Bill Farber, a past president of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, said he hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with Houseal but praised him for "changing the Adirondack debate to an Adirondack discussion.
"He has been pretty forward thinking, as has the council board, in terms of his ability to look at issues, look at the communities, take a step back and say, 'If this great experiment is going to survive, what needs to happen in the communities to make them successful?'" Farber said. "Some of the stances that Brian and the council have taken over the last couple of years, like on the ACR project, have been pretty courageous when you look at the backdrop of where the debate has historically been. It's much easier to stand on the outside and be a critic than it is to look for solutions."
Farber encouraged the Council to find a replacement for Houseal who will bring that same kind of approach to the Adirondack discussion.
APA Chairwoman Lani Ulrich extended her appreciation to Houseal for working "tirelessly to protect the Park's magnificent wild places, build consensus amongst stakeholders and expand economic opportunities.
"Through our work together building the Common Ground Alliance, I witnessed first hand the passion Mr. Houseal holds in his heart for this special place," Ulrich said in a prepared statement. "I believe his achievements while executive director of the Adirondack Council helped blaze a trail to a greater prosperity for the Adirondack Park where solutions for the environment, economy and community meet."
Houseal won't leave the Adirondacks. He said he and his wife will continue to live in Westport.
Houseal's pending departure from the Adirondack environmental community comes as another prominent environmentalist prepares to rejoin the debate. Peter Bauer, former director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and more recently director of the Fund for Lake George, will take over in September as executive director of Protect the Adirondacks.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.