The state Senate has confirmed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's appointment of two new state Adirondack Park Agency commissioners.
The Park's environmental advocates are divided on the two new members - Hudson political consultant Karen Feldman and Lake Pleasant business owner Daniel Wilt. The Adirondack Council welcomed them, but Protect the Adirondacks skewered the governor's new appointees to the agency, as well as the reappointment of three current APA board members, saying the governor has made a "weak board even weaker.
"There is not an environmentalist within five miles of (Cuomo's) nominations," Protect Executive Director Peter Bauer said in a Wednesday press release. "The governor has said the Adirondack Park is open for business, and this group of APA board members will single-mindedly implement the governor's wishes."
The new commissioners told the Enterprise Thursday that people shouldn't be so quick to judge them.
"They don't know me at all," Feldman said. "It's my job to uphold the law. But to draw any conclusions about who I am or put a label on me, at this point I think is a little premature."
Wilt said he wants to work with the Park's environmental groups and anyone else who may be concerned about the perspective he brings to the agency.
"I have great hopes to be able to work with these people and maybe to get a better understanding of what they're thinking, and hopefully they get a better understanding of what I'm thinking," he said.
Feldman and Wilt are replacing two veteran APA commissioners. Feldman will take the out-of-Park seat held by Cecil Wray, a New York City attorney who stepped down last week after 14 years on the agency board. Wilt will replace former Lake Pleasant supervisor Frank Mezzano, who's been on the board for 15 years in two different stints.
The Senate also confirmed Cuomo's reappointment of current agency Chairwoman Lani Ulrich of Old Forge and commissioners Art Lussi of Lake Placid and Bill Thomas of Johnsburg.
Bauer told the Enterprise Thursday the appointments will bring "more of the same" to the agency board.
"We know what Bill Thomas, Art Lussi and Lani Ulrich's track record has been," he said. "It has been very much, 'The Park is open for business, all business' agenda. The other individuals, Mr. Wilt and Ms. Feldman, are to a good degree unknown. Because they're unknown and they don't have strong environmental credentials, it's concerning."
Bauer said the new commissioners were cleared by Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, who he said has too much influence on the process.
"It's clear that Senator Little has veto power, and the governor would not have put through people unless they were hand-picked by Senator Little," Bauer said. "The governor inherited a weak APA board that was not known for vigorous debate, vigorous discussion or, outside of one lone voice, having strong environmental views. The APA board is not balanced."
Bauer said Commissioner Richard Booth, who's often been the lone dissenting voice on the board, is the only one "who puts the energy and independence of thought to look carefully at the law when it comes to private land use and development and Forest Preserve policy."
The Adirondack Council welcomed Wilt and Feldman to the board and said it was pleased with the renomination of Ulrich, Lussi and Thomas.
However, spokesman John Sheehan said in an email that the group is disappointed Cuomo didn't renominate Booth, saying he has "served the APA very well and deserves another term." Booth is a Cornell University planning professor and former Adirondack Council board member. His term expired in June of last year.
The appointments were also supported by the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board. Its director, Fred Monroe, said Feldman has a good sense of the needs of communities and businesses in the Adirondacks. He said she is very knowledgeable about land acquisition, classification and private land stewardship issues in the Adirondacks, and "brings a perspective that I think we'd agree with for the most part."
Monroe said Wilt had been recommended by his group and the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages. He said Wilt will bring a business perspective to the board, but he also described him as someone who is very concerned about the environment.
"They're required to follow the law, and I believe Karen knows that and will do that, and I think Dan will as well," Monroe said. "You have a fairly strong counsel, I would say with more environmental leanings, with Jim Townsend in that role. He knows the APA regulations and the State Land Master Plan very well, and I think he will give advice with respect to the need to follow the law."
Raised in Massachusetts, Feldman moved to Florida when she was a teenager. She received her undergraduate degree from Yale University and her law degree from the University of Miami. She worked as a lawyer in New York City from 1983 to 1994, when she became executive director for the Women's Tennis Association Tour Players Association. She left the organization in the late 1990s.
Since then, Feldman has worked as a political consultant, primarily for Democratic candidates including current U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gilibrand, former U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (when she ran for a Senate seat in New York), former U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy and former New York Attorney General candidate Denise O'Donnell, among others. She's lived in Hudson, in Columbia County, since 2004.
Feldman has been coming to the Adirondacks for the last 15 years. She and her partner, Adirondack Landowners Association head Tom Williams, own property in Schroon Lake and in Hamilton County. She has also helped organize retreats in the Adirondacks for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Feldman said she pursued getting on the APA board.
"Spending so much time up there and becoming familiar with people who live, work and visit there, it gave me a real understanding of a lot of the issues, and I felt I could make a positive difference in trying to build consensus and educating people about what the issues are," she said.
Asked if she considers herself an environmentalist, Feldman said "probably we're all environmentalists.
"If the definition of an environmentalist is you have respect for the land and you want to make sure it's not adversely affected but at the same time give people an opportunity to live and work, then I think I'm an environmentalist," Feldman said.
Wilt runs Wilt Industries, a five-person company based in Lake Pleasant that manufactures equipment for scientific glass blowing for the semiconductor industry, the solar industry and environmental testing. The company was founded in the Albany area but relocated to Lake Pleasant in 1980. Before the move, Wilt said he spent summers and weekends in the Speculator-Mount Pleasant-Piseco area.
"I love the Adirondacks," he said. "It's a great place to live, there's a lot of things to do, and it's probably the most beautiful place in the world."
Wilt has served on the North Country Regional Economic Development Council since it was created nearly three years ago.
"I think, if done correctly, there could be an opportunity for more business in the Adirondacks," he said. "I know there's a lot of people who feel the same way but don't feel they could operate under the conditions there are now. I'd like to do some convincing or make some minor changes to see if that would be possible."
Wilt is also a member of the Lake Pleasant-Sacandaga Association and has been a member and chairman of the town of Arietta Zoning Board of Appeals. In his free time, he plays golf, downhill skis and enjoys boating.
The Enterprise interviewed Wilt Wednesday before his appointment was confirmed. Given that, he said he wasn't comfortable discussing the circumstances of how his name came to the governor or any Park-related issues.
The new commissioners won't take their seats until early August when the next APA board meeting is scheduled to take place. The board's July meeting has been canceled.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.