APA board nominations fall by wayside

Governor nominates 4 board members, including Brian McDonnell of Paul Smiths, but Senate ends session without confirming them

Brian McDonnell speaks at the finish line of 2016’s Adirondack Canoe Classic. He manages the race, also known as the 90-Miler. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

RAY BROOK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated four people to the state Adirondack Park Agency board — including a Lake Clear business owner — but some holdup in Albany means the agency will conduct business without a full board for the rest of this year at least.

APA board members are nominated by the governor and approved by the state Senate for four-year terms. Currently, APA board member Chad Dawson is serving a valid term while Dan Wilt’s term will expire on June 30. Art Lussi and John Ernst have been serving on expired terms for two years and there are numerous openings on the board, including the chair after Karen Feldman resigned in May over a pay dispute. Dawson’s term does not expire until June 30 next year.

MAC’s Canoe Livery owner and Paul Smiths resident Brian McDonnell, former town of Fine Supervisor Mark Hall, Johnsburg town Supervisor Andrea Hogan and Onondaga County’s Ken Lynch have all been put forward, according to Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau. A Cuomo administration official confirmed that the governor’s office has sent those four nominees to the Senate, but said he is unsure why the nominations have been held up.

The administration official added that Lussi, Wilt and Ernst are expected to continue to serve, but the trio was not officially nominated by the governor. He had initially said the governor had nominated these three along with the other four, but later he corrected that. He requested anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly on the subject. Another Albany insider also confirmed the four nominations, but also requested anonymity.

The Senate’s legislative session ended Wednesday, and environmental groups are lamenting the lack of action on APA nominations, as are local government officials. The APA board is made up of 11 individuals, with eight appointed by the governor. The other three are representatives of the state departments of State, Environmental Conservation and Economic Development.

Ken Lynch speaks at the dedication of the Onondaga Lake boat launch in April this year. (Provided photo — New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

The APA board has been down members for more than a year, following the resignations of Barb Rice and former chair Sherman Craig. The third opening was created last month, when acting chair Feldman resigned after nearly a year at the head of the table.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky, chair of the senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee that handles APA board nominations, did not respond to requests for comment as of press time, but his staff confirmed that only four nominations were sent to the committee.

The Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild issued a joint statement calling on Cuomo to provide a full and balanced slate of APA nominees.

“Well into his ninth year in office, Gov. Cuomo has squarely run the Adirondack Park Agency into the ground,” Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks said in the release. “The APA is at the weakest point in its history. The governor has refused to strengthen the APA board with people with professional experiences in the fields of environmental law, environmental science and regional planning. Instead the governor has taken the position that all five in-park APA board seats must represent the interests of either local government or business — the very entities the APA was created to regulate.

“The APA board desperately needs broader talents. We call upon the governor to diversify the APA board with appointments of people with a broad range of professional experiences and expertise.”

“This session was an unprecedented opportunity for Gov. Cuomo and the Senate to appoint and confirm a slate of candidates that would improve the Park Agency board by adding strong conservationists with experience in land use, planning, environmental science and conservation law,” Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway said in the release. “The governor proposed only a partial slate. His short list included some exceptional individuals whose skills are relevant to the APA board’s mission.

“But he didn’t offer a full, balanced and diverse slate of new and returning board members to ensure a strong, independent agency. A full and diverse slate should promote enhanced protections and responsible development in a forum reflecting statewide concerns.”

Rabideau said in an email that the Senate should remain in session to approve the slate of candidates.

“The slate of candidates offered by the governor is a balanced group of dedicated, well-respected, local people who are not beholding to any special interest group — the kind of people we Adirondackers deserve on the APA board-and I ask the state Senate to stay in Albany and confirm them at once so we in the park can move ahead,” he wrote. “It’s the Senate’s job to get this done.”

Willsboro Town Supervisor and Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gilliland also said the Senate should act on the list of nominees.

“It is really sad because lots of local government people called the senators in that committee and the fact that it didn’t even get acted upon is mind-boggling,” Gilliland said. “The APA has never been down so many commissioners and how are we going to get through the critical time up here … with no leadership.

“The governor put forward a slate that was bipartisan; those are good people who care about the park, the residents of the park and the economic development of the park.”

“I have lived in the Park my entire life and I am following in the path of my predecessor George Canon, as supervisor for the town of Newcomb,” Newcomb town Supervisor Robin DeLoria wrote in an email. “I am very familiar with the Park Agency staff, Department of Environmental Conservation leadership and in my short tenure in office, I have met and witnessed the empathy and integrity of Dan Wilt, Art Lussi and John Ernst. I could not agree more with their respective appointments. I have a high regard for Ken Lynch, whom I have worked with directly and I can understand why the Governor picked Kenny.

“The remaining nominations, Mark Hall from St. Lawrence, Brian McDonnell from Franklin and Andrea Hogan from Warren, are excellent choices. Living in the park, one grows up with an appreciation for sound environmental thinking. To think one needs an environmental degree to love the Park and cherish its future is short sighted. There is no reason for the Senate to not confirm these fine, upstanding people.”


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