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Cuomo puts up 7 for APA board

Reactions from green groups are mixed

State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 Director Bob Stegemann, left, talks to fellow Adirondack Park Agency board members and other meeting attendees in November 2019 about a biomass heating system, with a 45-ton pellet silo behind them, which is being used to heat the DEC, APA and New York State Police buildings in Ray Brook. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated seven people to fill seats on a long-unfilled Adirondack Park Agency board. While the state Senate is expected to take up these nominations later this week, environmental groups are weighing in with both positive and negative reactions.

The board has been operating with no chairperson, three vacant seats and four board members serving on expired terms.

Four of these nominees would be new to the board, and three would be returning.

Nominated for their first terms are Andrea Hogan, supervisor of the town of Johnsburg in Warren County; Mark Hall, former supervisor of the town of Fine in St. Lawrence County; Zoe Smith of Saranac Lake, assistant director of the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College; and Kenneth Lynch of Onondaga County, a recently retired attorney and Central New York regional director with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Returning for nomination are Art Lussi, a hotel owner and developer in Lake Placid; Daniel Wilt, former Lake Pleasant town supervisor and business owner in Hamilton County; and John Ernst of Manhattan and Elk Lake, owner of the Elk Lake Lodge and an environmental philanthropist.

Chad Dawson of Onondaga County, author and retired professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is the only board member serving in a current term, although it expires June 30.

Protect blasts nominees

Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer was not happy with these appointments, saying they do not provide the change of direction he was hoping for the APA and that the agency functions “as a bureau within the DEC and not as a full-fledged independent agency with serious checks-and-balances auth-ority over public lands.

“The minority of independent voices among the slate submitted by the governor to the state senate for the APA board will ensure that the APA remains a weak and directionless agency, committed to undermining Forest Preserve protections, and holding economic development as its primary priority,” Bauer wrote in a press release. “The APA Act calls for board members to be independent, but the majority of board members are team Cuomo acolytes, which short-changes effective public policy for the public and private lands in the Adirondack Park.”

Bauer said Lynch essentially gives the DEC two votes on the board and that Bauer has “zero confidence that he will function as an independent voice.”

He also said he is disappointed that Lussi and Wilt have been nominated for new terms, saying they have supported weakening the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and have supported “the biggest expansion of motor vehicle access in the history of the Forest Preserve”“community connector” snowmobile trails that Protect has successfully sued to stop. The state is appealing the ruling.

Bauer also said Lussi being a board member of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority is “a clear conflict of interest with the APA.”

Other green groups content

The Adirondack Council took a different tone, thanking Cuomo for nominating a full slate of candidates “that includes individuals with experience in environmental law, science, planning, and wilderness preservation.”

“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,” Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway wrote in a press release. “We are thankful. No one got everything they wanted, but everyone benefits from a full board with diversity and that is what we got.”

The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) took a similar perspective.

“This is much improved over the options the senate was given in 2019, which was an incomplete slate of candidates,” ADK Executive Director Michael Barrett wrote in a press release. “Last year’s list contained some good people, but it was not possible to judge how the whole board would look.”

“Despite difficult times, we thank the Governor for listening to the Adirondack environmental groups and offering an improved full slate of candidates,” ADK Conservation Committee Chair Ben Mastaitis wrote.

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