Gov. Andrew Cuomo has formally nominated seven individuals to the board of the Adirondack Park Agency, which oversees land-use, planning and zoning on both public and private lands, in cooperation with other state agencies.
Three individuals who are currently serving were nominated for new terms and four individuals were nominated for their first terms.
The APA board at full capacity includes 11 members: three must live outside of the Adirondack Park, and five must live in one of the 12 Adirondack counties and be full-time residents of the Park. The other three board members officially represent state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Department of State, and Empire State Development Corp.
The eight citizen members are nominated by the Governor with the advice and consent of the State Senate. No more than five of the eight members can be registered with one political party. No county may have more than one citizen board member. APA Board members serve four-year terms, two of which expire each year.
When the Legislature created the APA in 1971, it sought to make it independent from the Governor’s day-to-day influence by granting board members four-year terms during which they couldn’t be removed from office, except for official misconduct. However, APA board members whose terms have expired may be replaced with new nominees any time the Senate agrees.
Nominated for their first terms as APA Board members are Andrea Hogan (D-Warren County), who is currently the Supervisor of the Town of Johnsburg; Mark Hall (R-St. Lawrence County), former Town Supervisor of the Town of Fine; Zoe Smith (D-Franklin County), assistant director of the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute; Kenneth Lynch (R-Onondaga County), retired attorney with the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Three members currently serving and nominated for new terms include Art Lussi (D-Essex County), hotel owner and developer; Daniel Wilt (R-Hamilton County), local government official, business owner; John Ernst (D-New York County), Elk Lake Lodge owner and philanthropist.
One APA Board Member, Dr. Chad Dawson (D-Onondaga County), a retired professor at SUNY-ESF, is serving in a current term.
Not all NYS Forest Preserve and Adirondack Park advocates are happy with the appointments. Protect the Adirondacks’ Executive Director Peter Bauer said: “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.”
“This group of nominees to the APA fails to change the leadership or direction of the APA,” Bauer said. “These appointments will continue the Cuomo Administration’s monopoly on power and micro-managing of the APA. The agency will continue to function as a bureau within the DEC and not as a full-fledged independent agency with serious checks-and-balances authority over public lands. 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.”
“The Adirondack Park needs an independent environmental attorney. Ken Lynch is a former DEC staff attorney who will continue to function as a DEC attorney at the APA, in effect giving the DEC two votes on the Board,” Bauer said. “He was a Team Cuomo cheerleader during his time at the DEC and we have zero confidence that he will function as an independent voice for Adirondack issues.”
Protect the Adirondacks is also disappointed that Art Lussi and Daniel Wilt have been nominated for new terms. Bauer said each has strongly supported the weakening the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan by supporting “the biggest expansion of motor vehicle access in the history of the Forest Preserve.”
Each has strongly supported building a network of road-like Class II Community Connector Snowmobile Trails in the Forest Preserve, which were found unconstitutional due to the level of tree cutting required by the Appellate Division, Third Department (the State is appealing). And “each has blindly supported any and all private land development projects.” Lussi is also a member of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which Bauer called “a clear conflict of interest with the APA.”
The Adirondack Park encompasses 9,300 square miles of public and private forest lands covering one-fifth of New York’s land mass. It comprises the world’s largest intact temperate, deciduous forest and is the largest park in the contiguous United States.
It includes 2.7 million acres of constitutionally protected public Forest Preserve; more than 750,000 acres of private forest protected from development by state conservation easements; and 90 percent of the wilderness and old growth forests remaining in the Northeast.
About 12.4 million people visit the Adirondack Park each year. It is home to about 135,000 year-round residents. There are nearly twice as many seasonal residents.
Photo of APA Building in Ray Brook NY.