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Adirondack Explorer

Friday, June 22, 2018

Conservation-design bill fails

Environmentalists have complained for years that the Adirondack Park Agency private-land regulations should be revised to require large-scale developments to abide by the principles of conservation design. The aim is to better protect the environment. A conservation-design bill was up for consideration in the state legislature this year, but as the Adirondack Council reports, it failed to pass. Following is the council’s news release on the legislative session.

ALBANY, N.Y. — The New York State Legislative Session came to a close quietly June 20, with a lot of work left undone for the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Council said today.

“There were some positive things in the state budget, but most of the rest of Adirondack conservation agenda was left on the table this year,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “That’s disappointing, given the progress we have made in recent years on
community and economic issues, where local officials were seeking the help of environmental organizations.” Just as the conservation legislation stalled, so too did the completion of some of the local governments’ priorities as well, including things like a resolution for Camp Gabriels that the Adirondack Council supported, Janeway explained.

Although it was politically deadlocked with 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats, the Senate approved legislation with bi-partisan support through the end of the 2017-18 Session on Wednesday. Janeway noted that it took until June to restart discussions with the Legislature about a proposed bill that would fix a loophole in the Adirondack Park Agency’s 40-year-old rules for large-scale developments (to better protect water and wildlife), despite efforts by the non-partisan Adirondack Common Ground Alliance.

Also left undone were appointments to the Adirondack Park Agency’s decision-making board. Four board members are serving on expired terms and the fifth has been appointed to a higher office in state government. All APA board member nominations must be approved by the Senate. In addition to the “Conservation-Subdivision Design” bill, the Adirondack Council supported legislation that would: improve the financial incentives to private forest landowners who keep their forests intact; ban all-terrain vehicles from the Forest Preserve; establish a beekeeper registry to track and inform scientists and state agencies about the health of pollinators; and, a bill that would compel state agencies to provide anti-bias training to their employees and offer it to tourism businesses.

The Adirondack Council and other conservation organizations worked hard to support and secure approval for several Constitutional Amendments in recent years that allowed the use of “forever wild” Forest Preserve for community purposes. This spring, the Council and its allies successfully urged the Legislature and Governor to eliminate a budget plan to halt the state’s $70-million-plus in annual property tax payments to Adirondack towns that host NYS Forest Preserve. It would have replaced the legally mandated tax payments with less reliable payments-in-lieu-of-taxes. Janeway said he would reassess the chances for these and other legislative efforts to succeed after the voters elect a new Legislature in November. Voters will also choose a Governor.

“The Conservation Design bill would have fixed one of the most glaring problems with the 40-year-old rules the Adirondack Park Agency uses to review big subdivisions on the park’s most remote and unspoiled private forests,” Janeway said. “Rules written in 1972 allow developers to spread roads and homes across what is now unbroken forest, leaving only tiny spaces between them untouched. We know today that this is harmful to the park’s water quality and its most sensitive wildlife. We didn’t know that in ’72 when the current rules were written. This bill would fix that.”

Closing the loophole has been under discussion since the APA’s approval of two massive subdivisions — near Tupper Lake and near Gloversville — in which applicants didn’t confine the development footprint to a compact area. They instead spread homes and roadways across vast acreages, similar to 1970s-era suburban developments. Wildlife studies have shown that this type of development harms habitat for the park’s most sensitive and rare wildlife more than if the development were clustered.

This legislative fix has the public endorsement of a wide range of organizations including representatives from a cross-section of Adirondack communities, landowners and stakeholders. A bill intended to address this matter is currently sponsored by Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Steven Englebright, D-Setauket. The Senate does not currently sponsor a version of this bill.

In recent years, conservation organizations have assisted with the Legislative passage of a Constitutional Amendment creating a land bank for community safety projects involving the “forever wild” Forest Preserve. The groups then successfully encouraged voters to approve the amendment last November. That followed a 2016 Constitutional Amendment granting clear titles to local private landowners whose deeds were disputed by state records.

APA board members whose terms have expired include Art Lussi of Lake Placid, John Ernst of Manhattan, Karen Feldman of Hudson, Bill Thomas of North Creek, and Barbara Rice of Saranac Lake. Rice resigned in May to take a post as the Governor’s Deputy Secretary for Economic Development. APA board members may continue to serve after their terms have expired. However, such members may be replaced by the Governor and the Senate at any time. Members with definite terms may only be removed after a hearing determines misconduct or a refusal/inability to perform.

Other Adirondack legislation that was left unfinished included:

A Constitutional Amendment to allow the sale or transfer of State’s former state prison Camp Gabriels near Saranac Lake to another party; and, legislation carrying out the land swap to authorize the use of the land bank for health and safety projects, which was approved in a 2017 Constitutional Amendment.

Founded in 1975, the Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, as well as vibrant communities. The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action to ensure the legacy of the Adirondack Park is safeguarded for future generations. Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

 

For more information:
John Sheehan
518-441-1340 cell
518-432-1770 office

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