The Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board this week passed a resolution urging the state not to go forward with plans to purchase Follensby Pond and some sixty thousand acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands.
The resolution, adopted Wednesday, argues that the purchases would violate the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, hurt the local economy, and burden state taxpayers.
“In these dire financial times, with the state facing bankruptcy . . . the priorities of the state should not include buying any more land,” the board declares. It estimates that the deals will cost the region 165 jobs.
The board also requested Governor Andrew Cuomo to order a study of the social and economic impacts of land acquisition in the Adirondacks before approving any new land purchases in the region. (The full resolution can be downloaded by clicking the PDF link at the end of this post.)
Fred Monroe, the executive director of the review board, said he has talked to Cuomo’s environmental adviser about local governments’ opposition to the deals. Although this adviser was “non-committal,” Monroe said another Cuomo adviser does oppose further land acquisition.
Monroe said the resolution passed unanimously. He conceded that local governments had signed off on the Finch, Pruyn deal a few years ago, but he said they did so only because they wanted to negotiate the best deal they could.
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy bought all of Finch, Pruyn’s 161,000 acres in 2007. It later sold eighty-nine thousand acres to a Danish pension fund, subject to a conservation easement that allows logging but prohibits development. Last month, the state bought the easement from the conservancy. Under the terms of the easement, the public will be allowed to use some of the lands for recreation.
The conservancy hopes to sell most of the rest of the former Finch land, some sixty thousand acres, to the state over the next few years—at a price that is expected to exceed $40 million.
Monroe said he would like to see a timber-management company buy the land outright. His fallback position is to have the state enter an easement agreement with a private buyer. In either case, he wants the hunting clubs that lease much of the former Finch land to be allowed to remain. (Monroe belongs to one of the clubs himself. For more on the debate over the hunting clubs, see this story in the Explorer.)
The Finch lands contain such natural jewels as Blue Ledges on the Hudson Gorge, OK Slip Falls, the Essex Chain of Lakes, and Boreas Ponds. Monroe said he would not object if the state added Blue Ledges, OK Slip Falls, and perhaps a few other “truly unique” properties to the Forest Preserve.
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy bought the 14,600-acre Follensby Park in 2008, with the intention of selling the whole property to the state. The state has secured about $6 million in federal Forest Legacy monies to help pay for this property. The review board contends that the Forest Legacy program was designed to protect working forests, yet if the state buys the land, it will be off limits to logging.
Environmentalists argue that Follensby Park and the remaining Finch lands are treasures worthy of inclusion in the forever-wild Forest Preserve—for both their ecological and recreational value. The Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club, for example, see an opportunity to create a canoe wilderness in the central Adirondacks.
The review board may be fighting an uphill battle. Last weekend, a state official told me that the state has no plans to pull the plug on either deal. In fact, because the state has no other big land acquisitions in the pipeline, these deals could get done fairly quickly if sufficient money is allocated to the Environmental Protection Fund over the next several years. We’ll know more about the EPF when Cuomo releases his budget next week.