The Adirondack Park Agency board will soon lose its strongest defender of wilderness: Dick Booth does not intend to serve another term.
Booth’s current four-year term expires June 30, but he said he will stay on awhile if a successor is not appointed by then.
A professor in Cornell’s Department of City and Regional Planning, Booth told the Adirondack Explorer he is leaving partly out of frustration with decisions at the agency. He also said the long drive from Ithaca to Ray Brook for monthly meetings and poring over stacks of documents in preparation for those meetings proved draining over the years.
“I’ve been there eight and a half years,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it, but at some point it’s time to step aside.”
The loss of Booth is a big blow to the Park’s green groups. He often has been a lone voice in championing the environment and holding to a strict interpretation of the State Land Master Plan, which governs management of the public Forest Preserve.
Booth was especially disappointed by the APA’s decision in March to allow bicycles and maintenance vehicles on old logging roads in the Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area. Normally, bicycles and motor vehicles are not allowed in Primitive Areas, but the board voted to amend the State Land Master Plan to make an exception.
Toward the end of the March meeting, Booth took the unusual step of criticizing the governor’s office, saying it essentially directed the result.
On Monday, Booth reiterated his concern that the decision set a bad precedent and undermined protections for Forest Preserve lands classified as Primitive or Wilderness, the two strictest land-use classifications. “Why not put a snowmobile trail through a Wilderness Area? If you can get enough votes, why not do it?” he said.
In the Essex Chain debate, Booth had suggested creating a new land classification that would allow bicycles but, as in Primitive and Wilderness areas, prohibit motor vehicles. However, he said the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo refused to allow the APA staff to consider the idea.
Chairwoman Lani Ulrich, who also is stepping down, responded to Booth’s comments at the end of the March meeting: “Is this a flawed process? Every bit of it is flawed. We are human beings.”
In 2012, Booth cast the only nay vote in a 10-1 decision to approve permits for the controversial Adirondack Club and Resort development in Tupper Lake. At the time, he said the project violated the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan, which regulates development on private land. He also called the developers’ sales projections unrealistic and faulted them for failing to undertake a comprehensive survey of the property’s wildlife.
Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, praised Booth for his service on the board.
“He acted at the board’s environmental conscience, raised important issues, and resisted political interference,” Janeway said. “We would been happy to see him reappointed, but not if he doesn’t wish to serve.”
Janeway noted that five of the eight citizen seats on the board will have expired by the end of the June. (Three other seats are filled by state officials.) “We urge the governor to appoint, and the Senate to approve, new commissioners with strong environmental backgrounds,” he said.
Booth, who holds a law degree, also said he hopes the governor appoints a champion of the environment as his successor. “The agency needs a balance between strong environmental voices and other voices,” he said.
He added, however, that he wasn’t a knee-jerk vote for the environment, pointing out that he supported development in hamlets and the construction of emergency cell towers. “I wouldn’t characterize my views as one-sided,” he said.
Booth said he will stay on the board beyond his term, if needed, but not indefinitely. “I’m thinking in terms of months, not a year,” he said.