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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Domtar deal draws fire

The view of Chazy Lake from Lyon Mountain. Photo by Phil Brown.

The view of Chazy Lake from Lyon Mountain. Photo by Phil Brown.

The New York Post has raised questions about the state’s purchase of Lyon Mountain from the Nature Conservancy in late 2008 for $10 million. Four years earlier, the conservancy paid $6.3 million for the same twenty thousand acres.

In an editorial on Wednesday, the Post called the rise in price “a staggering 57 percent profit . . .  at a time when property values were collapsing.”

At the request of Governor David Paterson, the state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has opened an investigation into the matter.

Fred LeBrun will write about the controversy in the next issue of the Explorer. Meantime, I called Connie Prickett of the Adirondack Nature Conservancy for her view of things. She denied the Post’s implications that this was a sweetheart deal, saying the state’s purchase price was determined by two appraisals of the property. The appraisers were hired by the state.

“We don’t have any influence over the appraisal process,” she said. “It’s completely independent of us.”

She also pointed out that the conservancy bought the property from Domtar Industries as part of a larger deal involving 104,000 acres. The rest of the land was bought by Lyme Timber, but because this was handled as a single transaction, Prickett said, the conservancy benefited from the economies of scale. That is, it paid a lower per-acre price than it would have if it had purchased the twenty thousand acres in isolation.

Prickett said the whole project cost the conservancy $9.7 million when interest, taxes, maintenance, and other costs are taken into account. This means the conservancy pocketed $100,000, not $3.7 million.

“You could call it a profit,” Prickett said. “We look at it as funds that can be rolled over into another project.”

After the Domtar deal, in fact, the Adirondack Nature Conservancy purchased 161,000 acres from Finch, Pruyn & Company in 2007 and the 14,000-acre Follensby Park in 2008. The state expects to buy much of this land. Prickett said she doesn’t expect the controversy over the Domtar sale to delay these transactions.

You can read the Post’s stories on the Domtar deal here and here.

You can read the Nature Conservancy’s formal responses here and here.

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

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2 Responses

  1. Solidago says:

    Of all the things and potential “sweetheart” deals the AG looks into, he chooses this? When we have a legislature as corrupt as it is? I can’t believe the state is going after the organization that has made so many important land acquisitions in recent years possible.

  2. Fire Tower Mtn Man says:

    That’s exactly the point Solidago, many of these land deals are politically motivated. Whenever the conservancy acts as the state’s land broker we, the taxpayers, end up paying a premium, above and beyond market value, for new land. The state already owns, or controls via easements, over 3 million acres of Adirondack land. Any additional land purchases will do nothing to further increase tourism in the Adirondacks, so how much more land do we need?

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