The Adirondack Nature Conservancy has been cleared of wrongdoing in a probe of state land deals sparked by an article in the New York Post more than a year ago.
“We were happy to cooperate with the investigation, and we are pleased with the outcome,” said Connie Prickett, a spokeswoman for the conservancy.
New York State Assistant Attorney General Rachel Doft wrote the conservancy’s lawyer last week to say the investigation is over.
“The Nature Conservancy complied with all relevant laws, regulations and policies in connection with those transactions,” Doft said in the letter.
The Post article, published last spring, raised questions about the state’s purchase of Lyon Mountain and adjacent lands from the conservancy in 2008 for $10 million. Four years earlier, the conservancy had paid $6.3 million to Domtar Industries for the same twenty thousand acres.
After the article appeared, Governor David Paterson asked state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to look into the deal.
“We intend to begin an investigation into the potential overpayment by the state for these lands in the Adirondacks and into questions about the evaluation methods that were used to value the property,” a spokesman for Cuomo told the Post at the time.
After his election as governor, Cuomo handed off the investigation to the new attorney general, Eric Schneiderman.
The conservancy maintained that the $10 million paid by the state was based on two appraisals completed by appraisers hired by the state. Prickett also noted that the conservancy bought Lyon Mountain as part of a larger deal involving 104,000 acres of Domtar land. The rest of the land was bought by Lyme Timber, but because all of the Domtar holdings were sold as part of a single transaction, she said, the conservancy benefited from the economies of scale. That is, it paid a lower price per acre than it would have if it had purchased the twenty thousand acres in isolation.
Prickett also said the conservancy paid interest, taxes, and other carrying costs during the four years it owned the property. Much of the difference in the purchase and sale prices went toward offsetting those costs. Any leftover funds, she added, will be invested in other projects.
Doft’s letter suggests that the attorney general’s office also looked into the Nature Conservancy’s acquisition of 161,000 acres of land in the central Adirondacks formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn & Company. The state has purchased conservation easements on much of that land and plans to buy about sixty-five thousand acres outright in coming years.
The state also has plans to buy the 14,600-acre Follensby Park west of Tupper Lake. The conservancy bought Follensby and the Finch lands in 2008.