How $150 million was used for open space and farmland protection
By Gwendolyn Craig
Former NYS Gov. George Pataki’s personal connection to the Adirondacks perhaps made it a conservation spotlight.
At the time, timber companies were pulling out of the park, alarming environmental organizations. They worried developers could take possession of large tracts. Adirondackers worried about the state buying all that land.
Under the $790 million clean water pot of money, the bond act allocated $150 million for open space and farmland protection. A significant portion of that money went to land conservation in the Adirondack region.
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The state used nearly $26 million to preserve about 139,000 acres of the paper company Champion International’s timberlands – including the south branch of the Grasse River, the Santa Clara tract including the St. Regis and Deer rivers, Quebec Brook and Madawaska pond wetland area — in the northwest corner of the Adirondack Park. Most of it was under conservation easements, which would allow sustainable forestry activity on parts of the land. Cahill called it in a report “the largest-ever land conservation agreement in New York State.”
David Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, was the executive director of the Association of Protection of the Adirondacks at the time. The Champion deal was exciting for environmental groups, he said, but “it was extremely frustrating for St. Lawrence County and local folks.” Though the lands were identified in the state’s open space plan, many local government leaders were not part of the easement or purchasing discussions and didn’t know how imminent it was, Gibson said.
As DEC commissioner starting in January 1997, John Cahill said his department focused on conservation easements so that there was public access while keeping working forests in place. It was a compromise for Adirondack communities and lawmakers, he said. Gibson, too, said the Champion deal has led to many questions still unanswered about conservation easements – how they are promulgated, regulated and enforced.
How some of the funds were spent
Nearly $2.5 million was used to acquire 776 acres of the Bartlett Carry property, including about 3 miles of shoreline along Middle and Upper Saranac Lakes in Franklin County. About 216 acres were protected under a conservation easement. The DEC called the property “a key linkage in the wonderful Adirondack canoe routes that paddlers enjoy along the Saranac chain of lakes.”
About $1.3 million helped acquire 300 acres on the eastern shore of Lake George in Warren County. Another $2 million was used for 341 acres near Lake George including Rogers Rock.
Another $1.95 million, according to the 2001 DEC report, was slated to buy nearly 4,000 acres and put a 9,000-acre easement on land along the Raquette River.
The borrowed funds also financed the 15,000 acres of what many called “the crown jewel of the Adirondacks,” Whitney Park and its Little Tupper Lake. The $17.1 million deal used about $2.5 million of bond act money, while the rest came from the Environmental Protection Fund. It was a win for environmentalists after owner Mary Lou Whitney and her husband John Hendrickson had proposed a subdivision there. A landscape photo of the property was on the cover of the DEC’s 1998 annual report.
“Preservation of this uniquely valuable wilderness area in the heart of the Adirondacks is a high priority for Governor Pataki, and its protection will remain as part of the Governor’s lasting environmental legacy,” Cahill wrote in the report’s introduction.
Editor’s note: This is part of a larger investigation by Gwen into the 1996 Environmental Bond Act spending. Click here for the full story.
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