Lawmakers return to Albany Jan. 3
By Gwendolyn Craig
The state’s abandonment of publicly owned facilities in the Adirondack Park is an ever-growing burden to local government leaders, who are hoping constitutional amendments could be the solution.
Legislators return to Albany on Jan. 3 and Gov. Kathy Hochul is slated to deliver her State of the State address on Jan. 9.
Willsboro Supervisor Shaun Gillilland, chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, said he is floating the idea of an amendment that would allow for unused state administrative properties to be eligible for use by the private sector. Such an amendment would come in handy should employers be interested in filling shuttered state prisons or the Ray Brook offices of the Adirondack Park Agency if the APA relocates as proposed.
“Based on how excited these other governmental agencies are on locating to the Adirondack Park, which is none, what are you going to do?” Gillilland said. “Historically these places pile up. Nothing happens to them. They become eyesores. They’re not on the tax rolls to these municipalities, and it’s a problem.”
The Adirondack Park is a 6-million-acre mix of public and private lands. The 2.7 million acres of publicly owned lands are called forest preserve, and are protected as “forever wild” by Article 14 of the state constitution. These lands cannot be leased or sold.
There are a handful of publicly owned lands in the park that are designated state administrative to allow occupancy by agencies like the Department of Environmental Conservation, Adirondack Park Agency, Department of Transportation and Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. But as the state has abandoned some of these facilities, the lands, Gillillland said, are “constitutionally restricted from being used other than to either go to forest preserve or into another state use.”
The list of these properties in limbo continues to grow.
Camp Gabriels Correctional Facility, just north of Saranac Lake, closed in 2009. Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility, in the town of Moriah, closed in 2022. Now, the APA, charged with long-range planning and overseeing public and private development, is looking to move to the village of Saranac Lake from its state-administrative site in Ray Brook.
“There’s just a lot of things that need to be cleaned up,” said Assemblyman Matthew Simpson, R-Horicon.
State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said packaging constitutional amendments “has been previously discussed and has been met with resistance from some Adirondack environmental groups.” He’s open to the idea, however.
Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chatteaugay Lake, said he was “all ears” to the possibility of bundling.
If such an amendment doesn’t make it before legislators this upcoming session, Stec, Jones and Simpson said they continue to support an individualized one for Camp Gabriels. That amendment was first proposed in 2015 and has continuously stalled in the Legislature. It has passed in the Senate, but has failed in the Assembly.
Local legislators said they are still interested in another constitutional amendment to save an historical camp in the town of Duane, Debar Lodge. The camp in the Debar Mountain Complex would be allowed to remain in exchange for 400 acres around Meacham Lake to be added to forest preserve. That amendment passed the Assembly this year, but did not pass the Senate.
Assemblymember Deborah Glick, a downstate Democrat chairing the Assembly’s environmental conservation committee, did not have a comment on any of the specific constitutional amendments. But, she said, “constitutional amendments in other areas have tended to have life in the second year of a session, because that’s when they have to be addressed if they’re going to be addressed.”
Amendments will need to be passed in 2024 before there is a newly elected legislature in place in 2025, which will also have to vote on the amendments before sending them to a public referendum.
A constitutional amendment that would retroactively approve the existence of the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic complex passed both houses last year. It will need to wait for the 2025 legislative session for second passage.