By Gwendolyn Craig
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated seven people to the Adirondack Park Agency Board, which would make the board complete for the first time in more than a year if the New York State Senate approves.
The news circulated through environmental groups and local lawmakers on Monday, and was confirmed by Cuomo’s administration Tuesday afternoon.
“We are committed to having a full APA board, which is why we put forward a slate of nominees that have the requisite expertise and will be strong environmental voices focused on the best ways to move the park forward,” said Jordan Levine, a spokesman for Cuomo.
The APA board is responsible for protecting the forest preserve and overseeing the development proposals on privately owned lands in the park, according to its mission. Its work includes upholding three laws in the park: the Adirondack Park Agency Act, the state Freshwater Wetlands Act and the state Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System Act.
Four nominations are would-be new members of the park’s governing board, including Zoe Smith, deputy director of Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute; Andrea Hogan, supervisor of the Town of Johnsburg in Warren County; Mark Hall, former supervisor of the Town of Fine in St. Lawrence County; and Ken Lynch, former counsel to the state Department of Environmental Conservation from Onondaga County in central New York.
With the exception of Smith, the nominations are the same as last year, which state lawmakers did not act to confirm. Environmental organizations at the time objected to that slate.
“I’m honored to have been nominated to serve on the agency board and to play a role in the history of this region,” Smith said in an emailed statement. She directed the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack program before joining the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College.
Cuomo also nominated three existing APA board members, including Art Lussi, president of the Lake Placid Vacation Corp.; Dan Wilt, former supervisor of the Town of Lake Pleasant and president of Wilt Industries; and John Ernst, owner of Elk Lake Lodge in North Hudson. All three are currently serving on the board under expired terms.
Ernst said Tuesday afternoon that he was happy to be renominated.
“For anybody who cares about the Adirondacks, loves the Adirondacks, it’s a privileged position to be in,” he said. “I’m happy, and if they want me to serve another term, I’d be glad to.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Island, is the chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee. He said Tuesday that he expected the Senate to vote on and pass the governor’s nominees to the APA board.
“I’m very enthused about this panel,” Kaminsky said. “I think it will make a much stronger APA. … I think this slate represents really qualified people, who have the best interests of the Adirondacks at heart.”
A spokesperson for state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said she supports the governor’s list.
The 11-member APA board’s composition has been a point of contention, with three vacant positions and four board members serving on expired terms at the governor’s pleasure. It has been operating without a chairperson, too.
The governor is in charge of nominating eight members, and the other three consist of representatives from the state Department of State, state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Department of Economic Development. The state Senate is responsible for approving the governor’s nominations, and last year it did not.
In 2019, Cuomo did not propose nominations for all the vacant seats, leaving lawmakers and advocacy groups hesitant to support a piecemeal process. The board has specific member requirements, too. For example, no more than five of the 8 appointments can be registered with one political party and counties may not have more than one representative. Three members must live outside the Adirondack Park and five must be full-time park residents.
Hogan, Hall and Lynch were all nominated last year.
The nominations drew mostly praise from the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club, while Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve were mostly disappointed.
Michael Barrett, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said in a news release that Cuomo’s latest list was “much improved” from last year, adding that “it was not possible to judge how the whole board would look. This list contains people with many of the skills that we were hoping to see on the board, and we look forward to working with them all to sustain the success of the Adirondack Park for everyone.”
William Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, also said in a release that the board should include a diverse group of conservationists, planners, environmental scientists and those with experience in wilderness management and conservation law.
“We are thankful,” Janeway added. “No one got everything they wanted, but everyone benefits from a full board with diversity and that is what we got.”
Peter Bauer, of Protect the Adirondacks, said his organization is against the appointments of Wilt, Lussi, Hall and Lynch.
Bauer called the nominations of Wilt and Lussi “particularly galling,” because of their support for some community connector trails in the park. Bauer has been among those challenging construction of those snowmobile paths in protected areas.
“We think it’s intolerable that we have individuals who are on the wrong side of ‘forever wild’ being selected to lead a government agency that’s supposed to be protective of the forest preserve,” Bauer said.
Bauer was also critical of the governor’s nomination of Lynch. He said it was like “giving the DEC two votes on the Board. He was a Team Cuomo cheerleader during his time at the DEC and we have zero confidence that he will function as an independent voice for Adirondack issues,” Bauer added.
David Gibson, of Adirondack Wild, said the proposed board is too heavily weighted toward local government and business.
“The agency has a big job to do, but I think the governor is very comfortable with the status quo of the agency, and that’s not what reimagining New York is about,” Gibson said, pointing to Cuomo’s daily press briefings about change that is needed across the state. “There’s a need to reimagine the APA, too … . He’s not naming people who really are going to aggressively go ahead and do that.”
Fred Monroe, of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, also had mixed reactions to the proposed board. Monroe was disappointed that Brian McDonnell, a review board member and Adirondack region guide, was not kept on the list from 2019. Monroe said he supported Smith, however, and said she is good at finding common ground with different groups.
“I think it sounds like a good slate,” Monroe said.