By Gwendolyn Craig
Chad Dawson, an Adirondack Park Agency board member, sent his letter of resignation to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday. The former professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry has been one of the more vocal members of the board and an advocate for wilderness.
Dawson spoke with Adirondack Explorer Monday night in more detail about why he resigned. The interview has been edited and questions paraphrased for brevity.
Adirondack Explorer: What were your thoughts going into the December APA board meeting? Had you decided before the meeting you would resign?
Dawson: No, I didn’t really plan to do it before the meeting. My frustration had been growing. I have to back up. Things had been different within the agency for some time because the board did not have a chair. Terry Martino had been serving the dual role of the go-between with the department (DEC) and also managing the agency. That’s a difficult role. It was a lot to ask of her to be able to do that, and I think we needed a chair on the board for that many months (since Karen Feldman resigned).
So that’s what was leading up to the meeting and of course, we have other conversations and board members ask questions and request additional information as we go up to the meeting and for me, the questions weren’t being answered.
Adirondack Explorer: It sounds like your resignation was about more than just this particular December meeting and the projects that were moved forward—Debar Mountain Complex and the Essex Chain Lakes campfire allowances.
Dawson: As I said before, I don’t think alternatives were fully developed and the consequences of those were fully developed. That’s been my concern all along, is how do we balance development, protection. The agency is about protection primarily, and also development where appropriate. The department tends to be more about development. Recognize my background is both in recreation management and planning, as well as preservation and protection, so I was asked to be on the board because of that, and yet I don’t think people were taking my questionings seriously about how do you balance the alternatives.
I don’t think alternatives were fully developed and the consequences of those were fully developed. That’s been my concern all along, is how do we balance development, protection.— Chad Dawson
Adirondack Explorer: Were there other projects that stand out to you over your time on the board where you think the alternatives and consequences were not fully explored?
Dawson: Boreas Pond, the Remsen Lake Placid Corridor. I feel like some of those were really far-reaching plans, some of the most important plans that were conducted during the time I was on the board. And again, my concern has been that laying out the alternatives and the consequences and really thinking through what’s going to happen.
Adirondack Explorer: What do you think about the question of the agency’s independence to protect resources, independent from the DEC?
Dawson: They were designed to be sort of counterbalances to each other in a certain way, and the history of it is the APA was created to have more of a focus on protection and the department to be more about management, so there’s a natural balancing act that has to happen there. It’s so complicated. In many ways I’d say yes, they do balance each other, but in some projects, I would say no. Overall, I think the relationships is good, but sometimes I think the development interests become paramount because they have political import.
Adirondack Explorer: Are there any other examples where you felt that to be the case?
Dawson: The whole idea of carrying capacity both on land and on water. Example, approving the marina at Saranac Lake. Again, this is complicated because that was a private land process that went through a permitting process, a variance, and that is separate from the state land. But my issue with that was the state has never fully engaged that process of determining what carrying capacity is. There’s lots of conversations, but in terms of really digging in and making progress, it’s been in the State Land Master Plan since it was originally done in the 70s, and there still is no process.
Again, I’m about the process. I don’t think the process is fully engaging the complexity of what needs to be considered if we’re really going to take our responsibility seriously for future generations. It’s very difficult to roll development back and so if you think it through when you start it, you’re in this sort of defensive posture as you go along, as opposed to really having thought it through. A classic example is the High Peaks. One, you have overuse. Rolling it back becomes extremely problematic. My point is we should be foreseeing these things and making sure development doesn’t get to the point where we have difficulty backing it up. Once the impacts happen and the use is there, people generally don’t want to stop.
Adirondack Explorer: Some people have said your leaving the board only keeps your voice and point of view from being heard. Do you feel it was the right decision now?
Dawson: I really felt in the end that I had to make a statement, to say this is to me, so important that it be discussed that I’m willing to take myself out of the equation. I don’t want that whole thing to be about me. You could see, I was a dissenting vote and often the sole person raising the hard questions, and I really felt like I couldn’t be that person and be the only one having that conversation. Other people needed to step up. Other people needed to get involved on the board.
It shouldn’t be just people sending in their letters and their feelings and the board not having the conversation about them.
Adirondack Explorer: Why do you think those conversations aren’t happening?
Dawson: Why aren’t more people having them? I don’t know. I don’t know whether they don’t feel comfortable. Clearly I’m the one who has the academic and planning experience, so it’s natural for me to raise some of these questions, but why the conversation isn’t engaged more broadly is a mystery to me.
Adirondack Explorer: What’s next for you? Do you plan to stay involved in the park?
Dawson: Yes. I don’t know how to do it right now. If you know my history, you know I worked doing research in the Adirondacks to help DEC’s planning and management. I conducted educational workshops for them. I’ve long believed in the agency and the department being equally important. This kind of leaves me wondering what is the service I can provide from here. That’s going to take some time to sort out. But I believe very strongly in the Adirondacks. I’m very, very strong about the staff in both the agency and in the department. I think there are some brilliant people there, and I think they’re working very hard.
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This topic will be part of the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of Adirondack Explorer.
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