Posted on February 7th, 2011 30 comments Add a comment >>
Last week the Adirondack Council criticized the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board for urging the state to abandon plans to buy Follesnby Pond and some 65,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands. The council argued that the board had overstepped its legislative mandate in commenting on state-land purchases. It also suggested that Fred Monroe, the board’s executive director, and George Canon, who until recently was the board’s chairman, had conflicts of interest in that both belong to hunting clubs that will be forced to shut down or move if the state buys the Finch, Pruyn lands. Monroe has issued the following written statement in response to the council’s critcisms.
The Adirondack Council press release regarding the Review Board resolution opposing fee acquisition of former Finch and Follensby lands is typical Council response to positions taken by organizations that do not hold the same views as the Adirondack Council. The truth is that neither Fred Monroe, the executive director, nor George Canon, the former chairman of the Review Board voted on the resolution. Mr. Monroe does not have a vote. Contrary to Council assertions, Mr. Canon was not even present.
The Adirondack Council has criticized the Review Board before for commenting publicly on state land purchases – in this case saying it had no business making a statement. It sounds like the Council is trying to revoke the First Amendment — not only free speech, but the right to petition the state government for a redress of grievances.
The major concerns of Adirondack local governments are the jobs and building rights that will be lost in the Follensby and Finch purchases. The lost jobs will further harm the Adirondack economy. The lost building rights will make the affordable housing problem in the Adirondacks worse. When the supply of building rights is restricted and demand remains steady, or increases, land prices increase.
The Review Board represents twelve counties. All Review Board representatives are appointed by those county legislatures. Those counties have a population of more than one million. One hundred and thirty thousand live in the Adirondacks. Counties, towns and villages have legitimate concerns. The representatives appointed by the counties did their jobs by considering the facts and unanimously passing a well-reasoned resolution.
The Review Board believes that the APA has a responsibility to insure compliance with the State Land Master Plan which specifically provides that the state should not usually make bulk purchases of highly productive forest land in fee because of the importance of the forest products industry to the economy of the Adirondacks. That provision has been ignored in fee purchases of state lands in the past. It appears that, unless policies change, it will also be ignored in the Finch and Follensby planned purchases.
The Review Board is statutorily (Executive Law Section 803-a) required to: advise and assist the APA; advocate for its constituents, and periodically report to the legislature, the governor and the counties that make up the board. That is what the Review Board did.
The Review Board executive director sits as a non-voting official at Adirondack Park Agency Board meetings, with a spot on the APA’s agenda each month for “Review Board Comments.” The comments that the Board offers are compilations of comments, concerns and approvals heard on specific issues and general issues from the constituents who are represented by the twelve members of the Review Board appointed by their counties. These are the people who live and work in the Adirondack Park, whose life and livelihood is affected, for better or worse, by each and every decision made by the APA.
Posted on February 4th, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
The Franklin County legislature has unanimously passed a resolution opposing the state’s proposed acquisition of Follensby Pond and some 65,000 acres once owned by Finch, Pruyn & Co., according to this story in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
The action follows a similar resolution adopted last week by the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board. Yesterday, the Adirondack Council accused the board of overstepping its authority. The council also accused Fred Monroe, the board’s executive director, of having a conflict of interest, since he belongs to a hunting club that would lose its lease if the state buys the Finch, Pruyn lands.
Earlier today, Monroe pushed back against the council. “It’s a classic Adirondack Council tactic,” he told me, “to obscure the facts, divert attention from the issues, and make personal attacks. ”
Monroe said the Review Board’s resolution reflects concerns he has heard from many towns. He expects a number of towns and counties to adopt resolutions against the land purchases. He hopes a groundwell of opposition to the deals will convince Governor Andrew Cuomo to block them. At this time, however, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has no plans to back out of the deals. The lands were purchased by the Nature Conservancy with the understanding that they would eventually be added to the Forest Preserve.
Meanwhile, Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan is sticking to his guns. In an e-mail to the Explorer, he wrote: “We still think the Review Board’s resolution was inaccurate, inappropriate and unethical and should be withdrawn.”
Posted on February 3rd, 2011 43 comments Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Council is accusing the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board of misleading the public in its critique of the state’s plan to buy Follensby Pond and former Finch, Pruyn lands. In a news release this morning, the council asks that the Review Board withdraw a resolution calling on the state to back out of the land deals. Moreover, the council is calling for an ethics investigation of Fred Monroe, the board’s executive director, and Newcomb Supervisor George Canon, the board’s chairman. Both Monroe and Canon belong to hunting clubs that would lose their leases if the state buys the Finch, Pruyn lands. [I later learned that Canon gave up the chairmanship before the meeting and was not present for the vote.] The council’s news release follows. – Phil Brown
ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. – The Adirondack Park’s largest environmental organization today called on the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board to withdraw a resolution it sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which attacks a pending state land conservation agreement with The Nature Conservancy that would add Hudson River Gorge, Blue Ledges and the Essex Chain of Lakes to the public Forest Preserve.
“This resolution is shameful,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director Brian L. Houseal. “We do our best to see eye-to-eye with local government, but the Review Board has stepped way over the line this time. Their accusations are baseless. Their claims of job losses are not only false, they are contradicted by a 2009 study that Adirondack local governments commissioned and the Review Board promoted.”
“Worst of all, both the executive director and the chairman of the Review Board have unmistakable, personal conflicts of interest in the matter at hand,” Houseal said. “Both are members of exclusive hunting clubs that will be forced to move elsewhere when the state purchases the Hudson River Gorge, Essex Chain of Lakes, OK Slip Falls and other former Finch, Pruyn & Co lands. Both officials should have recused themselves from even discussing this matter in public. That is not what happened here.”
The Review Board’s actions are inappropriate for two more reasons, Houseal explained.
“All 26 Adirondack town supervisors whose communities were affected by the Finch agreement approved the transaction in 2007,” said Houseal. “These parcels were identified by the public as high priorities in the state’s official Open Space Conservation Plan more than a decade ago. So the Review Board is now second-guessing everyone else’s careful decisions.”
Second, Houseal noted that the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board has no business even commenting publicly on state land purchases. The Review Board has only one lawful function. It is supposed to monitor and report on how the Adirondack Park Agency administers and enforces the Adirondack Park Private Land Use and Development Plan. (Executive Law Section 803-a)
“The Adirondack Park Agency has no role in the acquisition of public lands,” Houseal said. “It is a private-land regulatory agency. But the Review Board is spending public money to attack the Department of Environmental Conservation, The Nature Conservancy and environmental protection in general. That is wrong. It is a misappropriation of tax dollars. When it is done by someone with a personal, financial interest in the outcome, it is worse than wrong.
“At a minimum, this merits an ethics investigation,” Houseal said. “It may be much more serious than that. We expect that the Attorney General, Comptroller and other state officials will want to know about this.”
Houseal said that Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe of Chestertown has revealed to local media that he is a member of the Polaris Mountain Club. Review Board Chairman George Canon of Newcomb has told the media he is a member of the Gooley Club. Both clubs will be evicted from their leased lands when the state purchases the former Finch lands from the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
Ironically, the clubs only had one-year leases with the timber company and could have been evicted by The Nature Conservancy when it purchased the lands in 2007. Instead, the Conservancy offered multi-year leases to all 42 hunting clubs that formerly leased Finch lands in 26 separate Adirondack towns, giving those that had to move years of warning and planning time.
Houseal said the Review Board’s estimate of job losses was both inaccurate and contradicted by the 2009 Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project (APRAP), commissioned by the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages and Adirondack North Country Association.
“The Review Board’s resolution claimed that 225 forestry jobs would be lost by subtracting these 75,000 acres from the park’s commercial timberlands,” Houseal said. “But the regional assessment project says there were only 420 forestry jobs in the entire Adirondack Park in 2007, spread across 1,763,470 acres of private forests. How does losing 4 percent of the timber base result in a 55 percent employment loss? It doesn’t. The statement is blatantly false.
“The Nature Conservancy and state DEC have been an overwhelmingly positive influence on the timber industry in the Adirondack Park,” Houseal explained. “Every major timber company has moved away or gone out of business in the past 20 years. But because of conservation agreements with new landowners, the state has protected from development some 800,000 acres of private lands in the Adirondack Park since 1990, where private timber harvesting continues under state supervision. The conservancy assisted the state in completing most of those agreements.
“If anything, the Nature Conservancy and DEC have saved timber industry jobs,” Houseal said. “Part of their purchase of the Finch lands included a guarantee that the lands would remain in timber production, and that the lands would provide pulp to the former Finch papermill in Glens Falls for at least 20 years.
“In contrast, most of our local forestry job losses came with the closing of outdated paper mills and the invention of the feller-buncher, a piece of heavy equipment that allows one man to cut and load an entire forest of trees on to a truck without a crew,” he explained. “But the Review Board’s resolution isn’t about saving jobs. It is about protecting exclusive personal privileges, and doing it with public money.”
Posted on November 20th, 2009 2 comments Add a comment >>
Local officials in the Adirondack Park have long complained about the amount of land owned by the state in the Park. The state constitution decrees that this land, the Forest Preserve, “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” In other words, no development.
The critics see this as bad for the region’s economy. Environmentalists, however, argue that the Preserve attracts tourists and boosts the economy. This debate shows no signs of letting up.
During the Pataki administration, the state started saving vast tracts of timberlands not by acquiring them for the Preserve, but by purchasing conservation easements. Such easements prohibit development but allow logging and usually permit at least some public recreation.
As a result, the local officials have added a new phrase to their vocabulary: “owns or controls.” For example, Fred Monroe, executive director of the Local Government Review Board, recently wrote an op-ed piece asserting that the state “owns or controls” 75 percent of the land in the Park.Keith McKeever, the spokesman for the Adirondack Park Agency, sent out a lengthy rebuttal, calling Monroe’s figure “grossly inaccurate.” But McKeever’s figures can be questioned, too. He says the Forest Preserve encompasses 2.5 million acres and 43 percent of the Park. But those figures don’t include water, much of which lies within the Forest Preserve.
So just how much land does the state own and how much does it control?
First we need to correct the oft-heard claim that the Park comprises 6 million acres of private and public land. Actually, it’s 5,821,257 acres, according to the APA website. If you’re rounding, make it 5.8 million acres.
David Winchell, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, says the Forest Preserve totals 2,732,975 acres. This works out to 47 percent of the Park (up 5 percent since 1973).
In addition, the state holds conservation easements on 664,443 acres, according to Winchell. This works out to 11 percent of the Park.
Ergo, the state “owns or controls” about 3,397,418 acres, or 58 percent of the Park. This will rise to 61 percent if and when the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and the state complete deals in the works to save the former Finch, Pruyn lands and Follensby Pond.
All this assumes, of course, that DEC’s figures (and my math) are accurate.