An Adirondack Park Agency commissioner is criticizing the Cuomo administration, saying the New York governor has exerted undue influence over decisions made at the agency, placing forest protections at risk.
The Adirondack Park Agency has been reviewing changes to classification of lands that the state recently opened for public use in the Essex Chain Lakes area of the Adirondacks. At their March meeting last week, commissioners passed amendments to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan that will allow for the use of bicycling on former all-season roads in the Essex Chain Lakes and Pine Lake Primitive Areas; the use of motorized vehicles for periodic, non-routine maintenance of designated Primitive Recreational Trails and the possible use of non-natural materials on bridge designs in wild forest areas.
The approval did not sit well with Commissioner Richard Booth, who has criticized a number of recent board meetings. He lashed out at the Cuomo administration’s influence over the Agency. “For many months the governor and the governor’s staff, the y have rigidly controlled what materials agency staff may prepare and present to the agency. Until now no governor in this state has chosen to force the Park Agency to weaken the Master Plan. Governor Cuomo and his staff have chosen to do so.”
Immediately following Booths comments, Chair Lani Ulrich attempted to temper the characterization of the agency and its decisions. “Is this a flawed process? Every bit of it is flawed, we are human beings.”
Adirondack Wild Friends of The Forest Preserve Partner Dan Plumley says Booth’s comments shatter the elephant in the room. “And that is the inordinate use of control and power by Governor Andrew Cuomo in having his state agencies do his bidding. In this case, member Dick Booth was basically identifying the fact that the decisions on the State Land Master Plan, that for the first time in the history of the Park Agency, were weakening the integrity of the entire plan for the forest preserve.”
Protect The Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer claims that the board’s decision last week was the first time the State Land Master Plan has been weakened in 40 years. “This is a very powerful statement by Dick Booth, who has a long career in public service. He worked at the Adirondack Park Agency as an attorney. He worked at the DEC for years as an attorney and he’s been an environmental law professor at Cornell for decades now. And he was calling out the fact that the system is broken when it comes to management of the state lands of the forest preserve.”
Adirondack park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe notes that several environmental groups are suing the state over changes to land classifications in the Adirondacks. Monroe notes that the amendments to the State Land Master Plan prompting Booth’s remarks had been under negotiation since 2013. “This is a special circumstance. This land in our view was misclassified as primitive because there’s over twenty hunting and fishing cabins there. There’s very substantial roads that would hold tractor trailers. And if it was classified as Wild Forest there could be motorized uses on the entire tract. And so there was a compromise to classify it as Primitive to create a corridor. It’s not something that’s replicated in any other places. It’s kind of a unique situation. The APA just limited it to this Essex Chain property, so I don’t think it’s a significant weakening of the State Land Master Plan. I would take issue with that comment by Mr. Booth.”
Commissioner Richard Booth was appointed by the governor to the Adirondack Park Agency as an out-of-park representative. His term ends in June.
Booth’s comments begin at about 1:37:30 into the APA archived video of its March meeting.