Is the Adirondack Park being dismantled by Albany?

New York state faces a massive budget crisis, so severe that lawmakers are considering furloughing government workers.

Governor David Paterson has cautioned that the state’s coffers could run dry as early as next month.

One side-effect of the spending meltdown is what appears to be the unraveling of the Adirondack Park’s normal operations.

The first terrifying salvo came two years ago, with Paterson’s threat to cap property tax payments for state land inside the blue line.

That move would have broken a century-old social contract between New York state and the communities in the Park, forcing many towns to scramble for new revenue.

The proposal was defeated, but local government leaders were left understandably wary.

Then APA officials announced that they will mothball the Park’s two visitor interpretive centers, in Newcomb and Paul Smiths.  Those facilities are popular destinations, and a key resource for explaining the Park to visitors.

The Parks department also threatened to close the Crown Point and John Browns Farm historic sites, proposals that were later reversed.

In quick succession, the Department of Environmental Conservation unveiled its own plans to close state campgrounds, lay off assistant forest rangers, and close whole networks of roads that provide crucial access to the forest preserve.

In an interview with the Adirondack Explorer, Hamilton County officials blasted the decision.

“It’s one of the worst ideas I’ve seen in recent times,” said Bill Farber, the chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors.

Farber said the county plans to press Governor David Paterson, the state legislature, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to open the roads before Memorial Day weekend.

“It’s going to be a fight like none we’ve seen since the Forest Preserve tax cap,” he added, referring to Paterson’s proposal in 2008 to limit the taxes the state pays on Preserve lands.

The DEC is also shortening its summer camp on Lake Colby near Saranac Lake by two weeks.

But those cuts don’t begin to touch the massive downsizing within the Conservation Department.

Last week, Chris Knight reported in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that DEC staffing cuts will soon reduce the organization to levels not seen since the 1980s.

The scale of the reductions the agency is facing worries observers in the Park, including environmentalists, sportsmen and even some local government leaders.

Some fear that DEC’s core mission is in jeopardy.

“I’m concerned about their ability to accomplish their fundamental mission, which is to protect the air, water and land resources of the state of New York,” said Joe Martens, president of the Open Space Institute.

“They’ve been cut over a number of years – all the agencies have – and at some point it’s going to cut into the heart of their program.”

The budget crisis has also prompted Governor Paterson to enact a moratorium on new land purchases in the Park.

That decision couldn’t come at a worse time for the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, which is left holding tens of thousands of acres — including gorgeous wilderness areas — which the state has had on its open space wish list for decades.

While the state sorts out its mess, the Conservancy is forced to pay taxes, interest and other carrying costs on that land.

But with the DEC and the Office of Parks showing little capacity for funding long-term stewardship, or even basic operations, the argument for adding more than seventy thousand acres of additional land may be increasingly hard to make.

Indeed, the most immediate question isn’t how to expand the Park, but how to maintain it as a safe, accessible and protected resource.

Your thoughts?

24 Comments on “Is the Adirondack Park being dismantled by Albany?”

  1. Brian says:

    Yep, everyone hates “big government”… until it’s not there any more.

  2. Bob says:

    What if 480A was repealed? Would that help or hurt the situation?

  3. Bret4207 says:

    One easy and effective cost cutting measure would be to move DECs law enforcement arm- ECOs, Park Police and Forest Rangers – over into a subdivsion of the State Police. You’d eliminate duplication of services, be able to consolidate equipment, personnel, communications, etc. It would be a win-win for all agencies, but a lose-lose for the political arm of DEC. It’s a sensible move, it’s been discussed many times before and all that stopped it was politicians that were unwilling to give up their little army.

  4. Paul says:

    Not purchasing that land from the NC is the only sensible thing to do. If the state goes through with that it will clearly show that they have fallen off their rocker. Recently NYS has made some tough decisions and is not buying land in other places. To follow through with this would show that there is some “undue influence” floating around in Albany?

  5. Paul says:

    Bob, Yes, I think a repeal of 480a is in order. The days of giving the Rockefeller’s a tax break should be over.

  6. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    For those let knowledgeable, please explain 480a. Thanks.

    And Bret, would moving the law enforcement arm under the state police really save money? What costs specifically would be saved? Just curious as to what has been proposed in the past where the savings would occur.

  7. Paul says:

    480a is a program where landowners of 50 acres or more can have their property tax reduced in exchange for putting in place a timber harvesting plan and following through (in other words cut the trees as prescribed in the management plan). If you are really bored look here: http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/2422.html

    So it says we will give you a tax break. Only thing is you have to cut timber on your property and make some money that you will then be able to use to pay the other portion of your property tax bill. So if you have enough money and land we will give you a tax break so that everybody else will have a higher tax bill.

  8. Paul says:

    I assume that the land that was sold to a dutch pension fund by the Nature Conservancy is under a 480a. I wouldn’t want those dutch owners paying too much taxes! Well I am sure the local’s don’t mind picking up the slack.

  9. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Paul,

    Thanks for the clarification. I now understand your Rockefeller comment. When I get really bored I’ll read the link.

  10. Paul says:

    That property may fall under the original 480 plan. That was a very good program from the perspective of the landowner. I am not sure what the best thing to do is. Maybe this program is necessary to keep some NY forestland in timber production. So there may be good reason to have a program for “real” commercial harvesting. But many people who take advantage of this program do not need it. Or they ‘need” it in the sense that it allows them to own considerably more land that they could otherwise afford. I am all for private ownership but not a few individuals at the expense of everybody else. If this means that some folks have to sell something else they own to pay their tax bill than so-be-it. This may mean that more private Adirondack land will have to be developed in other ways. That will have a net positive effect on the state’s economy. What these cuts underscore is that we need to get things out of public control and back into private control.
    The state has completely out of control with acquisition of state land and easements. This has been done under democratic and republican control. This was a problem long before the states finances went south. Look at easement plans for any of the big timber deals that NYS entered into. They made those deals with neither the funds nor the personnel to manage their plans. Look at the Santa Clara tract. That deal was done in the flusher times of the late nineties. They never built any of the facilities they planned. They have never maintained any of the roads related to those parcels. I can’t help but think that state was just suckered along by certain groups that just could not live without those deals going through. Now here we are, and some of those same groups still cant see the forest for the trees. They insist on pushing the state to follow through on deals it can’t afford with money it doesn’t have.
    “That decision couldn’t come at a worse time for the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, which is left holding tens of thousands of acres — including gorgeous wilderness areas” Brian, you must be kidding, I know you feel bad for these guys but give me a break. I don’t feel sorry for the ANC stuck owning thousands of acres of “gorgeous” land! Sell it to someone else that can afford it if they can’t stand having that great asset. According to their last 990 they had to file as a TAX EXEMPT organization only listed that they had 4.6 billion in Net Assets. I think they will be okay.

  11. Bret4207 says:

    Clap- You currently have 3 or 4 State law enforcement agencies operating from a multitude of locations, utilizing a number of dispatch centers, operating towards the same goals with much of the same training. Yet you also have agencies having to borrow equipment, make do with limited access to information and assistance. Consolidate them under one roof. You can get rid of some line numbers (payroll) and have a more uniform, cohesive and efficient agency. Leave them in their specialized fields, yes. No question there. But why do we have 2 or 3 sets of State level police agencies operating as though the other didn’t exist? Why are the State Park Police running radar on St Rt 12 between Alex Bay and Morristown (Krings Point Park and Jacques Cartier) or on 37 in Massena when we have Troopers out there too? Why do we have SP on the St Lawrence and ECO’s too? When there was a plane crash in winter near Saranac Lake several years back the Troopers that had to guard the scene all night long didn’t have the proper equipment the Forest Rangers and EnCon had, they had to supply their own cold weather gear for the sub zero temps. The Sarah Ann Wood detail in Raquette Lake proved the agencies work well together as did another big search in Indian Lake shortly after that. Why we have 3 or 4 agencies operating separately when they could be pooling their resources just doesn’t make sense to me.

    BTW- EnCon Police were commanded by a State Police Capt. for some time a few years back. I didn’t hear of any major complaints or problems at that time.

  12. mary says:

    Downsizing the DEC effects the state, not just the adirondacks. Your news coverage is better about the DEC than anywhere else. That does not mean the cuts only have impact for you.

    I live in the southern tier where they plan on putting 4000 gas wells in my county alone. Guess who is supposed to inspect these? 15 or so gas inspectors spread across the whole state — and that is now, before the cuts.

  13. Paul says:

    Mary,

    This is a problem. I think this is the best argument that “anti-drilling” folks have. One solution is to have the gas companies be required as part of their permits to fund what it takes to monitor the wells (companies pay for state inspectors). In the case of gas wells we may have options. For example if every 10 wells needs a monitor that their should be an annual permit fee related to the wells that will cover the positions at the DEC. Problem in the Adirondacks with some of their issues is that there is very little revenue related to the “facilities” we are describing. But you are right the DEC has lots more going on then just what they have up north. But this is NCPR so the discussion is focused up north.

  14. Peter Heckman says:

    Straight from the Adirondack Master Plan:

    11. Due to the importance of the forest products industry to the economy of the Adirondack region, bulk acreage purchases in fee should not normally be made where highly productive forest land is involved, unless such land is threatened with development that would curtail its use for forestry purposes or its values for the preservation of open space or wildlife habitat. However, conservation easements permitting the continuation of sound forest management and other land uses compatible with the open space character of the Park should be acquired wherever possible to protect and buffer state lands.

    The land never should have made it onto the Open Space Plan, which is subjective and was written by the Land Acquisitionists. 1400 truckloads of wood came off the Essex Tract last year.

  15. Pete Klein says:

    The State Police, EnCon Officers, Sheriff Departments, City Police, the DEA, ATF, NCIS, etc., etc., etc.,
    Have we become a police state or what?
    And as long is we are talking police, cops or whatever, isn’t it time to take a look at the pay discrepancies between the State Police and most other law enforcement officers?
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the State Police are way overpaid when compared to the NYC police.
    The North Country is more dangerous than NYC?
    Really!

  16. Pete Klein says:

    Sorry. Change “long is” to “long as.”

  17. Bret4207 says:

    Pete- Binding arbitration and the resulting investigation by the arbitrator determined SP pay was way below what other full service police agencies in the state were making. Troopers down state were actually eligible for food stamps! That’s how it got to where it is today. And I would agree NYC pay is low for what they do. Please also remember the NYSP patrols the whole state including NYC and LI and they have to live in those areas too.

    Is the No Co more dangerous? Ask Mandy Reif, Shawn Snow or Dave Nawotniak. Mandy’s lucky to be alive, Shawns dead and they dedicated a bridge to the drunk that almost killed Dave.

  18. Bret4207 says:

    Forgot to add Gary Baldwin, Chad Niles, Larry Gleason as examples. Garys got screens holding his guts in, Chads got an ear to ear scar where they reconstructed his face and you’ll have to talk to Larrys widow and ask her if it can be dangerous.

    Thats just a few off the top of my head in B Troop, I can get a whole bunch more if you want…

  19. Mervel says:

    Wasn’t the original mission of the nature conservancy to buy and hold land of environmental significance? To act as a private landowner protecting land that would not otherwise be protected. It seems to me holding on to that land is what they are supposed to be doing in the first place! I don’t think land speculation was part of their mission. If NYS can’t buy it back than it will be the NC duty to hold the land and protect if from all development.

    Mission drift is a dangerous thing for not for profits.

  20. Small Land owner says:

    One of the stipulation of the 480A timber management plan is that the lands can NOT be subdivided and developed while in the plan or for 10 years afterwards. This is something that does in effect reduce the resale value of the lands committed to the plan. Before anyone talks of eliminating the plan they should look at all sides of the plan in order to make an intelligent choice considering the preservation aspect as well as the tax $$$$ aspect.

  21. Paul says:

    Small Land owner, yes, all the aspects of the program should be considered. Personally I think that there is already plenty of fully protected land in the Adirondacks. And now hundreds of thousands of acres of land that was probably “protected” under a 480 plan is now either forever wild land or protected under a conservation easement. If a repeal of 480a means that some land gets subdivided and developed than I think it may be a good thing. That will lead to additional revenue that the region and the state desperately needs.

  22. MJ says:

    Bret, you are wrong about combining the Encon Police with the state troopers and such. Their missions are different and they should not be combined. In fact over the years the duties of the Forest Ranger have been sucked away and given to the State Troopers as a cost saving measure. There is a noticeable lack in service. Things the Forest Ranger use to do are just being dropped and not getting picked up because the State Troopers have a different core mission/different priorities. Sorry I really disagree with you on this topic. It is really sad to see the Forest Rangers duties and the force reduced so much. FYI, They already do train together, so no savings there. I have seen the change over the past 30 years…wish it were back to what it was before.
    FYI
    Did you know that the helicopters that were bought for search and rescue were taken by the Albany politicians so they can get back and forth from NYC and Albany?
    Do you know that Patterson gutted the entire Environmental Protection Fund? There is only the smallest amount (5$) in it right now to keep the account open. Patterson is gutting DEC.

  23. Tree Farmer says:

    I generally agree with Paul. The creation of the APA in 1971 and significant additions to the Park were made during flush times when law makers could tax and spend at will. Redundant layers of bureaucracy and aggressive land acquisition plans are no longer sustainable. I love the North Country and want to see the core areas preserved forever, but lets take care of the core and allow sustainable forestry operations on the rest, in order to enhance economic activity and generate tax revenue.
    I an not familiar with the details of 480, but it sounds a bit like Chapter 61 in my state. You receive a tax break on land under a Forest Management Plan filed with the state. You pay filing and plan fees and a commission to the forester for any cut timber. Timber sales are infrequent; ten year intervals. The land cannot be sold or developed without penalty. It can be a good thing for keeping the land open and productive, with enhanced wildlife habitat.

  24. Garry says:

    Responsibly managed forests can be a real asset to the use of the Adirondacks. Although wild forests are a unique resource that should be preserved, managed lands are necessary for the demands of our economy; creating jobs, business growth, material for industry and construction, etc…The keyword in the equation is responsibly managed.

    As to subdivision and development, I see this as more of a threat to the character and future of our Adirondacks. While creating increased taxes for municipalities, at the same time it puts and increased demand for the services that community provides. Major programs towards increased tourism is a plan that should not be forgotten or ignored.

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