Update: For Adirondack land purchases, a public process needed

Update:  The Department of Environmental Conservation sent a lengthy response to my blog post a few minutes ago.  It’s too long for the comment section, so I’m including it at the bottom of this post.

Over the next year, Governor Andrew Cuomo and his chosen commissioner for the Department of Environmental Conservation, Joe Martens, have a landmark decision to make.

They will have to sort out what to do with more than 60,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn land in the Adirondacks.

The property is owned now by the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, which wants the land to be acquired in fee by New York state and added to the constitutionally-protected forest preserve.

The Conservancy also wants New York to acquire the forests and bogs around Follensby Pond near Tupper Lake.

I’ve seen some of the terrain in question and I don’t think there’s any doubt that some of it should be made forever wild.

But especially at a time when New York taxpayers face an $11 billion budget deficit, and crucial environmental and stewardship programs have been de-funded, there is a legitimate debate underway over the size, scope and timing of these deals.

State Senator Betty Little and others want them canceled outright.  They say the state already owns more land than it can properly manage in the Park.

Another key factor shaping the conversation is the woeful condition of many Park communities.

Local government leaders are worried that “locking up” this land will close off future options for development and prosperity.

Green groups make a passionate argument that these lands need permanent protection for their intrinsic ecological value, while also insisting that the deal will boost tourism and generate more property tax payments from New York state.

They also hope to eventually see a vast new wilderness area created in the core of the Adirondacks.

All these points deserve a thorough hashing out.  The problem is that we have no public process in place to wrestle with the thorny questions surrounding big land deals.

Yes, the DEC has a forest preserve advisory committee, but as the Adirondack Daily Enterprise‘s Mike Lynch reported lat October, its deliberations are downright secretive.

“Meetings are not announced, nor are they open to the public and press,” Lynch wrote.  “The committee is not bound to the state’s open meetings law.”

When asked about the closed-door policy, DEC spokesman David Winchell answered this way:

“Open and frank discussions by and with members are important to DEC. The presence of the press and the public would inhibit those valuable exchanges of ideas.”

The DEC also has two Adirondack regional advisory committees that provide broad input as it develops the Open Space Plan for New York state.

Those groups are made up of participants selected by the DEC, county leaders, and other state agencies.  But their input tends to be more general in nature.

It doesn’t focus on the ramifications of specific land acquisition deals, both to the environment and to Park communities.

[Note:  In their response, posted in full below, the DEC disputes this characterization and argues that land parcels aren't added to the Open Space plan without detailed local input and consensus support.]

It’s important to note that after the massive Finch, Pruyn deal was unveiled, the Nature Conservancy and the DEC won praise for their efforts to communicate with local government leaders as they developed their plans for the property.

Town boards across the Adirondacks approved resolutions endorsing the land purchase.

But here again, there were no public hearings where average citizens (those living inside and outside the Park) could learn about the rationales behind various management decisions.

[The DEC argues that hearings were held prior to creation of New York state's 2009 Open Space Plan; but no hearings were held to gather input on specific aspects of the Finch, Pruyn project developed by DEC and TNC.]

There was certainly no chance for average taxpayers to offer their input, despite the hefty price tag associated with the project.

Indeed, when these public land deals are concluded, the DEC’s specific management decisions and the amount paid by New York state are usually announced only after the fact.

This lack of sunshine has led to questions, suspicion and an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office.

Bluntly, it makes no sense that big decisions like these should be made behind closed doors.

Mega-land deals have a much bigger and longer-term impact on the Park’s economy and ecology than, say, the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake.

But the Big Tupper review has gone on in various forms for nearly seven years, with public hearings beyond counting, published site plans and a process that allows citizens to learn what’s going on and speak their mind.

The time has come to develop a similar approach for land purchases in the Park.   Fortunately, the framework for this kind of public review is already in place.

“In New York State, most projects or activities proposed by a state agency or unit of local government…require an environmental impact assessment,” according to the DEC’s website.

The so-called “SEQR” process (pronounced “seeker”) includes a minimum 30-day public comment period and in many cases public hearings are held.

The SEQR Act, approved by the legislature, forces state and local government agencies “to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making.”

Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Martens should propose legislation immediately that requires state land purchases in the Adirondacks and Catskills undergo the same scrutiny.

The change would force state agencies and environmental groups to make clear, detailed and science-based arguments for how each land purchase would benefit the Park and its ecology.

It would also require the DEC to offer factual data about how these purchases might affect park communities and their economies.  And state officials would have to outline plans for stewardship, maintenance and public access.

Finally, a SEQR review would allow the public to have a chance to kick the tires on these deals, reviewing the nuts and bolts of each acquisition in advance, while offering their own input.

Some preservation groups might argue that big conservation deals would wither away under that kind of public scrutiny.  The obvious question in response would be Why?

If these acquisitions are in the public interest — and some clearly are — surely they would stand up to the same scrutiny that private businesses, landowners, state agencies, and local governments already face in the Park for far less significant projects.

The DEC’s response:

Brian,

DEC staff read with interest your blog entitled “For Adirondack land purchases, a public process needed”. The blog implies that there is not a public process for land purchases by the State. However, from the DEC point of view there is a considerable amount of information about the process that is omitted from your blog and some misinformation as well.

(Note:  I have asked the DEC to specify which points of my blog post they view as “misinformation.”  If there are factual errors, I will correct them.)

There are essentially three components of the land purchasing process: the Regional Open Space Conservation Advisory Committees, the State Open Space Conservation Plan and purchasing the land or easement:

Regional Open Space Conservation Advisory Committees

·     Article 49 of the Environmental Conservation Law calls for the establishment of Regional Open Space Conservation Advisory Committees, organized by DEC administrative regions that provide advice and guidance in developing the State’s Open Space Conservation Plan.

·     The Regional Open Space Conservation Advisory Committees consist of a representative selected each County within the region and members appointed by the Commissioners of DEC and OPHRP. The committees are co-chaired by the DEC and OPHRP regional directors.

·     The law states that each regional committee will have one more appointee than there are local government representatives. Therefore, the Region 5 Open Space Conservation Advisory Committee has 17 members, with eight of them serving as county representatives appointed by the County government of each of the counties within the region – typically elected members of the County Board.

State Open Space Conservation Plan

·     Article 49 of the Environmental Conservation Law requires that the State’s Open Space Conservation Plan be updated every three years.

·     Prior to updating the State Open Space Conservation Plan, the Regional Open Space Conservation Advisory Committees meet to determine the priority open space conservation projects in their respective region. A report of the committee’s recommendations is developed and submitted to DEC and OPHRP. The regional report includes a list of projects but may also include an overview of issues and recommendations for policy (see attached).

·     Each of the Regional Open Space Conservation Advisory Committee works a little differently; as I am the secretary to the Region 5 committee I will describe how they work to develop their report.

·     An overview of a proposed project is provided to the committee by the project sponsor – typically a member of the committee, a third party invited by the Committee or DEC staff.

·     The committee requests information on the size, location, and conservation benefits of the project. Most importantly they seek assurance that the local government in which the land is located supports the project and that the landowner is willing to sell the land – without these the committee refuses to entertain including a project as on the priority list.

·     While the committee rules call for a vote on projects, typically they work to develop consensus. Very rarely are projects added to the priority project list without a unanimous vote.

·     The Region 5 Open Space Conservation Advisory Committee met 10 times over a three year period prior to finalize their report for the 2009 New York State Open Space Conservation Plan – so there is considerable discussion and review of projects and other recommendations.

·     Once the reports from the nine Regional Open Space Conservation Advisory Committees are submitted DEC and OPHRP work to develop a Draft State Open Space Conservation Plan.

·     The Draft State Open Space Conservation Plan is announced and made available for public review and comment.

·     Workshops and hearings are held state wide and public comment is received and reviewed.

·     22 workshops and hearings were held during the public review period for the draft 2009 plan and 464 comments were received via the public hearings, mail, E-mail, fax and through DEC’s website.

·     Based on the comments the Plan is finalized and serves as the guidance for open space conservation until the next update.

·     Article 49 of Environmental Conservation Law prohibits the purchase of lands or easements on lands that exceed $250,000 in cost or 200 acres in size, unless they are listed as a priority project in the State Open Space Conservation Plan.

Purchasing the Land or Easement

When the State is prepared to complete a project by purchasing the land, or an easement on the land, a letter is sent to the local governments in which the land lies. They have ninety days to “veto” the purchase of the lands and/or easement. This is another opportunity for the local governments and their constituents to review an open space conservation project and determine if it is acceptable or not. In the 1990s, this is exactly what happened with the OWD lands in Tupper Lake.

As your blog seems to be initiated by the State’s recent purchase of conservation easements on the former Finch Pruyn lands, it should be pointed out that not only was this listed as a priority project in the Draft 2009 New York State Open Space Conservation Plan – which received significant review and comment as described above – additionally, DEC and TNC staff held more than 60 meetings with town boards that had former Finch Pruyn lands in the municipality. Each of the 27 Town governments approved the land deal.

In conclusion, the State’s process for purchasing lands for open space conservation is an open and public process that balances the need for public participation in setting our open space conservation priorities, but which is respectful of the private property rights of individuals and organizations who negotiate with the State on these land decisions

Sincerely,

David Winchell

P.S.  The Forest Preserve Advisory Committee focus is advising DEC on how to manage the forest preserve, not on land acquisition.

NOTE:  David Winchell is spokesman for the DEC in Region 5, based in Ray Brook

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50 Responses to “Update: For Adirondack land purchases, a public process needed”

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  1. phahn50 says:

    A seven year plus review process would take the decision out of the time frame of governors. This might not be practical. They (DEC APA?) should really spend more time thinking about the economy of the Park communities since part of the experimental design of the Park is to have humans living and presumably prospering inside the park in harmony with the rest of the concept.

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  2. Brian Mann says:

    I don’t mean to suggest that a land purchase project should be reviewed for seven years.

    I meant to point to the stark contrast between the way the ACR project has been scrutinized, and the relative lack of a public process for deals like Finch, Pruyn.

    The SEQR process is relatively streamlined and would typically be measured in months.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  3. RE: “the state already owns more land than it can properly manage in the Park”. Perhaps if the money being spent keeping more prisons open than we need, that money could be spent managing state lands. That would still provide work to North Country people but in a more positive and productive endeavor.

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  4. Brian Mann says:

    One more clarification: The APA has no role in land acquisition. The Agency handles the next step in the process, determining how forest preserve land should be classified and approving management plans. The SEQR process would be handled by DEC.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  5. Bret4207 says:

    Open gov’t. You just brought it up the other day Brian. This is an excellent example of how the public is effectively shut out of any rule or decision making. DEC’s claim this would somehow upset the apple cart is pure bureaucratic non sense. Same thing happened with the burn ban and outdoor wood boiler issue. Although DEC made a show of having a public input period after the stink was made, it never paid more than lip service. So we ended up with a State law that should have been left to local zoning.

    BTW- NYS doesn’t “manage” it’s forest lands now, they just prohibit anything from happening on the land. That’s not what anyone would normally consider managing.

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  6. phahn50 says:

    The people of the state of New York have a definite interest in obtaining more state recreation land. Parks are something that states do. But since most of the state population lives in or near NYC, that is where the transparent public hearing would be and whose interests would be most important (and whose money would be involved in the purchase). I dont think the residents of Manhattan care much whether the forests are “managed” or not.

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  7. Pete Klein says:

    Purchase and place all in Wild Forest, no Wilderness.
    By the way, as an aside, has the idea of local government become an expensive delusion?
    I ask the question because of the property tax cap and unfunded/underfunded mandates.
    It would seem local governments have been reduced to carrying out the orders from the state and federal governments. Local elected officials get to be the pawns in the chess game. Their hands are tied. This includes the schools who must jump every time SED and the Regents tell them to jump.
    Blame everything on local governments is what our “leaders” in the state and federal governments want us to do.
    Think about it.

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  8. dave says:

    “Town boards across the Adirondacks approved resolutions endorsing the land purchase… But here again, there were no public hearings”

    We elect these town boards, don’t we?

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  9. George Nagle says:

    In the excerpt from the APA Act cited below we see that one purpose of the APA is to develop park policy.

    There are practical, institutional, and political reasons why the APA has not addressed the issues of forest preserve/easement acquisition, and probably never will, but in principle it may do that as part of overall policy formulation.

    “A further purpose of this article is to focus the
    responsibility for developing long-range park policy in a
    forum reflecting statewide concern. This policy shall
    recognize the major state interest in the conservation, use
    and development of the park’s resources and the
    preservation of its open space character, and at the same
    time, provide a continuing role for local government.”

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  10. Myown says:

    Brian, I disagree with your premise that Forest Preserve land acquisition is secretive and behind closed doors. DEC, and also organizations like ADK and Adirondack Council, have long standing lists and inventories of areas and parcels that are priorities for acquisition . For instance the Open Space Plan is developed with public committees and input to determine land acquisition goals. This info is available to anyone but it sits on a shelf for many years until the owner of such a parcel decides to sell. Regardless, it is hardly a surprise when one of these areas becomes available and the State is interested in acquiring it. On the other hand, I can understand if the property owner prefers negotiations remain inconspicuous until it is announced.

    If you are looking for a review or discussion of economic impacts related to State purchase of a particular parcel SEQR is not your vehicle. As a matter of fact, DEC land acquisition already goes thru the SEQR process. And SEQR does not require in-depth economic evaluations. Besides, some potential economic outcomes may depend on how the land is eventually classified by the APA and managed via the UMP. So you are really trying to combine several processes that take place after State purchase into the initial acquisition process.

    Beyond public and local government input to open space planning and acquisition, local governments have veto power over State purchases of land when utilizing dollars from the Environmental Protection Fund. This certainly puts DEC in a position to justify the acquisition.

    And let’s stop the silly talk about how the State’s acquisition of remote and environmentally sensitive tracts of land will inhibit local economic development. Most of these parcels are not really developable except maybe for more second homes around some lakes. Unfortunately, most local politicians do not see the recreational potential associated with some of these parcels and miss opportunities that could promote economic activity. Certainly most new economic development should occur within or contiguous to existing hamlets. If lack of developable land around a couple hamlets is a real issue then let’s address this but do not argue it is a reason to reject State acquisition of remote parcels.

    And after all, it is a State Park. What I think would be helpful is for DEC, APA, local governments, other organizations and the public to develop a Master Plan for the Park. Part of the opposition to new State acquisitions is the fear it will go on until there is no private land left. I think it would be helpful to have a Master Plan that identifies what the future Park will look like. This will show where future acquisitions could occur and where future economic development should occur along with goals and ideas to accomplish it. We need to look at the bigger picture which requires a comprehensive Master Plan for the Adirondack Park.

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  11. Brian says:

    I’m a big supporter of the forest preserve. But the problems come when the state unconscionably refuses to pay (or withholds or delays or pays partially) property tax on that land to counties and municipalities. This, combined with cuts to state aid and the ever increasing state mandates, is suffocating counties and municipalities. The state should not acquire more land than it can pay its fair share for, can pay what it owes… to say nothing of maintenance expenses.

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  12. Pete Klein says:

    I agree with most of what Myown says and would like to add the following.
    The forest itself does not need to be managed. It was doing quite well for itself before any humans came along.
    The only thing that needs to be managed are the trails and campsites.
    We humans have a bad habit of fixing what wasn’t broke. You see this bad habit all the time in government and education. Why does it happen? Fixing what isn’t broke is a job work program.

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  13. Solidago says:

    It makes no sense to me for the state to be buying fee title from a seller called The Nature Conservancy at a time like this. The state needs to save its resources for large tracts of land that might actually be threatened by subdivision and development.

    If The Nature Conservancy is drawing up development plans now, I’d say buy it, but I have a tough time believing that’s on the table.

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  14. John Warren says:

    Myown, Thanks for a bit of sanity here.

    Brian Mann, I think you’re going too far in some of these commentaries – you are making news here, not reporting it. I also wonder about your overall grasp on the bigger picture of the importance of these purchases to the entire state (even the whole northeast). I appreciate and support your interests in local input, but it’s not a panacea. Local interests are being served by these purchases quite effectively, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, plenty of public hearing opportunities, and a friendly media environment.

    There is a small local vocal minority who you seem to have given weight beyond what they deserve. Who speaks for the people of Long Island? Or the folks in Buffalo? And please, don’t tell me the big bad environmental groups – they are all but gone.

    We’re engaged in a struggle to preserve the last real wilderness opportunities in the east – that is no small matter. Frankly, you’re seemingly regular attacks on the process, the economics, the make-up of the regulatory body authorized to protect it, are beginning to appear a bit one-sided.

    I hope you’ll rethink your approach to reporting on the Adirondack Park by seriously considering what it looked like 100 years ago, and what it will look like 100 years from now.

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  15. BRFVolpe says:

    Questions:
    What happens if nothing is done, and the lands are retained by the Nature Conservancy? Would it not be able to be used by the public, as if it were a conservation easement without the state having to pay for it? While lands are owned by the Nature Conservancy, (or any other environmental group), are they paying property taxes to the towns and counties, or are they a charitable organization exempt from paying taxes?

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  16. Sorry, Brian, but I have a small clarification to make about your mention of the secretive dealings of the Forest Preserve Advisory Council. That council advises the state on managing land it already owns. A separate commission (the name escapes me right now, but it has “open space” in it) advises the DEC on what lands to buy.

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  17. Brian Mann says:

    John -

    My commentary here calls for more public involvement, more public input, more public scrutiny of a government process that involves tens of millions of public dollars and will literally redefine the Adirondack Park.

    That’s what journalists do. We advocate for openness, public involvement and government transparency.

    My commentary would be more than a bit biased if I were to argue for one or another outcome. I don’t.

    (If anything, I show my hand by saying that I think at least some of these lands should be included in the forest preserve.)

    It’s also worth nothing that I made it perfectly clear that I think the public process should involve input from New Yorkers living outside the blue line.

    Bluntly, John, you’re usually a staunch advocate for openness and sunshine when it comes to government institutions and citizen involvement.

    Why not in this case?

    Brian, NCPR

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  18. Brian Mann says:

    Peter –

    Yes, I understand the distinction and in my commentary I mention both advisory panels — the two Open Space advisory committees for the Adirondacks (there is one for Region 5 and another for Region 6) and the forest preserve advisory committee.

    I thought it was relevant to note that forest preserve committee’s existence and its method of operation.

    And put simply, we don’t know whether that group offers input about the value and strategy of future land purchases, because we don’t know what they talk about.

    Brian, NCPR

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  19. verplanck says:

    I find it hard to believe there is much development that can happen on a parcel of bogs/swamps/wetlands. You can’t fill it in, so what worth is there to a developer? It only makes sense for the State to manage it in that case.

    To say that land deals have a greater ecological impact than a second-home subdivision with additional facilities is lunacy. Long-term impacts? For sure. But ecological impact? Come on.

    I do agree about the general tenor of public review. Here in VT, there is a robust sunshine law, and the local review boards have a lot of power to hold developers to account for their plans. Unfortunately, the Adirondacks seem to be latched to the NYS system of government, which does not value local control. With the talk I’ve heard about consolidating governments, the goal of local involvement could become harder to implement.

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  20. Mervel says:

    It seems that there is no mission and follow on goals for any of these land purchases.

    In general I favor them because I am selfish, however what is the goal? Reviewing every single public land purchase would be a nightmare it would effectively end public land purchases. We can’t build one single ski lodge on an existing ski hill, how would we ever complete the purchase of tens of thousands of acres. So I am not against the state just doing it when needed. However it would be important to have the state say yes our goal for the next 50 years is to increase the size of the state owned forever wild forest by X percent within these geographical limits and in service to that we will be buying land as it comes up for sale in that region. To me that is what you debate about not the individual purchases. Maybe the goal will end up being to shrink the wild forest acres who knows.

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  21. dave says:

    “Reviewing every single public land purchase would be a nightmare it would effectively end public land purchases.”

    One begins to wonder if that isn’t the point of such a suggestion.

    Advocating for government transparency, openness, and scrutiny is of course a good thing. But that is a whole deal different than suggesting that every government decision should be subject to direct, local, public involvement and influence… as seems to be Brian’s preference on many Park issues. We elect representatives for a reason.

    I am also not entirely sure I agree with the idea that advocating for a particular type of government decision making is “what journalists do”.

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  22. John says:

    Would someone please address the traditional economic resources that will be eliminated if the state buys this land, namely, 1) There are 20 clubs who infuse tens of millions of dollars into the local economies, and, 2) The land is Forest Stewardship Council Certified for sustainable forestry.

    These resources should be kept intact, and the general public should have access to the river corridors.

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  23. scratchy says:

    It is an outrage that the state Open Meetings Law does not apply to DEC’s forest preserve advisory committee. I am firm advocate of open government and do not believe government committees should ever meet in secret unless there is a very good reason for doing so.

    I wonder if the environmentalists on this board would feel differently about secret meetings for the purpose of opening state land to snowmobiles and atvs.

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  24. Pete Klein says:

    Just for the record:
    Public Process
    The final plan culminates a process that will ensure that resources for open space conservation are committed to publicly identified priorities. Priority project areas were identified by regional Open Space Advisory Committees composed of representatives of local government, conservation organizations, members of the public, and DEC and OPRHP staff.

    The draft plan was then prepared from the recommendations of the advisory committees and submitted for public comment on January 7, 2009. Written comments were accepted until February 27, 2009. Public hearings were held from January 20-January 22, 2009 around the state. Public comment was considered and many changes were incorporated into the final plan. Remaining comments are addressed in the Response to Public Comment (e-Appendix F).

    The committee includes town supervisors from the counties in Region 5. Yes, other interested parties are also included.

    If you want to learn more, go to http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/47990.html

    The fact of the matter, information is not secret and is available but as I have said over and over, the general public doesn’t have the time or the inclination to run to every Open Meeting conducted. Just because no one shows up doesn’t mean the meeting aren’t open.

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  25. Brian Mann says:

    I have posted the DEC’s response to my post above and wanted to respond directly to several points made there.

    First, my original post acknowledges the various steps that the DEC takes in preparing its Open Space Plan, including regional advisory boards.

    However, I was in error in suggesting that the participants in those advisory boards were “selected by the DEC.”

    As David Winchell fairly points out, county governments and other state agencies choose many of the participants.

    This was a factual error on my part, one I’ve corrected.

    Winchell also argues, convincingly, that the public input process that goes into developing the open space plan is more rigorous than I described.

    “22 workshops and hearings were held during the public review period for the draft 2009 plan,” he writes, “and 464 comments were received via the public hearings, mail, E-mail, fax and through DEC’s website.”

    Finally, he makes the point that towns can, in theory, veto land acquisitions within their boundaries.

    I say in theory because the state has occasionally threatened to use funds for land acquisitions that aren’t hindered by this restriction.

    These are significant points, worthy of consideration by anyone looking at how these deals are negotiated.

    I stand by my argument, however, that individual land deals still lack a process for public scrutiny and input, one that involves average citizens and taxpayers as well as local government officials.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  26. Brian: re: your post at 12:09 p.m. – Fair enough. Thanks.

    And thanks for opening this can of worms. I agree with Dave Winchell that the DEC has a process for doing this stuff openly, but in my experience it usually doesn’t get much attention. There’s no public discussion if the public doesn’t show up, so calling attention to the process is good. It could prevent much of the surprise some people expressed at the state’s recent $30M easement purchase. Media had done stories for years that it was in the works, but a long time passed until it actually happened.

    Whether you agree with these purchases is another matter, and I look forward to hearing a lot of voices chiming in on whether to buy the 60,000 acres.

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  27. dave says:

    That response sure seems like a conversation ender.

    Especially…

    “DEC and TNC staff held more than 60 meetings with town boards that had former Finch Pruyn lands in the municipality. Each of the 27 Town governments approved the land deal.”

    and

    “22 workshops and hearings were held during the public review period for the draft 2009 plan,” he writes, “and 464 comments were received via the public hearings, mail, E-mail, fax and through DEC’s website.”

    Hard to read through this and walk away thinking there wasn’t a solid effort to include and considered the public and all involved. If anything, it almost reads like overkill to me.

    I’m really struggling to comprehend the argument here.

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  28. Brian Mann says:

    Peter – You’ve made a point here that I couldn’t quite figure out how to make in my original post.

    It’s one thing to say, ‘Let’s have a process to look in general at the possibility of future land acquisitions in the Adirondacks.’

    I think David Winchell has made a good case that there’s far more of that going on, and with more rigor, than my original post suggested.

    But it’s quite another thing to say, ‘We’re thinking about buying a significant portion of land that will be added to the forest preserve in your community and we want your input.”

    –Brian, NCPR

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  29. duane says:

    This brings up the really sad lack of public understanding and ignorance of NYS land acquisition policies and process. And the Press is responsible for much of the ignorance.

    I have been a State appointee to the Region 5 Open Space Advisory Committee since its inception in 1990. ( A joint DEC and OPRHP committee ) Each county legislature appoints a member (8 in Region 5) and the state appoints nine. (Not all the members as Brian Mann states) After a contentious beginning, many of the important policies and guidelines incorporated in the State Open Space Plan came from the early hard work of the Region 5 Committee. The passage of the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) added the important veto power over land purchases by local governments.

    Today, for the State to acquire a parcel it must go through a rating process at DEC (DEC refuses many offers of land for sale and even outright gifts) If it passes the rating process it must then go to the local government(s) for a 90 day window where they can veto the sale. If it is not vetoed it comes before the Region 5 Committee for their approval. If the parcel does not fit into certain categories in the Open Space Plan ( i.e. smaller parcels, working forest or specific shoreline protection), it cannot be purchased until the next updated plan comes out. The State Open Space Plan must be updated every three years. There are publicized public meetings through out the state and they take written comments including e-mails.

    As far as sunshine, the local government review of parcels for sale is the most important as far as small d democracy. They have 90 days, plenty of time to inform their constituents of the project and allow for input and discussion at town council meetings. They probably could hold their own public hearing. All aspects can be debated and analyzed with the seller and buyer; taxes, jobs, tourism, access, town expansion, gravel mining etc. An extension to the 90 days might even be granted if requested. This was extremely important for Adirondack leaders in the early 90′s. It meant local control over state purchases for the forest preserve and conservation easements. Brian Mann doesn’t believe this local control is enough. Maybe he doesn’t trust the local government to make the correct decision. He instead wants to add another layer of government bureaucracy to the process, meaning more time and money. How would the local government veto mesh with a SEQR process?

    The Region 5 Committee meetings are open to the public. Input and questions are allowed. DEC will e-mail meeting dates to anyone who wants them. I have missed only a few meetings over this time and except at the very beginning the press has been absent from our meetings. How many Adirondackers realize that all the land approved for sale in the Adirondacks since the early 90′s (since EPF passage) was approved by their local government because they did not veto the projects. Yet I do not remember Brian Mann ever attending a meeting or anyone else from NCPR let alone any of the other news outlets in the Adirondacks. Too many Adirondackers to this day believe the State just buys whatever they want.

    There was the one case where (it seemed) to meet the commitment of Gov. Pataki of protecting 1 million acres, the State used funds outside of the EPF to purchase lands that had been vetoed by the local governments. I, like many others, believed this was wrong as it destroyed the trust that had built up between the state and local governments since the EPF was passed. Let us hope the State never does this again.

    A local government has in the past, reversed an earlier veto and allowed for State purchase of land because of local pressure in support of the sale. (The Roden property in Essex County)

    Maybe, if curious enough, Brian Mann could research the process, from start to finish, of Adirondack land acquisition. It would take some time, but he just might find that many of his concerns are already addressed in the present process.

    Maybe he will start attending the public meetings that are held dealing with land purchases.

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  30. John says:

    Brian,

    I’m one of the hundreds of club members who will become dispossessed if the state makes the fee purchase. The problem is, we never saw it coming, and were hit out of the blue. We had a nice agreement with Finch Pruyn, which suddenly disappeared overnight. My point is is that our land was supposedly on a priority acquisition list for over ten years, but we never knew that either. Now keep in mind that there are hundreds, if not thousands of us, and we are not dumb men by any stretch. I guess what I’m saying is that the “open meetings” and ‘public discourse” system just doesn’t work. Now, we want to make our voices heard, and explain to everyone who we are, what we do, and talk about our economic importance, but there is no reasonable public venue.

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  31. Myown says:

    –Brian, NCPR said {“But it’s quite another thing to say, ‘We’re thinking about buying a significant portion of land that will be added to the forest preserve in your community and we want your input.”}

    But that’s exactly what the Open Space Conservation Plan process did. Committee members included local government reps. And, as you have now noted, a considerable effort was made to seek public input. If you look at Chapter V Regional Priority Conservation Projects you will see a list of specific areas: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/osp09chapter5.pdf.

    The Region 5 section includes Finch Woodlands and Follensby Park. Now that the state may be closer to buying the Finch property no one can say it is a surprise or that it hasn’t been openly discussed (and fairly recently – the Plan was updated in 2009). The Plan actually is very specific as to what areas of the Finch properties will become Conservation Easements and what areas will be purchased in fee. Also, it is my understanding all the towns agreed with the overall Nature Conservancy plan for the Finch property which includes the State acquiring 60,000 acres in fee. The opportunity for the discussion you seem to want has already happened.

    As I suggested in my earlier post what we need to be talking about is a Master Plan for the Adirondack Park that incorporates the Open Space Plan recommendations for future State land acquisitions in the Park and also where future economic development in the Park should occur. Focusing these issues as a Park Master Plan should generate more of the public discussions I believe you are seeking.

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  32. Phil Brown says:

    John, the Adirondack Explorer has a long article in its current issue that present the side of the hunting clubs in some detail.

    http://www.adirondackexplorer.org/stories/gooleyclub.php

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  33. John says:

    Myown, the towns are adamantly opposed to the fee purchase.

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  34. callmeal says:

    John,

    Which is it? Did the Towns pass a resolution in support of it or are they adamantly against it? One of these statements are a lie.

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  35. John says:

    Newcomb, Minerva, and Olmstedville passed resolutions two years ago supporting the clubs (supporting an easement deal instead). The Local Government Review Board, and the towns they represent oppose a fee purchase.

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  36. Paul says:

    Duane,

    It is not really the press’s responsibility to educate folks on what the policies and procedures are for state lands acquisition. It is the folks that are making the decisions that should keep us all informed.

    So tell us a bit more about how this works. I have read the 2009 OSP. To me it seems like basically a “wish list” of parcels, and really has little or no substance regarding what the process is once a parcel comes on the market.

    What doe the committee do once a parcel that is on the list comes on the market? At that point are they out of the picture?

    Finally, state environmental law specifically says that an alternative to outright purchase is what the DEC HAS to pursue if one is available. Since all these parcels could receive the same (if not better protections) by being placed under PRIVATE conservation easements why are all these parcels being bought outright??

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  37. John Warren says:

    Brian Mann,

    As I said, I appreciate and support your interests in local input, but as has now been made abundantly clear here by others, local interests are being heard and served by these purchases quite effectively, most notably (I’ll reiterate) by plenty of public hearing opportunities and a friendly media environment.

    My primary criticism here is not some opposition to “openness and sunshine when it comes to government institutions and citizen involvement” as you would suggest.

    I’m trying to point out, albeit somewhat ham-handedly, that’s you are offering the same straw men that the vocal minority of forest preserve / Adirondack Park opponents have offered for 40 years.

    You criticize the economics of these deals without balancing the great economic benefits that public lands offer.

    You criticize the make-up of the APA without offering a perspective that sees the APA as working for all New Yorkers, not just locals, nevermind offering a pro-APA voice for balance (which I’m still waiting to hear from any local media outlet).

    Here you criticize the process for a “lack a process for public scrutiny and input” which is 40-year old code for giving a few vocal locals veto power, and which mimics the arguments of Fred Monroe, Teresa Sayward, and Maynard Baker (and is, in any event, false).

    Could land acquisition be done better? Sure, I suppose it could – but the criticism ought to start with local media misinformation and slanted coverage.

    There is a reason local media doesn’t cover the public land process – they (and/or their editors) nearly all oppose public land in principle (or certainly increasing it), and have for 40 years.

    Although the last few years have seen a small increase in public participation (thanks to places like Adirondack Almanack and this blog), the local media is still the place where we ought to demand increased public input and accurate and complete coverage of land purchases, not just one-sided commentaries (which many reports around here are).

    -John Warren

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  38. Paul says:

    John Warren, why should the media have a pro-APA voice? The media should be neither pro nor anti-APA. They should just report. It is the old story, good news isn’t really news so things appear to have a bias when they don’t.

    When has Brian Mann ever criticized the economics of these deals??

    FYI: The APA has no involvement in state land acquisition, adding them to the mix here only confuses folks.

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  39. John Warren says:

    Paul – I didn’t say that media should have a pro-APA voice, I said the media should offer a pro-APA voice for balance to the anti-APA voices we constantly hear.

    I also didn’t say the APA had anything to do with acquisition – they are the statewide body that oversees the land once it is public.

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  40. Paul says:

    John,

    Can you clarify what you mean by “offer a pro-APA voice”?

    Again, why should the voice be offered pro or anti? I don’t think it is the medias job to do either.

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  41. A point worth reiterating:

    It’s one thing to say, ‘Let’s have a process to look in general at the possibility of future land acquisitions in the Adirondacks.’

    But it’s quite another thing to say, ‘We’re thinking about buying a significant portion of land that will be added to the forest preserve in your community and we want your input.”

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  42. jack says:

    Paul,

    It isn’t that hard of a concept to grasp. When media reports on a story, they present information about that story, interview people about it, print quotes, etc etc.

    The saying goes,”there are two sides to every story”, John isn’t suggesting the media take a side… Only that it presents both sides.

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  43. Paul says:

    Jack, I can agree with what you are saying, and of course I understand that.

    I think that most of the coverage that I have seen, especially here at NCPR has been pretty well balanced.

    For example the current story regarding the ACR in Tupper Lake. There is information from the APA (including quotes), environmental groups (including quotes), the developer (including quotes), people from Tupper Lake (including quotes).

    All the stories here are this way. The same goes for most of the media in the area. I don’t see where John is coming from saying that this kind of coverage is anti-APA?

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  44. Paul says:

    One more thing. When you consider that the story on the ACR is about how the APA is “worried” that they will only have TWO months to deliberate after these hearings you could almost argue that here we have a story that leans “pro-APA”. They have ONE major project on their plates I find it hard to believe that two months isn’t enough time to make a decision. The only “side” of the story left out is why they would possibly need more than two months.

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  45. Brian,
    This point of yours is spot-on:
    “…problems come when the state unconscionably refuses to pay (or withholds or delays or pays partially) property tax on that land to counties and municipalities. This, combined with cuts to state aid and the ever increasing state mandates, is suffocating counties and municipalities. The state should not acquire more land than it can pay its fair share for, can pay what it owes… to say nothing of maintenance expenses.”

    Mr. Warren:
    F.Y.I. APA = ADIRONDACK Park Agency. The APA is not a “statewide body” by any means and they don’t “oversee the land once it is public” but classify the land, as required by the APA Act and State Land Master Plan.
    Your relentless errors debase your arguments. Of course now that I’ve pointed out one of your errors I fully expect the typical angry-liberal personal attacks you’re so well know for.

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  46. Paul says:

    Citizen,

    Like it or not, John is correct. The APA is a state agency that oversees zoning in the Adirondacks on behalf of the entire state. That irks many folks, but it is what it is.

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  47. John Warren says:

    Adirondack Citizen,

    You have gotten straight to the glaring error in arguments by the anti-Park, anti-APA crowd. The APA’s mission is to manage development of a STATE PARK. It is a mission undertaken on behalf of the people of the entire state (and I would argue with a responsibility to the people of the entire Northeast, from which the vast majority of its users are drawn).

    The APA is an NYS Executive Agency under the Governor’s Office, not a county, regional, or park-wide agency, a state agency. Members of the APA are appointed by the Governor, approved by the State Legislature, both elected by all of New York State.

    Three people on the board come from directly from statewide agencies including the Department of State, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Department of Economic Development. No local or regional body has a vote at the APA, citizens selected statewide do.

    The APA actually prepared the State Land Master Plan, which was signed into law in 1972, followed by the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan in 1973. Those are statewide laws, passed by the state legislature under the authority of all the people of the state.

    The Agency follows three laws – the APA Act, the state’s Freshwater Wetlands and Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System act. No county or town laws have power over the APA, only the laws enacted by the citizens of the entire state.

    It is therefore, a statewide body, albeit with a regional mission, but a statewide body nonetheless. If they don’t oversee the public lands (along with the private) in the Adirondacks – then who does? And why do you hate them so much?

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  48. Paul says:

    John, citizen never said he hated the agency.

    The DEC should oversee all aspects of state land in the Adirondacks just like they do in all other parts of NYS. Private land is another issue.

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  49. Paul says:

    The kind of tax incentives and things that would help attract or retain a for-profit business are not going to matter to a tax exempt organization like Trudeau. Like someone else said the best bet would be to position them in NYS near a large teaching hospital.

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  50. I agree with John Warren’s last post; the APA is a state agency overseeing a state park on behalf of the people of the state.

    But his post before that, while it contains some legitimate points, also has a number of blanket statements about “local media” that are incorrect. Disregarding that there are many local media outlets, each of which behaves differently, he says the local media in general don’t cover the state land-acquisition process, and we do. Various local media have extensively covered DEC and Nature Conservancy (possibly future state) purchases from Finch Pruyn, decades’ worth of the Follensby, Domtar, Champion, the Whitneys, etc. We have followed up afterward on the uses of these lands, too. I’m sure we could do better at this, and prodding to do more on specific stories would be welcome, but we do cover these things.

    John, you say we cover it in a biased manner, and we don’t. We quote all sides fairly, publish letters and commentary from all sides who write in, and reserve any bias on our part to editorials.

    You say we don’t provide pro-APA voices in our coverage, and we do: in every APA story and in commentaries on our opinion pages.

    If you have specific criticisms – as in, “In this story you did this, which spun the story this way,” I would be glad to hear them; I haven’t up to now. But otherwise you’re using “local media” as a straw man the same way you accuse others of treating the APA and environmentalists.

    In defense of local reporters, I must say that every one I know and read is a professional who works incredibly hard to do top-notch work and has no other motivation other than doing this job of journalism excellently. The reporters I know do not seek to shape the world but to inform others of it, in a way that is so good it is above criticism.

    I admit that I’m biased in these comments in that I’m a newspaper editor, but I’d like to point out that Mr. Warren perhaps holds a previous bias against local media. If we all went out of business, perhaps blogs like his, which don’t pay reporters and carry a large portion of opinion compared to news, might be the closest thing to news reporting people here had, and might be able to lure some of our advertisers. And then people would take shots at them instead of us.

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