In the News  Archive

Outgoing Adirondack Park board member blasts Cuomo tactics

Times Union
May 18, 2016
 
By Brian Nearing

Albany

An outgoing member of the Adirondack Park Agency board has blasted Gov. Andrew Cuomo for strong-arming the board, citing pressure from his office behind a recent decision to open up some Adirondack wilderness to mechanized vehicles and mountain bikes.

Cornell University professor Richard Booth, who is not seeking reappointment to the board when his term ends in June, blasted Cuomo during a board meeting this spring and said the governor dictates APA staff work and board decisions to suit his preferences.

On Wednesday, Booth said a March decision by the APA to allow biking in the Essex Chain Lakes and Pine Lake primitive area, as well as motorized vehicles for state-provided maintenance, was the most serious weakening ever of wilderness protection rules in the four decade-old state master plan for the Adirondacks. Up to that point, motorized uses have not been allowed in any land classified by the state as wilderness, which is the most stringent level of protection in the Adirondacks.

"The governor has wrecked the role of the agency to listen to ideas ... they want the outcome they want," said Booth, who has been on the board since 2007, when he was installed by then-Gov Eliot Spitzer. He has a long history of environmental work, starting out as an lawyer with the APA before joining the state Department of Environmental Conversation. He has taught environmental law, land use law, and environmental politics at Cornell since 1977.

Cuomo has appointment power over the 11-member board, which includes the commissioners of Environmental Conservation, State and Economic Development, and eight other appointees, five of whom must live within the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park. His appointees must be approved by the state Senate.

Board Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich, who has been on the board since 2004 and whose term also expires in June, also has indicated she is not seeking reappointment. Another seat on the board has been vacant for some two years since the departure of William Valentino.

During the March APA meeting, Booth told fellow board members who voted 9-1 in favor of Essex and Pine Lake rules that it was "a precedent that suggests the possibility that this kind of rigidly controlled discussion may become the model for the future and that should not be the case. ... Until now, today, no governor in this state has chosen to force the Park Agency to weaken the master plan. Gov. Cuomo and his staff have chosen to do so and the people of New York should understand that this is a significant weakening of the master plan. And that what has been done today can be done over and over again regarding any of the areas of the master plan not just primitive areas."

Cuomo's office said the agency's "deliberative and transparent decision was influenced by a robust public engagement process that involved nearly 700 people attending a series of public meetings and submitting more than 800 public comments. The Board's decision not only highlights their independence but also the importance of ensuring that the future of this vital resource remains in the hands of the community. "

Several Adirondack environmental advocacy groups gave varying degrees of support to Booth's stance.
"Now, the one bold, independent voice on the board in the Cuomo era will be gone," said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks. "The rest of the board is like the old Soviet Politburo ... We have zero confidence in the governor to appoint an independent voice."

Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council and a former DEC regional commissioner, called Booth the APA board's "environmental conscience (who) resisted political interference. We would been happy to see him reappointed, but not if he doesn't wish to serve."

Neil Woodworth, executive director the Adirondack Mountain Club, said, "In the past, there was more independence and flexibility to be independent by the APA staff and commissioners ... we hope that the new appointments to the agency will be able to raise some of these issues."

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