In the News  Archive

Editorial: APA independence needed

Times Union
March 24, 2016

THE ISSUE:
Land use issues in the Adirondacks continue to divide residents and park overseers.

THE STAKES:
Preserving an independent Adirondack Park Agency is best for all interests.

The contentious issue of where hikers, bicyclists and people using certain motorized vehicles should be allowed in the Adirondacks, and which areas should remain shut off from all but the least intrusive human interaction, has long divided residents and those charged with overseeing New York's treasured land preserve.

Now it seems the way land use decisions are made is becoming just as contentious and politicized.

The recommendation this month by the Adirondack Park Agency to open certain sections of the former Finch Pruyn lands in Essex and Hamilton counties to bicycles and some motorized vehicles has heated up the conflict between the APA and two organizations dedicated to preserving the Adirondacks — Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild. The change would allow bicycles to be used on 9 miles of existing logging roads in the Essex Chain tract in Newcomb. Occasional motor vehicle access to maintain bike trails would also be allowed. The change would further allow man-made construction materials for a bridge over the Cedar River. (Traditionally, such bridges in these protected areas are made from logs and rocks.)

These changes have the support of many local officials and business owners who hope to benefit from increased tourism. But Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, calls the agency's recommendation a sharp departure from the way the park's wilderness has been managed over the past four decades.

While this tension isn't new, it comes with a searing dissent by one of the APA's own commissioners, accusing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his staff of direct interference in the APA's deliberations.

Richard Booth, a respected environmental law professor at Cornell University who was reappointed to the APA board by Mr. Cuomo in 2012, said the governor forced the agency toward the recent decision by rigidly controlling what analysis the APA's staff was allowed to present to commissioners. The result, he said, was that no full and open discussion of the issues could take place. Consequently, a compromise — a new classification prohibiting motorized recreation but allowing public biking over miles of trails — never gained support.

Commissioner Booth's comments strengthen Mr. Bauer's concerns about the park's future and the APA's independence.

Finding the proper balance between the historic mandate to preserve the pristine Adirondack wilderness and the recreational preferences and economic needs of the region is challenging. It requires an honest back and forth and, no doubt, some reasonable compromise.

But that can happen only if the APA commissioners and staff are free of interference by Mr. Cuomo. New York won't find the delicate balance it needs in the Adirondacks if a governor's hands are weighting the scales onto one side or another.

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