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Factions vie for influence over picks for APA board

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June 4, 2013

The angling has begun again for influence on the Adirondack Park Agency Board of Commissioners, as seven seats are up for grabs and the state 2013 legislative session approaches its June 20 conclusion.

The gubernatorial appointments, which must survive a state Senate vetting, are in the works, according to multiple sources. Four of the seven voting slots up for grabs are for in-park seats, which can only be held by Adirondack residents.

“I believe sportsmen deserve better representation than what they’ve been getting,” said Charles Parker, president of the New York State Conservation Council, a statewide advocacy group.

Parker’s organization, which lobbies for access for outdoor enthusiasts, hopes to place friendly commissioners on the APA board, which will soon decide how to classify and manage the large tracts of former Finch Paper lands being bought by the state.

Anglers and hunters have questioned some of the most restrictive classification proposals, arguing that closing roads constitutes a de facto ban on use by the elderly or physically unfit.

Universal access to the state Forest Preserve is not “having to walk 400 or 500 yards, while dragging a canoe,” Parker said.

Three seats on the 11-member APA board are held by representatives from other branches of state government — the state departments of Environmental Conservation, State and Economic Development.

That leaves eight seats, seven of which are now filled by commissioners serving on expired four-year terms, in the mix for influence.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday offered Hudson lawyer Karen Feldman to replace longtime Commissioner Cecil Wray, a New York City lawyer, for one of the three out-of-park slots.

Feldman’s partner, Tom Williams, heads the Adirondack Landowners Association. Feldman is well known throughout the park, and her appointment is supported by the Adirondack Council, one of the region’s more influential environmental groups.

Feldman offers a fact-based perspective that will be a “strong voice for the environment,” said Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan.

Feldman, whose bid must first pass the Senate Finance Committee before reaching the floor, also has the backing of state Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, who has shown in recent years the ability to scuttle the appointments of commissioner candidates she regarded as too environmentally focused.

Feldman is enjoying the same sort of widely varied support from environmental groups and local governments that Lani Ulrich did in 2012 when she was being promoted to APA chairwoman. Cuomo’s choice of Feldman is another indication that “balance” between environmental and economic concerns has become the key to navigating the often-stormy Adirondack political landscape.

Local officials tend to focus on the five in-park seats, which always include the APA board’s chair.

The Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages has submitted a list of candidates it would like to see on the APA board.

But AATV officials have declined to make that list public because it opens potential candidates to pre-emptive attacks.

APA Commissioner Bill Thomas, Johnsburg’s former longtime supervisor, said Tuesday he has been “recently” contacted by Cuomo’s staff about a possible re-appointment.

“It may be in the works,” Thomas said, adding that he would like a third term on the APA board.

Out-of-park Commissioner Dick Booth, a professor of land use at Cornell University, is generally considered the safest commissioner now serving, and isn’t expected to face replacement, officials said.

Even Ulrich is now serving on an expired term.

Not all of the appointments and re-appointments are expected to happen this year, as it has been common for APA commissioners to serve up to several years on expired terms while factions battle over a replacement.

“This is the beginning,” Little said of Feldman. “There may be others.”

Ulrich has achieved unusual levels of support from both environmentalists and local governments, traditionally at-odds groups, in her one year at the agency’s helm.

It appears the New York State Conservation Council won’t have the influence over appointments its members hoped for.

All three of the candidates suggested by the council will be passed over by Cuomo’s environmental staff, officials said.

One of those candidates, Mike Zagata, led DEC through a controversial period early in Gov. George Pataki’s tenure. Zagata, a former oil executive, resigned in 1996 amid mounting pressure from environmental groups and “good government” groups, who charged he was too friendly to big business.

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