To: Senator Todd Kaminsky, Chair, State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, & Members of the Committee
From: David Gibson, Managing Partner, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve
Re. Governor Cuomo’s Nominations to the NYS Adirondack Park Agency
Date: June 10, 2020
Dear Senator Kaminsky and Members,
On June 8 we learned of Governor Cuomo’s 2020 slate of nominees to the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). These nominees are: NEW: Mark Hall, Zoe Smith, Ken Lynch, Andrea Hogan; RENOMINATED: Art Lussi, Dan Wilt, John Ernst.
We take this opportunity to comment about nominees to the State Senate for such an important body representing the interests of all New Yorkers in the health and natural resource protection of the six-million-acre Adirondack Park. We appreciate your interest in the views of Adirondack and Forest Preserve stakeholders in these nominations and in the need to strengthen the agency in Ray Brook.
Over many years, Adirondack Wild has critiqued, defended, and cooperated with the APA. With respect to the agency’s legislated priority to protect natural resources, detect environmental trends, protect the Forest Preserve and plan for public and private lands as an integrated landscape, taking into account the needs of communities, park residents and economies, this APA is at its weakest point in more than 30 years of observation.
APA is charged by the State Legislature with ensuring that projects within its jurisdiction “would not have an undue adverse impact on the natural, scenic, aesthetic, ecological, wildlife, historic or open space resources of the Adirondack Park,” while taking into account community needs and economic considerations. Therefore, a majority on the agency should, in their backgrounds, interests and achievements and commitments, reflect this paramount importance of protecting natural resources, including the public’s Forest Preserve.
Nominees to the APA ought to possess a thorough grounding in the legislated purposes of the Act, a passion to use those legislated tools to better protect the park, an awareness that they represent the interest of all New Yorkers, critical thinking skills, and courage of their convictions when it comes to difficult votes on private or public land projects and plans before the APA. While local government and economic development interests should be represented on the APA, they should not dominate the APA board.
Contrary to APA’s legislated purposes, the Governor’s slate of nominees for 2020, including new appointments and reappointments, stands the APA’s legislated mission on its very head. The Governor’s slate of nominees is dominated by local government and economic development backgrounds and interests, including Mr. Lussi, Mr. Hall, Mr. Wilt and Ms. Hogan.
While we respect each of these individuals, as a body their background and experience tilt the APA away from its legislated mandate to make the protection of natural resources the APA’s paramount responsibility. Mr. Lussi is a hotel resort owner and has been on the APA for decades, nominated by Governor Pataki. Mr. Hall is a former local government leader and promoter of economic development in the park. Mr. Wilt is a local government leader and business owner. Ms. Hogan is also a town supervisor. By contrast, among those on the slate, only Ms. Zoe Smith has a background in conservation of natural resources and environmental management and planning. We applaud her nomination, but she is in a distinct minority, joining Mr. Dawson as the only two having a professional background in the APA’s legislated mandate and mission, serving the public’s interest in the health of New York’s globally recognized Adirondack Park.
Mr. Ken Lynch has been added to the Governor’s slate ostensibly as an environmental attorney. We differ. Mr. Lynch is a former DEC deputy commissioner who, in the APA’s continuing struggle to maintain its independence visa vi the much larger DEC, simply adds a second vote to DEC’s ex-officio vote on the agency. The Governor has been presented with a number of names of environmental attorneys ready and willing to serve on the APA who are independent of DEC and committed to the APA Act and the other laws under APA’s jurisdiction. There is no shortage of such fine candidates.
During COVID-19, Governor Cuomo has rightly urged us all not just to re-open, but to re-open better than before and to re-think former practices and aspire to higher standards of performance. He has rightly applied that standard to state and private agencies. Towards that end, APA should have nominees prepared to encourage and work with the fine APA staff to seek higher standards for permit issuance, analyze park trends during climate change, strengthen scientific standards, measure cumulative impacts of past development, require conservation design of present and future private development, and enforce the guidelines of the State Land Master Plan (“forever wild” protection of the public’s Forest Preserve).
Of the 2020 nominees, we believe only Ms. Smith and Mr. Ernst are prepared to undertake these vital initiatives, joining with Mr. Dawson (whose term expires June 30).
1. We therefore ask the NYS Senate to confirm Ms. Zoe Smith and Mr. John Ernst. We also ask the Senate to confirm Ms. Andrea Hogan as a logical replacement for the retiring Mr. Bill Thomas (both of whom have been Town Supervisors in Johnsburg, Warren County), and because Ms. Hogan can be a similarly responsible and important voice for the needs of local government.
2. However, based on our knowledge and experience, Mr. Hall, Mr. Lynch, Mr. Lussi and Mr. Wilt do not possess the qualities that all New Yorkers expect of APA nominees and only add to the current predomination of local government and economic development interests on the APA at the expense of park natural resources and the legislated mission of APA. This domination of economic interests comes at a crucial era of climate change. It makes no sense for the APA to remain in a weak position visa vi conservation science and environmental law. APA should be strengthened right away to meet the challenges of “re-opening better” set by the Governor himself. We ask the State Senate not to confirm these nominees, but instead call upon the Governor to nominate additional individuals with the needed independence, commitments and skills in environmental law, environmental policy, and natural resource conservation. We are happy to submit the names of such qualified individuals ready and willing to serve the APA.
Thank you very much for considering our views. Thank you, also, for your commitments to New York’s environment and the actions you continue to take that benefit the future of the Adirondack Park.
David Gibson, Managing Partner
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve
P.O. Box 9247. Niskayuna. NY 12309