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Adirondack Council unveils new State of the Park report

The Adirondack Council, an Elizabethtown-based environmental advocacy organization, released its annual State of the Park report on Tuesday, depicting the Adirondack Park as a place of refuge during the coronavirus pandemic and a place beset by a variety of issues.

The report includes thumbs up and thumbs down — praise for people the organization sees as working to solve these problems, and rebukes of those who the organization sees as having held up, opposed or hindered their implementation.

The report says the Adirondacks face a lot of problems — climate change, overcrowding, acid rain, invasive species, threats to the Forever Wild in the state constitution and a more diversity.

Big issues

Issues brought up repeatedly in the report are that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is understaffed and the Adirondack Park Agency board is not filled.

The eight-member APA board has no chair currently, one empty seat and two members serving on expired terms.

The Adirondack Council compares the millions of dollars the state has given to the Olympic Regional Development Authority for upgrades to its venues,to its funding for environmental protection.

The Council gave a thumbs down to the DEC for not asking for more forest rangers.

“The agency once again defended the governor’s lack of additional funding for new personnel during budget hearings in March,” the report reads.

It gives a thumbs up to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for pointing out that the DEC needs more funding because it has more work to do now than it did years ago, while funding has stayed level.

Several of the bullet points in the report were related to a decision by the state’s top court in May, which ruled that the state violated its own constitution by cutting trees for Class II snowmobile trails around the park.

The Council gave the courts a thumbs up for ceasing the tree-cutting, and thumbs down to the DEC for attempting to cut trees.

The Council supported the state putting $300 million into the Environmental Protection Fund, giving $250,000 to the Adirondack Diversity Initiative and funding the rail-trail project from Remsen to Lake Placid.

The report also gave support to the DEC’s work with the Adirondack Mountain Reserve to create a pilot hiker reservation system at the AMR’s High Peaks entrance in St. Huberts, as well as to the recommendations made by the DEC’s High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group.

The council chastised the DEC for what it calls an “incomplete” plan for Debar Mountain Wild Forest.

The state Legislature was reprimanded by the council for not funding the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corp. to survey the 2,800 lakes and ponds in the Park. The report says the current data is three decades old.

Local thumbs

Saranac Lake got a thumbs up for achieving the bronze level of Climate Smart Community certification, an effort which was heavily influenced and carried out by local high school students.

The council also gave a thumbs up to Tupper Lake for getting a $200,000 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission for fiber optic internet expansion.

Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson got a thumbs up for his handling of the flood of new visitors to the High Peaks and for working with the state to get funding for hiker shuttles.

The town of Santa Clara got a thumbs up for putting a moratorium on all commercial development in January until it was able to review plans for a marina expansion at Fish Creek Ponds.

The report gave a thumbs up to the DEC for finding PFAS — fire-fighting chemicals — at the Adirondack Regional Airport and making that section of the property a Superfund site. Cleanup at the airport is ongoing.

The report gave the DEC props for winning a conviction against a Saranac Lake man who shot a moose in 2019, which resulted in jail time, a fine and revocation of his hunting permit.

State Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, got a thumbs up for legislation on inspecting boats and trailers for invasive species in the Adirondacks. State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury was also commended for supporting broadband legislation, making it easier to expand in rural areas.

The report gives the APA a thumbs down for not requiring carrying a capacity assessment of Lower Saranac Lake before approving the Saranac Lake Marina. This issue is still being battled in court. While a judge dismissed a case against the marina in August, the plaintiff, former DEC Commissioner Thomas Jorling, is making one last appeal for the case to be heard.

The APA also got a thumbs down for approving a shoreline development permit on Upper Saranac Lake, where residents and environmentalists are concerned that a residential septic system will be installed so close to a stream leading into the lake that it could degrade the water quality.

The U.S. Army got a thumbs up for scaling back military training exercises in the Adirondacks and moving them out of the Forest Preserve. But the Northeast Air National Guard got a thumbs down for increased supersonic flights over the park, one of which they said caused horses at a state-run campground in Raquette Lake to buck their riders, resulting in “minor injuries.”

Unfinished business

Adirondack Council Communications Director John Sheehan said issues of broadband, road salt and invasive species were “put on the wayside” by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo because of his personal, professional and political issues this past year.

He said the council has discussed these topics with New York’s new governor, Kathy Hochul.

Cuomo got a thumbs up for signing the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act into law, but immediately after got a thumbs down for not appointing people to fill the task force created by the act.

Sheehan said so many people pushed this road salt bill so far, for so long, but then it stalled when it got to Cuomo. It sat on his desk for months before getting signed in December, and now there are deadlines coming up, he said.

The task force is supposed to issue its preliminary findings at the end of the summer and give a full report to the Legislature by Dec. 1, Sheehan said, but it does not even have members yet.

He said the task force can ask for an extension, but that could delay implementation of the solutions and prolong outdated methods of road de-icing.

Sheehan said the state has also not closed the gaps in cell coverage in the Adirondacks, as it promised to do.

The report gives Cuomo props for making internet more affordable, but adds that some people cannot even get it.

It gave the former governor a thumbs down for vetoing the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act, which Sheehan said would have revealed who has connection and who does not in New York. He called this veto “disappointing.”

“Broadband helps to build communities and make the place more livable,” Sheehan said. “This can be done in a way that doesn’t harm the beauty of the park.”

He said broadband consolidates communities and makes the Adirondacks a place to be enjoyed by residents and visitors. The council wants to preserve the forest, Sheehan said, but they also want it to be accessible and affordable.

“The communities in the Park are integrated into its landscape,” he said. “It’s not an easy place to make a living. I think if it were it would simply lift off the face of the earth and ascend into heaven.”

The report said Aaron Mair — a former president of the Sierra Club — is the new director of the council’s Forever Adirondacks Campaign, which is focused on the intersection of environment and community and advocates for an “Adirondack Green New Deal” with improvements to jobs, housing, education, child care and broadband service.