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Adirondack Interests Look Back At Andrew Cuomo’s Record And Forward To Kathy Hochul’s Policies

View of the Adirondacks from the Keene Valley area
Pat Bradley/WAMC
View of the Adirondacks from the Keene Valley area

During his decade in office, outgoing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has acquired new land to add to the Adirondack Forest Preserve. But he’s also irritated some environmental activists by inadequate management of the agencies overseeing state lands. Several Adirondack environmental groups say Cuomo leaves office with a mixed environmental record. They are optimistic that incoming Governor Kathy Hochul will be a strong advocate for the environment and the Adirondacks.

The Adirondack Council annually issues a State of the Park report, which has offered mixed reviews of Governor Cuomo’s actions over the years. Spokesman John Sheehan recounts some of Cuomo’s actions over 10 years in office. “Governor Cuomo’s purchase of the Finch Pruyn property is probably the centerpiece of his environmental legacy in the Park. We’ve had less luck with the Adirondack Park Agency and maintaining an adequate workforce at the Department of Environmental Conservation. We’re concerned that the APA has not had a chairperson for quite some time now and is trying to do its job with a number of commissioners serving on expired terms.”

Protect the Adirondacks has often legally challenged state actions in the Adirondacks. None-the-less, Executive Director Peter Bauer says Cuomo has made a number of positive investments in the region.

“In the Adirondacks he made some enormous long-term investments. More than a half-a-billion in rebuilding ORDA facilities in Lake Placid, in North Creek and in the Catskills. Just massive, massive investments. Unprecedented investments in water and sewage infrastructure systems at the municipal level through his clean water program which he started over the last five years. And of course the Rural Economic Development programs where he broke the state up into different districts and funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to locally directed projects around the state.”

But Bauer says negative actions throughout Cuomo’s term lead to a mixed environmental legacy. “It was always puzzling why he refused to invest in the maintenance of the Forest Preserve. Our trails are worse off, much worse off, than they were ten years ago when he came into office. He also leaves office as the first governor who violated Article 14, the Forever Wild clause of the state constitution. And the Adirondack Park Agency and the Department of Environmental Conservation under Andrew Cuomo you know it was their way or the highway. So it’s a mixed legacy and one that we’re happy to close the door on frankly.”

The environmental groups are hopeful incoming Governor Kathy Hochul will craft forward-looking environmental and Adirondack policies.

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve managing partner David Gibson is delighted there is an opportunity for a new governor to take a fresh look at environmental management and protection.

“The opportunity exists for her to put in place new leadership at both the DEC and the APA. And this will take some time. Eventually she will focus on the Adirondack Park and the way it’s managed. She will I think be open to new ideas as well as old ideas that have never been implemented that could benefit the Adirondack region.”

The Adirondack Council’s John Sheehan says there are great expectations. “I think she recognizes how important the Adirondacks are. She has gone out of her way the last few years to not only remain abreast of what’s happening in the Park and understanding the issues in the Adirondacks but coming and visiting with people and I think she has a pretty good sense of what needs to be done to help protect wilderness and help build the economy in the Adirondacks. And I think that those are really the two sides of the coin that make everything work inside the Park.”

The 6 million acre Adirondack Park is a 10,000-square mile area encompassing New York’s northern tier. A unique combination of public and private lands, the wilderness areas are constitutionally protected as “Forever Wild.”

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