The head of the region's largest environmental organization says a resolution passed last week by the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board is "baseless" and "shameful."
Adirondack Council Executive Director Brian Houseal blasted a review board resolution opposing the impending state purchase of some 75,000 acres of Adirondack land from a conservation group.
The resolution, which passed unanimously last week, states that Gov. Andrew Cuomo should halt the fee acquisition of more than 65,000 acres of former Finch Pruyn timberlands and some 15,000 acres of land in the Follensby Pond area.
The land is currently held by the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.
Houseal calls the resolution "shameful." He says the review board's claim that the fee acquisition will result in lost jobs is contradicted by the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Report.
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan says the review board's executive director, Fred Monroe, has a personal conflict of interest because he is a member of an "exclusive hunting club."
Sheehan says the fee acquisitions would result in the removal of those clubs.
"The main thing we're upset about is that both the executive director and the chairman of the review board have an unmistakable personal conflict of interest in this matter," he said. "Both of them are members of exclusive hunting clubs that would be forced to move off of the lands that would be purchased by the state. That's not mentioned in this resolution. Frankly, we think that if that is the case, they should have recused themselves from dicusssing this in public."
Additionally, the Adirondack Council argues that the review board should not be commenting publicly on state land purchases.
Houseal says the board has one lawful function, that is, to monitor and report on how the state Adirondack Park Agency administers and enforces the Adirondack Park Private Land Use and Development Plan.
Sheehan says Monroe is using taxpayer dollars to attack a state agency.
"This is not their job," Sheehan said. "They are supposed to be advising other government officials as to how the park agency is doing its job, and that's why they have a budget from the state and that's why they get money from the 12 counties. Instead, they're second-guessing the towns that have all approved this project and the 20 million New Yorkers who approved the open space plan. We think this is shameful."
Monroe says there's no conflict of interest regarding the hunting club he belongs to, noting that the law only requires him to recuse himself if there's a financial interest at stake.
Additionally, Monroe notes that as executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, he doesn't actually vote with the board.
"I don't have a vote - I'm the executive director," he said. "So there's nothing for me to recuse myself from with respects to a vote."
In responding to the council's claim that he's using taxpayer dollars to attack a state agency, Monroe says the state purchase of Adirondack land is a major concern for local governments.
"This is an important issue for local government," he said. "I don't think I would be doing my job if I didn't bring this to the attention of the review board. I brought it to them - they could have said no we don't think you're correct on this and we're not going to support any resolution. They passed it unanimously."
Monroe contends that a state government attempting to deal with mounting fiscal problems shouldn't be acquiring land inside the park - especially as Gov. Andrew Cuomo grapples with 9,800 potential layoffs.
Brian Houseal of the Adirondack Council says that the 26 towns whose communities will be affected by the Finch fee acquisition approved the deal back in 2007.
He says the parcels in question were identified by the public as high priorities in the state's official Open Space Conservation Plan. Houseal contends that the review board is second-guessing "everyone else's careful decisions."
In a related story, the Franklin County Board of Legislators unanimously passed a resolution last week opposing the state's pending purchase of former Finch lands and acreage near Follensby Pond.
The resolution is nearly identical to the review board's January resolution.