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Peter Borrelli will head Protect the Adirondacks (Source:  PtA)
Peter Borrelli will head Protect the Adirondacks (Source: PtA)

Protect the Adirondacks reorganizes again; Borrelli to lead green group

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One of the region's most influential environmental groups is re-organizing yet again, hoping to continue operations with a much smaller staff.

Protect the Adirondacks has brought on long-time environmentalist Peter Borrelli from Northville to serve as president and CEO.

But as Brian Mann reports, the group doesn't plan to hire a permanent executive director.

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        Peter Borrelli was retired and living in the southern Adirondack town of Northville when he was approached by Protect the Adirondacks chairman Chuck Clusen. Nine months after the new organization was formed, the board was looking for another change away from a structure led by paid staff.

"Operating under the older model has created or forced some very painful adjustments--layoffs and pay cuts and furloughs and projects that haven't been carried out as planned," Borrelli said.

Borrelli, a former journalist, author, and activist with groups like the Sierra Club, says the next version of PROTECT will be far more grass roots, with many of the activities carried out by committees.

"That new organization needs to be more volunteer-driven, more board-driven, than its original member organization.

PROTECT was formed by a merger of two influential green groups: The Residents' Committee and the Association for Protection of the Adirondacks. Just last week, two of PROTECT's long-time staff members, Dave Gibson and Dan Plumley, left the organization. Gibson now says he thinks the merger was handled clumsily.

"Clearly in hindsight there are some missed opportunities," Gibson said. "One was a feasibility study--to really look at all of our assets, personal and financial and program, and really take some time to analyze whether those assets required a full and complete merger or not."

Gibson says he's considering launching his own environmental project, one that would focus on constitutional issues on the state forest preserve.

"I'm very interested in continuing my work with other partners. Nothing has crystallized yet but I'm still working on some plans that I feel very good about so far."

Some of this moving and shaking in the environmental community reflects changing personalities and visions, but a lot of the turmoil also boils down to money. With many non-profits in the park squeezed hard by the recession, Borrelli says he hopes this new structure will allow PROTECT to play a significant and stable role in the future.

"So we have to come out of this doing new things in different ways and doing some old things but hopefully in affective ways and live within our means. That's a big challenge."

Borrelli says he's still evaluating two of PROTECT's key programs, the forest stewardship and lakes testing projects, and its unclear whether more lay-offs or furloughs will be necessary.

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