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Bill curtailing Adirondack Park Agency enforcement power fails in Assembly

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An effort by North Country lawmakers to limit the enforcement power of the Adirondack Park Agency failed to pass the state Assembly last week. The bill which passed in the Senate would have placed a ten-year statute of limitations on environmental and zoning violations.

As Brian Mann reports, supporters of the change say they'll bring it back next session.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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The Adirondack Park Agency has a tiny enforcement team handling roughly 3 million acres of private land. The APA's enforcement powers are also limited by law, meaning state officials often have to negotiate with landowners for months or even years to reach a settlement. State senator Betty Little says it's reasonable that after ten years, most violations should effectively be forgiven without penalty.

"For one thing, it does things for the APA. It helps them that they don't have to go back and enforce violations of 20, 30 years ago," she said.

Little says the biggest beneficiaries would be people who buy homes only to discover after the fact that parts of their property violate APA rules. "They can decide to add a garage or get a property line done or add something to their house and get an APA permit without the fear that the APA people are going to come and say, 'Uh oh, this deck is too close the water.' And maybe the people who built the house 30 years ago did it that way. And then its an enforcement action, they're being asked to take that deck down, take this wall down, move this, or do something along those lines."

Little's bill won bipartisan support, passing unanimously in the senate. But last week Democratic leaders allowed it to die without action. Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward says she's disappointed but thinks the idea can be revived. "We really have got people's attention," she said. "And people are having a better understand that what happens in the park affects the people."

After waiting for consideration for over a year, the statute of limitations legislation reached the assembly floor last Thursday but was then tabled by assembly Democrat and tourism committee chairman Steven Englebright. Green groups opposed the legislation and several democratic law makers said the bill was problematic because it would impose the only statute of limitations on zoning and planning in the state. Due to the rules of the assembly only Englebright can return the bill to the floor, but Sayward says she's confident the bill will eventually pass. So it didn't go but it's come farther than it ever has and I've been there long enough that I have enough friends that if there's a bill we really want to at least get out we can do it."

Because of the bill's defeat the park agency still has the authority to pursue enforcement cases on any alleged violation after its 1973 creation. The APA doesn't comment on the pending legislation in Albany but state officials have acknowledged in the past that their backlog on past cases is too large. In 2004 the state angered environmentalists by shelving, or dismissing, thousands of old cases without final resolution.

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