The Park's Local Government Review Board issued a report last week, claiming that the APA is "under the influence and in need of detoxification."
Park Agency chairman Curt Stiles responded with a letter questioning the Review Board's honesty and its legitimacy. Brian Mann has our story.
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The Plattsburgh Press-Republican first reported on this controversy yesterday, pointing to a white paper produced by the Review Board and sent to Governor David Paterson.
The document calls for sweeping reforms at the APA, including a new system that would allow local governments to appoint some Park commissioners.
It also calls for a statute of limitations on environmental violations in the Adirondacks.
"I don’t want to see the APA abolished, but I do want to see it reformed to address these serious issues," said Fred Monroe who heads the Review Board and is also head of the Warrren County board of Supervisors.
"And if this white paper has called attention to those issues, then I think it served its purpose."
The white paper’s language is confrontational. It accuses APA staff of attempting to pass and enforce regulations capriciously, without regard to actual environmental benefit.
At one point, the Review Board document claims that the Park Agency is "seeking to change nature and reality itself."
Monroe says the tone was designed to convey frustration felt by local leaders.
"Part of expressing our concern is to show that we really are outraged about the failure to address many of these things," he argued.
The white paper certainly got the attention of APA chairman Curt Stiles. Stiles sent a letter to the Review Board, questioning the group’s honesty and its legitimacy as a voice for local government.
"I basically understand that people will have differences of opinion," Stiles told North Country Public Radio.
"But to distort the actual understanding of those issues, and doesn’t solve the problem and doesn’t get us to having a dialogue on regulatory reform."
Stiles points to the fact that a chief complaint raised by the Review Board focuses on new land purchases in the Adirondacks.
But the Park Agency plays no role in acquiring land. That’s a process handled by the Governor’s office and by the Department of Environmental Conservation.
"We don’t need inflammatory rhetoric and mischaracterization of issues," Stiles said. "And those mischaracterizations go beyond misunderstanding."
Stiles says his relationship with local government leaders has improved, thanks to outreach efforts over the last couple of years.
He points to the fact that proposed reforms backed by the APA include a popular effort to foster affordable housing in Adirondack hamlets.
Stiles accused the Review Board of trying to disrupt that partnership.
"That’s the strategy. This kind of rhetoric is designed to impede rather than embrace progress," he added.
Stiles’ accusation echoes concerns raised over the years by environmental groups.
They point to the fact that the Review Board is a government entity. It’s paid for with state taxpayer dollars and charged by New York’s legislature with advising the APA.
But John Sheehan, with the Adirondack Council, says under Monroe’s leadership the Review Board has evolved into an anti-APA activist group.
"It is as if Mr. Monroe had transplanted the old Blue Line Council agenda onto the Review Board and has started pursuing it," Sheehan argued.
"That was a private group made up mainly of real estate interests and corporate interests who were pressing for a very specific agenda that really had very little to do with local government in the Park. Our concern is that that’s continuing."
Sheehan says it’s inappropriate for tax dollars to be used on what he describes as lobbying efforts.
That view is rejected by state Senator Betty Little. She says the Review Board is talking about issues that affect the economy in towns inside the Park.
"If we don’t change things, we are not going to have sustainable communities inside the Park," Little said. "I’m not sure we have them now.
Little claims that many of the APA’s outreach efforts to local governments have been window dressing and she blasted Stiles for the tone of his letter to the Review Board.
She questioned whether he’s the right man to lead the Park Agency.
"His style has probably done more damage than good," she said.
Fred Monroe says he was surprised by Stiles response to the Review Board’s report. He acknowledged that some dialogue has existed and he praised Stiles for attending and taking part in many of the Review Board’s meetings.
Monroe says he hopes all sides can continue talking.
"I certainly can. And I believe the Review Board can if he’s willing to work with us. I didn’t view this white paper as a burn your bridges document," he added.
This white paper was delivered to Governor Paterson last week, but his administration has shown little interest in Adirondack issues and hasn’t responded publicly.
All sides in this flare-up agree that the next real step in sorting out this volatile relationship will come after the November election, when a new governor takes the reigns in Albany.