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We were recently informed that the Attorney General is not seeking additional information from the Nature Conservancy.

AG probes how Adirondack land deals are made

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Last April, New York's Attorney General's office announced that it would begin a probe of the state's method of buying land in the Adirondack Park.

The investigation was requested by then-Governor David Paterson following allegations that the DEC had paid inflated prices to conservation groups.

As Brian Mann reports, state officials say that probe is now underway.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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(NOTE: This story has been corrected.  We incorrectly identified Attorney General's office spokeswoman Jennifer Givner.)

For months after the probe was announced, there were no indications that any actual investigation was underway. 

But speaking this week, Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office confirmed that a team was reviewing the state’s methods for appraising and buying land in the Park. 

She declined to give any details.

One focus of the investigation has been the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, which often brokers large deals in the Park. 

"The New York Attorney General has been conducting an inquiry into the state's land transfer system, which included the role of the Nature Consevancy in some of those land transactions," said Connie Pricket, a sopkeswoman for the Conservancy.

"The Nature Conservancy has cooperated fully in the inquiry," she added.

The probe was sparked last year by a newspaper report written by Fred Dicker, an Albany journalist and talk-show host.  In his article, Dicker claimed that the state overpaid the Conservancy for land in Clinton county by more than $2 million.  Here is is speaking on Albany radio station Talk 1300.

 "This could involve the illegal giving of a gift to the environmental group, in this case the Nature Conservancy, by the state," Dicker said. 

The charges were echoed by Fred Monroe, head of the state-funded Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board.

 "I've always thought there was some political motivation.  After all, the environmental groups are very influential, they have hundreds of thousands of members.  They're a very important force in elections," he said.

At the time the probe was announced, the DEC declined to comment.  They again refused to comment this week, citing the Attorney General’s on-going investigation.

When the investigation was announced, Adirondack Nature Conservancy director Mike Carr said the methods for appraising the land in question, the former Domtar timberlands, were above-board with plenty of checks and balances.

"The truth is the state of New York paid the Nature Conservancy fair market value established by two independent appraisals, reviewed internally within the DEC, and by the Attorney General's office, and by the Comptroller's office," Carr said.

Other green groups described the accusations as politically motivated.  

 "I think the current witch hunt atmosphere really had been intended to damage the repuation of the Nature Conservancy," said the Adirondack Council's John Sheehan.

The goal, he added, was "to stop land acquisition in the Adirondack Park."

The Attorney General’s office won’t say when the probe is expected to wrap up.  But the Nature Conservancy’s Connie Prickett says their role in the process appears to be over.

 "We were recently informed that the Attorney General is not seeking additional information from the Nature Conservancy," she noted.

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