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DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, standing at left, is at the center of big debates shaping the Adirondack North Country. NCPR file photo
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, standing at left, is at the center of big debates shaping the Adirondack North Country. NCPR file photo

DEC's Martens at center of big Adirondack debates

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State conservation Commissioner Joe Martens is at the center of some of the biggest debates in the North Country.

Under Martens' leadership, the DEC has agreed to reopen the management plan for the rail corridor that runs through the Adirondack Park. He's also a key player in the planning process for tens of thousands of acres of former Finch Pruyn lands that are now being added to the Park's forest preserve.

As the session in Albany winds to a close Martens is also pushing hard to win approval in the state Assembly for a controversial land swap in Essex County. That deal would allow a company called NYCO to expand its mining operation onto state Park land. In exchange, NYCO would purchase roughly 1500 acres that would be added to the forest preserve.

Martens spoke about those issue with our Adirondack bureau chief, Brian Mann.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

The bill that Martens supports would allow NYCO to expand its wollastonite mine onto land that is now part of the Adirondack forest preserve Photo: NYCO Minerals
The bill that Martens supports would allow NYCO to expand its wollastonite mine onto land that is now part of the Adirondack forest preserve Photo: NYCO Minerals
On the NYCO deal, Martens pushed back against critics in the environmental community who say it would set a dangerous precedent for the Park.

Joe Martens: I just don’t think it holds water, Brian, because the framers of the constitution set up a process for amendments to Article 14. And they did not make it easy, and it shouldn’t be easy and then it goes to the voters. The voters have always taken a very close scrutiny of constitutional amendments to the forest preserve. And most of them have been disapproved.

It’s also been claimed that this is just a bad precedent. That opening or using the constitutional amendment to benefit a private interest is unprecedented. Well it’s not unprecedented. In 1979 the state did a land swap with international paper. So that international paper could consolidate its forest ownership so it could more easily manage its property . And the state was given land in exchange that consolidated state holdings. So clearly that was a benefit to a very important business interest in the park, but it was also a benefit to the forest preserve and the people from a recreational standpoint and a public access standpoint.  So it’s not an unprecedented proposition.

Peter Bauer and other prominent environmentalists oppose the NYCO land swap, calling it a bad precedent for the Adirondack's "forever wild" preserve. NCPR file photo
Peter Bauer and other prominent environmentalists oppose the NYCO land swap, calling it a bad precedent for the Adirondack's "forever wild" preserve. NCPR file photo
Brian Mann: If it continues as it stands now, there’s going to be this mixed signal coming from the environmental community going forward statewide as voters who don’t know much about the Adirondack Park and don’t know about this project in particular. They’ll be hearing very mixed signals about what this could mean. And of course Ed Hatch, town supervisor in Willsboro, has expressed real concern that could mean voters saying no. What do you think of that?

Joe Martens: Well, first I would stress that the Adirondack Council and the Adirondack Mountain Club have strongly endorsed this proposal. It is not halfhearted endorsement. Both of them strongly support it and see the clear benefits for both the community and the public at large. So I think it has very strong support from the Adirondack environmental community. Some have raised issues and have opposed the amendment. But I think, Brian, that’s all part of the public education process. And that’s why it’s important to get this in front of the people, so that they can weigh the pros and cons themselves. But there’s rarely unanimity on any issue.

Brian Mann: Two other very quick questions. Public hearings for the Finch Pruyn Lands that are now underway—give me your sense of how well that process is going and whether you think that’s going to reach a good resolution for the management of those lands.

Should the Adirondack train keep rolling or be replaced by a rec path?  That's one of the questions that Martens' DEC is grappling with. Photo: Todd Moe
Should the Adirondack train keep rolling or be replaced by a rec path? That's one of the questions that Martens' DEC is grappling with. Photo: Todd Moe
Joe Martens: I think public input part of this is incredibly important. And, you know, once again what we’re looking for is to balance the interest of the sportsman’s community, of the local community, of the environmental advocate community. So I think in the end, with lots of public input, the APA will go back to the drawing board and consider all of the comments they get and I’m sure recommend a very balanced proposal to the governor for approval.

Brian Mann: And finally, I’m curious for you to think out loud for just a moment about the decision to revisit the management plan for the train corridor that runs through the Adirondacks. What led you to conclude that the time for that conversation at the state level had arrived?

There needs to be a public process and hopefully a neutral third party that is a referee who tries to sort out...what the future of that [Adirondack railroad] corridor should be.
Joe Martens: The interest groups on both sides of this issue are very articulate, they are thoughtful. They both represent groups of leaders in the Adirondacks and they obviously have very strong-felt opinions about the future of this corridor. You and others have argued that there needs to be a public process and hopefully a neutral third party that is a referee, that tries to sort out with the help of the people in the North Country what the future of that corridor should be. So once again I’m optimistic that if we open up the process that we can find a reasonable solution that is good for the North Country and I think that’s what Joan McDonald and I seek in this process—is just to come up with a solution that is going to mean good things economically and environmentally for the North Country.

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