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Governor Andrew Cuomo made a surprise visit to the Adirondacks this week to talk about the Finch Pruyn deal.
Governor Andrew Cuomo made a surprise visit to the Adirondacks this week to talk about the Finch Pruyn deal.

Governor Cuomo intervenes in Finch land process

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Governor Andrew Cuomo made a surprise visit to the Adirondacks yesterday, meeting with the Adirondack Nature Conservancy at Follensby Pond near Tupper Lake and then talking with local government leaders at Gore Mountain near North Creek.

The topic on the table was the Finch Pruyn Land deal. The Adirondack Park Agency is currently in the process of classifying tens of thousands of acres of new lands that are being added to the protected forest preserve.

Brian Mann joins me now in the studio to talk about the governor's visit. Brian, why did the governor turn up suddenly like this?

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Brian Mann: There's a lot of concern among local government leaders that the management proposals being considered most strongly by the APA over the last couple of months lean too heavily toward wilderness, which would mean less motorized access, fewer roads, fewer motorboats, maybe fewer snowmobiles. 

Here's Randy Douglas, head of the Essex County board of supervisors who was in that meeting yesterday.

"We were concerned that we weren't being heard," Douglas said.  "A lot of the environmental groups have a lot of funds behind them to push their message out."

Todd Moe
:  Brian, obviously many environment groups don't see it that way.  What are they saying about yesterday's meetings? 
BM: That's a little unclear.  The meeting near Tupper Lake with the Nature Conservancy was closed to the press and the public.  And a lot of the top environmental leaders in the Park weren't there and weren't even aware the meeting was happening.  So we'll have to see what the reaction is from the green side of the debate.

One thing that I think is clear here is that state Senator Betty Little really wanted to shift the direction of the state's thinking about the Finch lands — really putting her stamp on the process.  Here she is speaking in NOrth Creek yesterday.

"We've had a great meeting," Little said.  "And we really appreciate the governor coming and listening to us."

TM: Brian, these meetings came at a time when the APA is already debating specific management proposals for the Finch lands.  There's a process underway.  Is it normal for the Governor to play such a public role at this stage?

APA chairwoman Lani Ulrich wasn't at this week's meetings.  NCPR file photo
APA chairwoman Lani Ulrich wasn't at this week's meetings. NCPR file photo
BM: No, it's really extraordinary.  APA chairwoman Lani Ulrich talks a lot about process, about going through steps, and this is a big, big detour.  The fact that she wasn't at those meetings yesterday and that the governor felt it necessary to intervene is going to raise real questions about his confidence in her ability to guide this to a finish.  Here's the governor talking about his role yesterday.

"I wanted to hear from the experts on the matter before I made any decision, and that's why I came up today," Cuomo said.

So that's a big change for a governor in the middle of a land classification review in the Park to be conducting his own negotiations, his own fact-finding — instead of waiting for his experts at the APA to make their recommendation.  I think there could be real political fall-out from that.

TM:  Brian, one last question.  The governor met with green groups at Follensby Pond.  What's the significance of that?

BM:  Well, that's interesting.  Follensby is another chunk of land that green groups want the state to acquire and add to the forest preserve. A lot of local officials in Tupper Lake oppose that idea and state Senator Betty Little has also opposed any new state land purchases.  So for the governor to go there in the middle of this already contentious discussion over new state lands, it's an interesting choice.  It's unclear what he's signaling there, but there were a lot of other places that meeting could have taken place — instead he chose a place that's symbolic to both sides in this debate.

Special thanks to Andy Flynn with Denton Publications and Hungry Bear Publishing for help with audio and photographs from North Creek this morning. 

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