Gambling with the Adirondack Park's futureOne of the big regional stories was the report that the head of New York state's Adirondack Park Agency has been suspended after being accused of downloading and emailing porn on agency computers. The APA is the agency that regulates activities in New York's six million acre Adirondack State Park.
Obviously APA head Dan Fitts should be fired if found guilty of this. I think most people can agree on this. But North Country Public Radio's report on the story contained a fact that astonished me: According to NCPR, the APA is the smallest state agency.
The APA has an enormous task. The Adirondack Park is reportedly the largest state or national park in the lower 48 states. The Park is to remain 'forever wild,' according to Article XIV of the state constitution. The APA created by the state legislature in 1971 to help enforce this part of the constitution.
Yet in the last few years, the APA has been inundated by building permits. Big developers have seen the Park as the ideal place to build huge housing complexes and McMansions to lure those New York city and Long Island residents spooked by 9/11. The Adirondack Park is great precisely because of its natural beauty. Yet much like California in the 50s and 60s and Colorado in the 70s and 80s, a huge population influx may threaten what makes the Park so desirable in the first place.
In addition to the obvious concerns of environmentalists who want the state constitution respected, this is also of some concern to business owners. The Park's economy is heavily dependent on tourism, tourism which is based on people want to experience the region's fantastic natural wonders. People come to the Adirondack Park to hunt and fish and hike and breathe fresh air. They don't come to the Park to get stuck in traffic in front of a Wal-Mart; they come to the Park to get AWAY from that.
The administration of Gov. George Pataki has been praised by some for authorizing the state to purchase a lot of land in the Park. Yet with the deluge of development projects, it seems that Pataki is protecting some land in the Park as a cover for letting the rest go to pot. He giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other... and then some.
The APA has this enormous job but with only 60 staff, it's the smallest state agency and, by all accounts, can barely keep up with the flood of development permit applications. Given the importance of its job, doesn't the APA deserve more well-staffed agencies like the state lottery or horse racing association? Or perhaps the lame duck governor is content gambling with the future of one of the few parts of the state that hasn't been paved over.