October 25, 2010

Governor David L. Paterson
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12223

Dear Governor Paterson,

In their August 2010 report to Gov. Paterson, the Local Government Review Board (LGRB) blames the deterioration of communities in the Park on environmental protections afforded the Park and on actions of the Adirondack Park Agency. It recommends a number of policy changes to address these alleged problems. While the report provides numerous examples of alleged APA jurisdictional overreach, it provides no evidence that public ownership of land, the Adirondack regulatory environment, or these alleged cases of overreach are a net liability on economic and community development. In fact, most of the alleged abuses have little economic impact. Moreover, the LGRB report ignores the positive economic impact of environmental protections on the tourist industry that is central to the Adirondack economy, and it ignores other ways in which environmental protections promote community development such as by attracting retirees and telecommuters.

The research that has been done on these topics suggests that there is little relationship between the percentage of public ownership of land and the economy of different Adirondack communities. (See, for example  (Keal & Wilkie, 2003).) Our own research shows that the Park is a net asset to the economy of the region and that the difficulties faced by many Adirondack communities are largely a consequence of factors that beset many rural communities such as remoteness, low population density, and the decline of extraction based employment. In the spring of 2010, we undertook an appraisal of the 2009 Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages’ Adirondack Regional Assessment Project (APRAP) report. One oft-claimed interpretation of APRAP is that the reasons why Park communities are in trouble are the extensive amounts of State-owned Forest Preserve and a regulatory environment that constrains economic activity. The LGRB paper reiterates this slant. Our own research (Strike & Duvall, 2010) compares Adirondack communities to similar remote and rural communities in the northcountry, elsewhere in New York State, and elsewhere in the country. Our analysis, based on U.S. census data, suggests that the Adirondack Park is an asset rather than a liability to its communities. We found that Adirondack communities have similar or higher median household incomes and similar or lower poverty rates than comparable rural communities. We also found that while Adirondack communities have a high median age and are aging, this too characterizes other remote and rural places some of which are older and are aging more rapidly that the Adirondacks. To be sure Adirondack communities have problems, but our problems are the problems of rural communities everywhere. It is the Park that prevents them from being worse than they would otherwise be.   We are concerned that the continued preoccupation with the APA and the regulatory environment detracts from an approach to economic growth that emphasizes using the assets the Park provides to build sustainable, environmentally friendly economies.  The LGRB report looks backwards. It seeks to restore an imagined economy of the past rather than to build the economy of the future.

The LGRB recommendations do not seek to reform the APA. They seek to hamstring it and prevent it from doing its job. Their ramifications are not well thought through. For example, a job impact analysis on each project application would be costly and often impossible. The recommendations do not seek to develop a cooperative relationship between local government, the APA, and environmentalists. In fact, they serve the interests of a narrow range of Adirondack residents. The LGRB does not speak for us. We live in the Park and are here because of its strong environmental protections.  We love its people and its communities. We invest our time and resources here. Weakening of the APA will lead toward deterioration of the environment and make the Adirondacks less attractive to tourists and new residents.

The LGRB was created to facilitate cooperation between the APA and local government. Its white paper undermines this spirit of cooperation and will further politicize what is already a fractious arrangement.  We support Fred Monroe’s assertion that “The region needs honest evaluations of its situation.” The LRGB report and recommendations do not meet this standard. We need to remember that the Adirondack Park is a resource for all New York citizens and is a world treasure. We need to look for ways to make it work for all its residents.


Lorraine Duvall & Kenneth Strike For PROTECT the Adirondacks

50 McDonald Lane
Keene, NY 12942

KEAL, A., & WILKIE, D. (2003). Do Public Lands Constrain Economic Development in the Adirondack Park? ADIRONDACK JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES (Spring/Summer), 31-36

Strike, K., & Duvall, L. (2010). The Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Program: An Appraisal. Unpublished White Paper. PROTECT the Adirondacks.