Press-Republican

Local News

January 6, 2011

ORDA director tapped to take over for DEC

RAY BROOK — Joe Martens seemed a bit humbled by the breadth of North Country support for his nomination as Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner.

"I hope I live up to their expectations," he said.

But his track record is marked with Adirondack achievement.

In his role at the Open Space Institute, Martens helped craft several unique land-use agreements, one on the historic Tahawus tract in Newcomb and another in portions of 161,000 acres of former Finch Pryn & Co. land purchased by the Nature Conservancy nearly three years ago.

Each allow for both preservation of and public access to previously privately owned areas in the Adirondack wilderness.

Martens, whose nomination by Gov. Andrew Cuomo still needs state Senate approval, is also chairman of the Olympic Regional Development Authority Board of Directors, an appointment made by then Gov. Eliot Spitzer in July 2007.

During his tenure, new trails at Gore and Whiteface Mountain ski centers have expanded to increase economic opportunity with attention to environmental concerns.

ORDA role

Martens did not know how or when his role at ORDA would change.

"It's a good question, and I'm going to figure it out shortly," he said on Wednesday.

"But the DEC commissioner is an ex-officio member of the ORDA Board by statute."

He would take the helm at a critical point amid enormous economic challenges.

In an internal memo widely published in the press last October, former DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis expressed real concern that conservation and regulatory programs at DEC are "hanging by a thread" due to staff cuts and budget constraints made in the past few years.

Grannis calculated a 21 percent reduction in the department's workforce since 2008 and suggested "all the meat has been stripped from the bones, and some of the bones have disappeared."

"It is a real challenge, and DEC is not alone," Martens told the Press-Republican.

"Virtually all state agencies are the subject of dramatic reductions in staff and budget allocations. The role of DEC in managing state property and its regulatory role is critical. Things are just going to have to be done differently. Building staff at DEC is not going to build solutions in the short term."

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