By KIM SMITH DEDAM, Press-Republican
---- — LAKE PLACID — The largest state land purchase in more than a century took place Sunday under a pen held by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The governor addressed a gathering of about 30 local and state officials at the Conference Center in Lake Placid and sealed a final transaction with The Nature Conservancy to buy 69,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn and Company forest land.
The state will buy the land for $47,396,413 over the next five years.
The land purchase represents 5 percent of the Upper Hudson watershed, but does not include Follensby Park now owned by the Conservancy.
“I’m here for one reason,” the governor allowed. “To sit at that table and sign the check.”
Cuomo called the land transfer “a stellar accomplishment for all of us ... because this is going to make the (Adirondack) park even better – if that’s possible.”
He said the sense of harmony that exists in the natural world provides a lesson of balance.
“We need to conserve, we need to preserve.” he said. “We also have occupations that we have to perform. We also need jobs.”
Adding these 69,000 acres to state forest lands will expand public access to some of the finest hunting, fishing, paddling and hiking areas in the world — an opportunity that the governor suggests will “fuel tourism and fuel the legacy — this enhances the legacy that we leave for our children.”
The purchase encompasses 10 tracts in all, to include Boreas Ponds, Essex Chain
of Lakes, the McIntyre Tract (at the southern border of the High Peaks region) and the OK Slip Tract in the heart of Adirondack wilderness.
Local government officials have fought against the intended purchase since its inception, arguing that lost forestry jobs and dispersion of hundreds of private hunting clubs will actually cost the Adirondack region hundreds of jobs.
In June, the Local Government Review Board petitioned Cuomo to put the core 65,000 acres of this deal in Department of Environmen
tal Conservation easement, citing the Gooley Club hunting property as one among 21 clubs that will lose leases in force for nearly a century.
“About 200 (hunting cabins) will be destroyed. Forestry uses will be prohibited along with virtually all commercial use. Hundreds of jobs will be lost,” the Review Board said in statement two months ago.
“The state will pay tens of millions for the property. State taxpayers will then be required to pay real property taxes to the affected towns, counties and schools and the maintenance costs of the property.”
Pete Trout, a member of the Gooley Club, made a video plea online, saying that the recreational club leases 15,000 acres.
“(Hunting) clubs are some of the most important small businesses in the region, contributing millions of dollars to the rural economies and are an important part of the cultural fabric of the Adirondack Park.”
The Conservancy worked out 10-year lease extensions with the hunting clubs when Finch, Pruyn sold the property to them in 2007.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens stood beside Cuomo when the transaction was signed Sunday.
Martens said lease agreements would be honored as the state pays for the property in increments over the next five years.
DEC did not say what order the land will be added to Forest Preserve.
They plan to use $13 million from the Environmental Protection Fund toward the purchase this fiscal year, Martens said.
The Review Board was not party to the signatory ceremony Sunday.
But Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, a longtime critic of state land acquisitions, was there and said this purchase honored commitments made to the Conservancy a long time ago.
“We have been discussing this with DEC and, going forward, we’ve agreed that all purchases should be scrutinized (in accordance with local economic indicators) like this one was — what land should become forest preserve, where the snowmobile trails should go, what land should be kept in active timber management ... And DEC has committed to this,” Sayward said.
Classification of each of the 10 tracts will go through unit management planning at DEC that will guide land use status assigned by the Adirondack Park Agency. Reclassification will involve extensive public hearings to glean community input, Martens said.
Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter Executive Director Mike Carr said extensive natural heritage inventories have been done and most of the property is currently in Resource Management.
The 10-tract addition to Forever Wild land was really the second chapter of a much larger plan.
The agreement signed Sunday conveys the final piece of 161,000 acres the Conservancy bought five years ago for $110 million in one of the most detailed land-use planning/real estate deals ever coordinated by any environmental group.
In December 2010, the state paid $30 million for conservation easements for public protection of 89,000 of the 92,000 acres the Conservancy sold for $32.8 million to ATP, a Danish pension fund.
Other, smaller parcels were sold to the towns of Newcomb and Long Lake with another sale of small acreage pending to Indian Lake.
Video of the Gooley Club property is online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-XY6sFv-5M.
Email Kim Smith Dedam: firstname.lastname@example.org