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RAY BROOK — The Senate Environmental Conservation Committee approved a controversial appointment Tuesday to the Adirondack Park Agency Board of Commissioners.
Gov. David Paterson nominated Peter Hornbeck, a canoe builder and environmentalist from Olmstedville, to serve in the APA seat held by Lake Placid businessman Arthur Lussi, who still holds the seat though his term ended June 30.
Hornbeck is on the board of Protect Adirondacks, an environmental advocacy group formed by the merger of Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks.
Protect Adirondacks sued APA last month for wilderness-classification decisions on Lows Lake.
Some members of the state's Environmental Committee raised concern over potential conflict of interest in Hornbeck's nomination.
Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), who sits on the committee, said Protect Adirondacks has also been outspoken against development of Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake, the single largest project before APA.
"I perceive a conflict of interest," Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Long Island) told committee Chairman Antoine Thompson (D-Buffalo) at the noon meeting.
"We're not here to rubber stamp (the nomination). Here we have a guy whose board (sued) an agency he is going to be part of?"
Little said, "A 'no' vote now would end this nomination."
But Thompson said the committee received more calls, e-mails and written letters on this issue than of all the work done in the past 14 months.
"The Governor's Office called repeatedly about this appointment," he said, suggesting "we dispose of it from our committee, then talk with (higher leadership). I don't want to get into a thing with the governor about his appointment."
Thompson tabled a first run at Hornbeck's nomination Feb. 2, due to outcry from Little and Adirondack community leaders.
"We've heard from dozens of locally elected officials, the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages and chambers of commerce who don't want Mr. Hornbeck on the APA Board," said Little's spokesman Dan Mac Entee.
"They feel his affiliation with environmental groups suggests he is going to bring an environmental agenda to APA, not an economic-development agenda, which we feel is critically important now."
He said there is already enough green input in park regulation.
Three APA commissioners — Chairman Curt Stiles, Cecil Wray and Dick Booth — previously served as directors of the Adirondack Council.
"We'd like to see Art Lussi remain on the APA Board because we feel he has a balanced approach to economic development in the park," Mac Entee said.
Hornbeck's appointment now goes to the Senate Finance Committee before reaching the Senate floor.
Contacted at work Tuesday before the decision, Hornbeck said he would resign from Protect Adirondacks if his nomination went through.
"If I sit on the APA Board, I wouldn't be a director of Protect.
"I would be bringing a bias with me on (Lows Lake). I would have to recuse myself from (discussions on) that."
But Hornbeck said he is capable of seeing both sides of the heated preservation-development debate.
"Do you know what I do? I certainly develop the economy of Olmstedville in my own way."
Hornbeck said he employs five people at Hornbeck Boats, a business he built from the ground up.
"These are jobs in manufacturing, holding its own on Trout Brook Road. They pay $18 to $26 per hour — good jobs you can raise a family on. I'm an environmentalist, and I'm also a business person. I'm sitting here in dirty Carhartt's; I'm not a lawyer. I can see both sides of the coin. Because land is in Forest Preserve doesn't mean it's a kiss of death for the economy."
Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy, based in Tupper Lake, issued a statement Tuesday asking Paterson to withdraw Hornbeck's nomination, with backing from its more than 5,000 members.
"Mr. Hornbeck's previous position on Adirondack issues is clearly documented and further threatens the economic well-being of the Adirondack Park."
Marcellino said Senate counsel would further review the nomination.
"We'll see how far this goes."
E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: firstname.lastname@example.org