Peter Bauer says environmental advocacy in the Adirondack Park has languished in recent years, something he hopes to change by returning to the front lines of Park-wide issues as the new director of Protect the Adirondacks.
"Every great park deserves an aggressive advocacy effort to help protect it," Bauer told the Enterprise in a phone interview Monday. "We think Protect can provide that for the Adirondack Park. Right now, I think the Adirondack Park advocacy effort is at an all-time low, and Protect believes it's at an all-time low, and they're working to try and significantly improve the advocacy and protection capacity for the Adirondacks."
For 13 years, Bauer was executive director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks, which was frequently the most ardent of the Park's green groups during his watch.
In 2007, he left to become executive director of the Fund for Lake George, and in 2010, the RCPA merged with the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks to form Protect.
On Monday, Protect's board announced the hiring of Bauer as its executive director. He will begin full-time work for the group after Labor Day; he will continue his job with the Fund for Lake George until the end of July.
During his five years with the Fund for Lake George, Bauer has been focused on water quality and development issues in the Lake George area and has been largely out of the Park-wide spotlight. During his tenure at the RCPA, he had developed a reputation as an influential and often confrontational figure on environmental issues.
Asked if he'll take the same aggressive approach with Protect, Bauer said that's up to the organization's board.
"They certainly knew of my reputation; they're my friends," he said. "I think Protect and I will work effectively together. We'll be confrontational when we have to be. At the RCPA, we were aggressive in our advocacy, but we always felt it was important to find solutions to different issues. I imagine that will be the same at Protect."
Bauer will lead Protect as it mounts challenges to several Park policy decisions the group sees as threats - including the state Adirondack Park Agency's permitting of the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake. Protect, the Sierra Club and three neighbors joined Protect's lawsuit against this project, the largest ever to come before the APA board.
"Chief among its threats Protect opposes the precedent for permitting habitat-fragmenting, recreational housing sprawl across many thousands of acres of similarly (p)rotected private lands throughout the Park," the group said in a press release Monday.
"I was well aware of the shortcomings with the ACR project in my days with the RCPA and had identified those shortcomings," Bauer said. "Those shortcomings were never addressed, even after the adjudicatory hearing by the APA. We'll see how the lawsuit works out. We think it's a very strong lawsuit based on the merits as well as some process issues."
Among other issues in the Park, Bauer said Protect will provide "aggressive and competent" oversight for the state agencies in the Park: namely, the APA and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. All-terrain vehicle, wildlife management, land acquisition, rail corridor use and water quality issues will also be on the group's agenda. Protect also plans to fight the APA's approval of snowmobile trail expansion, as planned by the DEC.
Bauer isn't the only fervent advocate of the Park's environmental resources to join Protect in recent months. Former state Adirondack Park Agency director Bob Glennon, who retired in September as an assistant state attorney general, joined the group late last year, saying he planned to "re-enter the Adirondack wars."
Bauer's return to the Park-wide debate drew a strong reaction from at least one local government official. Franklin County Legislator, Tupper Lake Mayor and ACR supporter Paul Maroun called Protect's hiring of Bauer a "very poor move.
"Unless Peter's changed his modus operandi, I'm sure the people in the Adirondacks and the local governments will be doing battle with him," Maroun said. "If he wants to work sensibly to protect the environment, that's one issue. If he wants to be a radical environmentalist and what I call - and many call - an obstructionist, he will do no good for their cause."
Town of Morehouse Supervisor Bill Farber, a past president of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, said it's too early to predict how Bauer's and Protect's agenda will impact the dialogue in the Park. Referencing the Common Ground Alliance, Farber noted that local government leaders, state agency officials and some of the Park's environmental groups have been able to foster constructive dialogue on some issues, like the sustainability of the Park's communities, in recent years.
"My hope is Protect has not hired Peter as their executive director because of an adversarial approach," Farber said. "I hope what they've done is hired him because of his Adirondack experience and background on issues. I hope he comes into this looking at where the discussion is today and, 'How do I bring value to that discussion?'"
"I could not be more pleased with the results of our search for an executive director," Protect board co-chair Bob Harrison said in a prepared statement. Harrison and his wife live in Tupper Lake part-time and is one of the ACR suit plaintiffs. "I have known and worked closely with Peter for over 10 years. He has the respect of all stakeholders in the Park, friend and foe alike. I am very excited with the promise that his leadership of Protect holds for the future of the Adirondack Park."
Bauer said Protect will open an office in Lake George, where he currently lives. Eventually, he said, he and his wife would like to move back to Blue Mountain Lake, where they lived while he was director of the RCPA.
Enterprise staff writer Jessica Collier contributed to this report.