SARANAC LAKE - Willie Janeway is the smiling new face of the Adirondack Council.
The friendly 49-year-old used the word "pragmatic" a lot as he talked with the Enterprise and the Adirondack Explorer magazine Wednesday, his first official day as executive director of the environmental advocacy group. But he also kept coming back to the word "vision."
A pragmatic visionary? It may seem contradictory, but that's how Janeway sees his and his group's role in the Park: bold vision, realistic implementation.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
"How I will approach this job, and how the organization and the board is telling me they want to approach it, is to work in partnership with others, talk to Bill Farber (chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors), talk to the other environmental groups, find common ground where we can, lay out a vision of what we believe the Park should look like 100 years from now," Janeway said. "But then also, what in the next six months, what in the next six years are the incremental things that we can do as an organization that are politically achievable, that move us toward these combined goals for a healthy park that provides healthy living for people, too?"
His predecessor, Brian Houseal, walked a similar path as one of the drivers behind the Common Ground Alliance, a collection of various parties in the land-use debates that have long fractured the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park. Janeway praised that effort and described himself and Houseal as more alike than different.
Numerous times in the long interview, Janeway brought up the "2020 Vision" series the Council produced between 1988 and 1992 - its 30-year agenda for the Park - and suggested it's time for a new vision statement, probably for the year 2100. This time, though, he said it shouldn't just be the Council's agenda; the group should team up with others on it.
To take this job, Janeway left a state executive position he had held since 2007 - director of the Department of Environmental Conservation's Region 3, a seven-county area that ranges from the Catskills to Long Island Sound, with the Hudson River valley in between.
"I'm jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, but I never get scared away from that kind of thing," he said.
Before his DEC job, Janeway was director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy from 2001 to 2007, co-founded and co-chaired the Friends of New York's Environment, was Gov. George Pataki's executive director of the Hudson River Greenway from 2000 to 2001, was executive director of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission from 1994 to 2000 and worked for the Adirondack Mountain Club from 1985-1994, holding the positions of trails coordinator and director of North Country operations.
He said his work history is a big reason the Council's board hired him.
"I'm an environmentalist; I'm a conservationist - always have been and probably always will be, even if some of my environmental friends are much farther to the left than I am," he said.
He said he's thrilled to be "coming home" and excited to be "an ambassador for the Adirondack Park" to those outside the Blue Line.
"This is a place that is near and dear to me," he said.
He has deep roots here, especially in the Keene Valley area where he and his wife plan to settle. Great-great-ancestors of his were "part of the AuSable Club and Adirondack Mountain Reserve since the year it was formed," he said. Janeways, Whites and Aldersons were in the original group that bought mountainous land they had come to love when it was threatened with logging, and now he and many cousins share ownership of a summer house and a lakeside camp there.
"When I was growing up, we (the club) owned the top of Mount Haystack, and I'd climb Haystack, one of my favorite spots."
Janeway volunteered that family connection, knowing it might be a liability.
"Some people will probably try and use that against me because the club is not always open and friendly to everybody," he said.
He got to know other parts of the Adirondacks as a student at St. Lawrence University, where he graduated in 1985.
"I once had a semester when I was down in the Adirondacks every single weekend, and my teacher and advisor got concerned," he said with a grin. "But I had my priorities."
The Council announced Janeway's hiring in February, but he didn't start until May because he traveled to Nepal to visit one of his four children. He said he was amazed at how polluted the air and water are in Katmandu.
Another hurdle is that he is barred for two years after leaving the DEC of speaking publicly about it. So while he can address matters relating to other state entities, any matter having to do with the DEC will be redirected to other staff members "and I will read about it in the newspaper," he said.
He boiled down the Council's agenda into four basic tenets:
1. "Clean water and air, dealing with climate change, being climate smart and energy smart"
2. "Large, intact landscapes, wilderness areas that are permanently protected where the ecological biodiversity is functioning effectively"
3. "That long history of private land stewardship in the Adirondacks, working forests, working farmlands"
4. "Economically strong, sustainable communities where people can live, make a living."
Janeway noted several times that the Adirondacks and the Council are different from when he lived here. The Council "has matured," he said, and throughout the Park, "people seem much more willing to listen to each other and try and understand each other's positions."
He said he'd define himself as a "conservation executive," "pragmatic optimist" or "pragmatic idealist."
"I believe in conservation," he said. "I also believe firmly, because I've seen it firsthand, in how much private action can do - in that there's a role for government, but simply expecting government to do everything by itself is not going to lead to the solutions."
Each of the Park's environmental groups handles things differently. Asked to compare and contrast himself with Peter Bauer, who directs Protect the Adirondacks, Janeway said, "I think Peter is likely to be perhaps more aggressive in his criticism sometimes, and I am more likely to bite my tongue and look for a positive thing to say about something, even if we have some similar issues with it.
"I think that people care about the Park, and even those who make proposals that I don't like, I don't think it's because they don't like the Park and are trying to hurt it. I think it's because I needed to do a better job of educating them on the specifics."
For instance, he said, "I know, having worked at the state, that often we are starved for good science and good information. I worked at The Nature Conservancy, and I was used to having a team of scientists I could turn to who would get all sorts of information before we made a decision. As a (DEC) regional director, I had hundreds of staff; I had almost no general scientist who I could (ask), 'Where's the science on this?'
"Getting good science is a way sometimes of closing gaps between people and individuals because it gets good, unbiased information."
On Gov. Andrew Cuomo
"I'm freshly from the Cuomo administration, and I found one of the hard parts of leaving was to resign and stop being a part of that team, because it's a great team of folks, and they're constantly looking for ways to be smart politically and do good things, economically and environmentally," he said.
"He recognizes the Park, he's been up here in the Park, he knows its value, he knows its uniqueness, and he's trying to effectively work from the bottom up rather than impose from the top down with the economic councils."
Although the Regional Economic Development Councils are led by Cuomo's appointees, "they are people from the regions, and if you compare it to the way we did economic development previously, it's night and day.
"I participated in the regional economic council for the Hudson Valley, and it was an opportunity for different stakeholders to come together in a way they never had before."
On the ACR
The Adirondack Club and Resort is a 600-unit project proposed for Tupper Lake nine years ago. It has APA approval now but is being delayed by a lawsuit filed by Protect, the Sierra Club and a few neighbors. Janeway is still getting up to speed on it, but based on what he's read, he said, "I think there were issues with it, and I'm not sure it's the brightest chapter in the history of the Park Agency.
"Seeing how many years the struggles went on, having been in a regulatory role in trying to get projects changed and then approved, that's well beyond the norm for the state of New York for a project to take that long, regardless of the agency it's in front of.
"It seemed like a lot of people were still unhappy at the end of the process, and ideally most people would be happy at the end of a process, especially a process that involved mediation and people coming together and trying to find common ground."
On the rail-trail debate
Janeway said the Council is not taking a stance on whether to rehabilitate the railroad between Old Forge and Saranac Lake to working condition or replace it with a multi-purpose trail. He and the Council do, however, value "the uniqueness and the recreational and economic value of the corridor" and would not want any of it to revert to state Forest Preserve if the tracks are removed - something some rail supporters have warned about.
How much is enough?
The state now owns about 47 percent of the Park's acreage and continues to buy Adirondack land without a stated goal of when to stop. Janeway said the Council hasn't taken a position on an endgame other than the 50 percent goal that was in "2020 Vision." An endgame is one thing stakeholders need to plan in an update to that report, he said.
Janeway said he enjoys hiking - he is a 46er, having climbed all the Park's highest peaks at least once - as well as fly fishing and cross-country skiing, and he looks forward to pursuing those with whatever free time he has.
"It recharges me," he said. "When you live here, sometimes you start to lose sight of just how unique it is, and having just gone to Nepal and having spent close to 20 years working outside the Park on other environmental issues, coming back to the Park reminds of just how unique and special and valuable this place is."