ELIZABETHTOWN - The new head of the Adirondack Council visited the Essex County Board of Supervisors Thursday to introduce himself and talk about finding common ground.
Several supervisors mentioned that it was bold of Willie Janeway to come into the lion's den and meet with heads of the local governments.
Janeway started by talking about his background, working for the Adirondack Mountain Club after graduating from St. Lawrence University and later taking over as a regional director for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, talks to reporters in May.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
He said that when he talked with the Adirondack Council about coming on in their executive director, he discussed with board members there the four main tenets he saw as important: protecting the ecological integrity of wildlands, helping to keep communities vibrant, protecting clean water and air, and working to continue a tradition of private land stewardship.
He said the Adirondack Council leadership resoundingly agreed those were the things they wanted to focus on, and he's gotten strong support from them about being reasonable and partnering with groups throughout Adirondack communities.
He told supervisors he hopes the council can work with them to find common ground.
Janeway brought up two specific topics relevant to supervisors right now, one that everyone seemed to agree on and another that had supervisors disagreeing strongly with the council's views.
The first was the proposed land swap between the state and NYCO Minerals that passed through the state Legislature this year and will be on voting ballots this fall. NYCO would give the state about 2,000 acres of land next to the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area in exchange to use about 200 acres in Lewis for mining.
The council departed from some other environmental groups in supporting the land swap and helping secure enough votes to pass it in the state Assembly, and supervisors expressed thanks for that. Newcomb town Supervisor George Canon said that without the support of the council, "that wouldn't have made the bell."
"We really need this, and I think that your support has brought it a long ways," said Lewis Supervisor David Blades.
The second issue was a much more hairy one: the classification of former Finch, Pruyn lands in three towns in Essex and Hamilton counties. The council has supported classifying the lands with the restrictive wilderness classification, while the local towns are asking for a wild forest classification, which would allow some structures and motorized vehicle access.
"If the environmental groups are concerned about the economics of the three communities, then a wilderness classification is not going to accomplish it," said Canon, whose town is one of the three. "We're totally convinced, and we're bonded together on this one."
North Hudson town Supervisor Ron Moore and Minerva Supervisor Sue Montgomery-Corey agreed. Montgomery-Corey said she remains hopeful that the two groups can find common ground, noting that she also went to SLU in the same department as Janeway.
"I know what you learned, and what you learned is to listen to communities," Montgomery-Corey said.
Elizabethtown Supervisor Margaret Bartley said she's heard from a number of her constituents that they believe the wilderness classification would prevent many locals from using the lands, since the local population is aging and may not be able to hike with gear long enough to access the land.
"Accessibility is important for everyone, not just the young, healthy backpackers," Bartley said.
Schroon Supervisor Michael Marnell asked why the council thinks wilderness would be better for the land. Janeway answered it's important for marketing the area, and it would provide the most long-term economic benefit because it will protect the land for the longest amount of time.
Janeway noted that part of partnerships and finding common ground is recognizing when two groups disagree and not taking those issues personally.
North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi also asked Janeway about some unrelated topics: the possibility of a backcountry skiing program that some have said might need a state constitutional amendment and the transportation corridor that currently houses the Adirondack Scenic Railroad but is currently up for review with the state departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation.
Janeway said he is not yet jumping to the conclusion that the backcountry skiing program would need a constitutional amendment, which Politi said he was happy to hear. Politi said he thinks it would be a great idea for the Adirondak Loj and the rest of the region.
As for the rail corridor, Janeway noted that the only stance the council has taken on it so far is that it will respect the transportation corridor no matter what. Some who question the idea of taking the rails out of the corridor argue that environmental groups will try to get parts of the corridor reverted to restrictive land classifications, but the council has taken the position that it would not do that.
Janeway said he is happy the state is opening the corridor's unit management plan, and he said the council may decide to weigh in during the review process.
Janeway told supervisors he looks forward to working with each of them and developing a role for the council in each of their towns. He said some towns will want the council's help in developing economic plans, while others may want the council to take a more hands-off approach, and he said the council will develop different strategies for working with each town.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.