The Emperor's New Plan

by John Wolcott

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission has as much of an acquisition plan as a certain famous emperor once had a new suit of clothes.

Land owner and grassroots environmentalists alike are impatient with the Commission's having published a map showing "Full Protection" parcels without a clear, systematic plan to acquire them. This has turned out to be merely a wish list and an unrealistic one under the circumstances. Some landowners felt frustrated at first when they mistakenly thought that the map would lower their land values. This map has proven not to be barrier to profitable land sales and development projects. It may even have accelerated the rush to develop. Willie Janeway, executive director of the Albany Pine Bush Management Commission, is helping to prove this by making wavering and inappropriately compromising statements about full protection parcels at every hearing where these parcels come up for grabs.

A look at the Commission's land acquisition budget in their Project Review Implementation Guidelines of 1996 reveals highly nebulous and uncertain statements. It estimates land acquisition goals to range from 10 to 25 million dollars which shows intent to acquire of the "full protection" areas and possibly some of the so called "partial protection" areas. It states that the Commission will seek private and government funding on the State and local levels. It cites the Environmental Protection Fund and the Open Space Plan. There is one honest and unfortunately prophetic note in this budget statement (paragraph 4 on page 36), "In the event there is no money to acquire lands from willing sellers, the intent of ELC Article 46 [NYS Environmental Conservation Law that created the Commission and the Pine Bush Preserve] will be frustrated." It never mentions the annual estimated amounts of this fund for the whole state, or that it operates on a kind of time release plan. The Save the Pine Bush Newsletter outlined all of this in the 1997 April/May issue. This is followed by a "Capital Improvement Budget."

This section goes into much greater itemized detail and the difference between this management budget and the absolute vagueness of the acquisition budget reveals a related tragedy and travesty. This budget is accompanied by "Table 5" which displays a five year financial plan for administration and management.

Most efforts and money need to be concentrated on acquisition at this point. The Commission is a pricey substitute for what the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Office of Parks and Recreation, and the Nature Conservancy had done before and can do together again, with a good volunteer force. Full protection areas are no longer surviving to be protected, as the Commission sell out one after another. They also fail to support Save the Pine Bush's efforts sufficiently and even undermine our efforts as in the cases of the Pine Haven development on Siver Road and the Pigliavento development on Willow Street. They will probably screw up with the Feeney and Ford parcel on the Hungerkill area too.

The Commission has in effect given up on their full protection category. All that remains to do is to officially admit and announce this, which they may not do. On the other hand, a team of spin doctors could typically stay up around the clock for a week or so until a slick rationalization can be announced. All they need to do is apply to the "We can explain anything" State PR Office, which is located in a placed called Weaselwyck.

A real plan for the full protection areas

Radical problems sometimes require radical solutions. A radical but realistic and workable acquisition plan would be to simultaneously announce an intent to use eminent domain where willing buyers can't be found. For all of the parcels, the Commission's member municipalities (Albany, Colonie, Guilderland) need to enact a ten-year moratorium on all developments. This and tax commutation would be the only thing that would justify keeping the Commission any longer. So far, this municipal representation on the Commission has made it its own worst enemy. All of the taxes on all of these parcels should be commuted by the municipal members. This would hold the land until the money was available gradually which is the only way enough acquisition money is available currently. So far, the Commission's problem has been a lack of aggression or hutzpah or moxie. Let's see if they will meet the challenge to do something to support their own announced goals. Save the Pine Bush's goal and intent is to apply this kind of acquisition to all of the remaining contiguous Pine Bush but we know this is too much to expect of the Commission.

Printed 6/98


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