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Mixed reaction from the Adirondack region to news that state DEC commissioner is leaving

New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos
Pat Bradley
/
WAMC
New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos

New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos has announced that he will step down this spring after state budget negotiations are done. In the Adirondack region, reaction is mixed, although most are disappointed to hear the news.

Basil Seggos is the DEC’s longest-serving commissioner. He was appointed in 2015 by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo. In November 2018 Seggos announced he would leave the post, but walked back the announcement in February 2019.

Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Jerry Delaney met Seggos on his first day of work in the governor’s office when he was the Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Environment.

“I think it is a sad day for all of New Yorkers that Mr. Seggos is leaving his position as the commissioner of DEC and particularly sad for the Adirondacks," Delaney said. "He was a commissioner that understood that these lands are for all of the people of New York state and I believe his actions always tried to find balance between uses and protection. And I think we have lost a really great advocate for the environment but also the recreational aspects inside the Park.”

Town of Minerva Supervisor and Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages President Stephen McNally says Seggos understands the additional regulatory issues communities in the Adirondack Park face.

“I hate to see him go. He’s been great for the communities in the Adirondacks," says McNally. "He’s done a great job. I think the key about Basil is that he’s been accessible. In the Adirondacks we have to deal with the Adirondack Park Agency and a whole set of regulations that most people in the state don’t deal with and he’s been a good conduit to talk about some of these issues. But, also, I think with all the state land purchases, and I’ve been involved with a lot of those, he’s been very good as far as helping us with plans. You know we have a whole ‘nother layer of government above us that complicates things. Some days I think it’s a great idea. Some days I don’t. But we do have that extra layer of government and I think that Basil understands that and like I said he’s a very good listener.”

Adirondack Council Spokesperson Justin Levine says Seggos has done a commendable job overseeing the state’s varied environmental issues.

“We’ve faced a lot of statewide issues with climate change and hurricanes and invasive species and industrial pollution," notes Levine. "And I think the biggest thing is probably New York state’s climate leadership, particularly with the 30-by-30 legislation and the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Those are nation leading efforts that will help New York state fight climate change, preserve our natural spaces and continue to allow the Adirondacks to be the lungs of the Northeast. These are big goals and we found that Seggos never really shied away from them.”

Not everyone is impressed with the commissioner’s tenure. Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer has often criticized Seggos’ and DEC actions in the Adirondacks.

“He ran a very closed agency," Bauer recalls. "Didn’t want to hear opposing voices. You know he’s the first commissioner in the 50 year history of the DEC to violate Article 14 the famed Forever Wild clause of the state constitution. He did that as he was rapidly trying to undertake the biggest expansion of motor vehicles in the history of the Forest Preserve. He was always using Forest Preserve management as a bargaining chip to further the political objectives of the governor. The high point of his record will be his work on the Climate Action Plan. We haven’t even begun to really put that plan in place. But his lasting accomplishment will be that he helped to put the plan together.”

In his letter to staff announcing his departure, Seggos notes it is the right decision for him and his family and says serving as commissioner “has been the honor of my life.”