As long as we're all in the mood to get rid of unnecessary and inefficient governments, it's time to talk about the future role of the Adirondack Park Agency - the shadow government micromanaging the lives of 135,000 residents in an area larger than five other states.
As Will Doolittle's recently concluded two-part series on APA abuses demonstrated so clearly with the cases of two Adirondack Park residents, the agency has become more than just a regional planning board established to protect the sensitive Adirondack environment. In its nearly 40 years of existence, it has grown into a government unto itself, subject to political influences, controlling economic development and acting as its own police force to make residents and local government officials cater to its whims through its power to tie up applicants with litigation and impose oppressive fines.
It's the only bureaucracy of its kind in the state, and residents of the Adirondack Park are uniquely subject to its rules.
Its decisions are often as baseless and punitive as they are capricious. Anyone who's dealt with the APA in any sense knows all that already.
Aside from a few persistent objectors standing up for the little guy, the agency pretty much gets away with whatever it wants to do. Even the elected state legislators in the park - the officials the people chose to represent them - agree that the agency has taken its regulatory role too far, that it's become impossible for the average citizen to fight it, and that it must be reined in.
The question that must be asked now in the wake of 40 years of growing dissatisfaction with the agency is whether the APA has outlived its usefulness in its current form, and whether the same functions it performs can now be securely passed on to the local governments.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the state Department of Health already administer environmental and health regulations throughout the state. That includes protection of land and water resources, even in places with lax local regulations.
Given these long-established regulatory state protections, along with advances in computer technology, communications and planning practices, wouldn't it now be possible for counties and towns within the blue line to administer an established set of planning and environmental regulations on their own - without an extra layer of governmental administration - just as counties and towns do in the 80 percent of the state located outside the Adirondack Park?
Local governments are more familiar with individual circumstances, and have the power to act quickly on enforcement matters. That could result in better enforcement of state regulations and a more fair resolution of disputes.
Even without the APA, you'd still have the environmental groups to protect the interests of the environment. They wouldn't go away. But they'd be taking their issues to local boards on specific local issues, rather than using their political clout to manipulate a single agency for the entire park.
The downstate interests who want to protect their own private playland by forcing out the little guy would still be protected, both by existing regulations and by the sheer nature of the park itself. Most of the land in the park is either owned by the state (about 45 percent) or protected in some other way through wilderness designations, easements and sheer remoteness. That has come about through years of state purchases of land and other protections. But the little guy also would be protected from unreasonable enforcement by dealing with their local governments.
The foundation has been laid for the future of the Adirondack Park, a future of which the APA played no small role. But the agency has grown too big, too powerful, and too oppressive. Whereas its regulatory authority once helped the park, it is now gotten to the point of hurting it.
The APA wouldn't cease to exist. It could continue to function in an advisory capacity, serving as an administrator of records and a resource for local planning agencies - perhaps more in the way it was originally intended to function. But it would be stripped of its governmental enforcement powers in favor of local control and local administration of state and local regulations.
Citizens of the Adirondack Park have lived too long with the APA horror stories, and government officials have for too long wrung their hands as if they were powerless to do anything about it.
But the Legislature created this monster. It may be time for the Legislature to drive the final stake through its heart.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Bill Reynolds.