By CHRISSY PRICHARD
For the Express
OLD FORGE - A year has gone by since Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Leilani “Lani” Ulrich as the first woman to chair the Adirondack Park Agency Board of Commissioners.
The appointment followed an eight-year stint as a commissioner. With a year as chairwoman under her belt, Ulrich looked back on the past year and reflected on the challenges and satisfaction the job brings.
Her past experience with the APA has been an important part of her success. “My experience as a commissioner was invaluable preparation,” she says. “I was able to learn the workings of the board and the complexities of our [land use] laws and regulations.
“I had time to learn from my predecessors as they balanced ways of responding to public input and of working with local governments and those interest groups who comment most frequently on the agency’s work.”
Her new role is a little more complex. “The greatest change is that the chair works very closely with the executive director and management staff, and is the liaison to Albany, to other state agencies, and to the governor,” Ulrich said.
She became chairwoman at a time when the APA had a large project to deliberate. “My tenure began with no honeymoon. My first meeting as chair was the beginning of our three-month deliberations for the Adirondack Club and Resort project proposed for Tupper Lake.
“Completing that process in a timely manner with a 10-1 vote of approval was the first accomplishment of the year,” said Ulrich.
Ulrich found a few things that surprised her while settling into her new role.
“Despite the importance of the park, its history, its unique structure and stature nationwide and around the world, I was surprised by how many in our own state know so very little about the Adirondack Park,” she said. “We must do much more outreach within our own state, especially to our urban populations.”
Ulrich says she is now more aware of the challenges the APA faces in the protection of private and public land.
“The duties of the agency are laid out in law, some of which is rather complicated. In appreciation of the importance of our work, and its impact on people, communities and local government, I hope we can streamline wherever greater efficiencies can be achieved and provide increased understanding of the laws and regulations,” she said.
Tropical Storm Irene was another surprise. “Many have thought for years that the impacts of climate change are one of the top three greatest threats to the park, along with acid rain and invasive species. The composition of our forests, the quality of our waters and our dependency on winter recreation are all in jeopardy.
“The damage from Irene to the towns of Keene and Jay was stunning. Never did I think the size of stream culverts would take on such importance in my thinking,” she said.
Ulrich’s past experience with Central Adirondack Partnership for the 21st Century and the Common Ground Alliance of the Adirondacks has been very helpful, she says.
“My CAP-21 [local planning] experience taught me that public/private partnership is key to future planning and sustainable development,” she says.
The Common Ground Alliance broadened Ulrich’s understanding of Adirondack issues. “I learned ... we can accomplish much more working together.
“Entities around the country state over and over that we are one of the few regions of this size, with this variety of challenges ... where environmental groups, non-profits and governing entities literally meet and work together toward common goals,” she says.
Even back then, Ulrich was building relationships with the APA. “Through both experiences, I had the good fortune to meet and work with Terry Martino, first as Adirondack North Country Association taught CAP-21 how to do a grant application and later as a colleague on the Common Ground Alliance Core Team.
“Those early years provided a foundation for the strong working relationship we now enjoy as she continues to lead the APA staff as its first woman executive director,” said Ulrich.
Ulrich enjoys the continuous learning that comes with her position. “Even after eight years as a commissioner, there is so much more to learn, so much more to understand first about how the APA can better support the towns and villages of the park, then next about how to better communicate effectively with interest groups and with Albany to build support for needed changes,” she says.
She enjoys the educational presentations that are commonly given to help the Board of Commissioners with policy decisions. The presentations are broadcast live on the APA website and can be accessed by anyone, which Ulrich feels is a great resource.
“I am struck by how helpful some of the information can be to towns, organizations, private businesses and individuals around the park,” she said.