ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated Joe Martens, a key figure in some of the state’s major land acquisitions in the Adirondacks and elsewhere, to serve as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Martens has been president of the nonprofit Open Space Institute since 1998, directing land acquisition, historic preservation and farmland protection. He’ll take over at DEC from Peter Iwanowicz, who was appointed by Gov. David Paterson in late October after Paterson fired Commissioner Pete Grannis.
Grannis, who was fired over a leaked memo blasting the administration’s layoff plans due to budget cuts, has since been named first deputy comptroller in the office of Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Martens, whose nomination was announced Tuesday, served as deputy secretary for energy and the environment under Cuomo’s father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, in the early ’90s.
At the Open Space Institute, Martens led the effort to acquire the nearly 10,000-acre Tahawus Tract in the central Adirondacks in 2003. It includes the headwaters of the Hudson River and the house from which then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt began his hurried midnight ride to the presidency after hiking up nearby Mt. Marcy. The state later bought most of the land from OSI for the state Forest Preserve, opening the area to the public.
The OSI also helped finance another major wilderness acquisition in the Adirondacks, lending $25 million to the Nature Conservancy to buy 161,000 acres of timberlands formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn & Co., a paper company, in 2007. In the Hudson Highlands over the past two decades the institute helped protect Schunemunk Mountain State Park, Storm King State Park, Black Rock Forest and Sterling Forest.
Martens, whose nomination is subject to state Senate confirmation, would take over as the DEC is working to complete a comprehensive review of the environmental impact of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale region of southern New York. Permitting of new gas wells in the region has been on hold since 2008, pending completion of the review.
Environmental groups praised the selection of Martens.
“New York is facing some of the most complex sustainability challenges in a generation, particularly in the areas of natural gas drilling and reductions in environmental staff and programs,” New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn said, adding that Martens “will be up to the challenge.”
Martens is also chairman of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates the winter Olympic venues in Lake Placid and Wilmington and Gore Mountain Ski Area in Johnsburg. He also is chairman of the Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation, which monitors Adirondack lakes and streams for acid rain damage.
Also on Tuesday, Cuomo chose Elizabeth Glazer to be deputy secretary for public safety. A special counsel to Cuomo as attorney general, she is a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan, former first deputy commissioner in New York City’s Department of Investigation and was first deputy district attorney in Westchester County.
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