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St. Lawrence County EMC faces criticism

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CANTON — The role of the St. Lawrence County Environmental Management Council could change after it was criticized Monday by county legislators for a climate action plan that fizzled this year after lawmakers split over it.

“There seems to be personal agendas going on with the EMC,” said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction. “It often seems to be environmental activism rather than environmental protection.”

Legislators made no decisions about a direction for the EMC, a legislative advisory board that sometimes has trouble making a quorum for its meetings because legislators have failed to fill its vacancies for a number of months.

Legislator Scott M. Sutherland, R-Pierrepont, the legislature’s representative to the EMC, asked his peers not to delay for more than a month because some seats have been vacant for nearly a year.

“I’m not aware of any activism taking place,” he said. “I haven’t seen them holding up any projects.”

Mr. Sutherland said the EMC has been instrumental in finding solutions for weed control on Black Lake, household hazardous waste collection, burn barrels, Earth Day events, hydropower relicensing and environmental education, among other issues.

Propelled by a suggestion from the county Chamber of Commerce, legislators had asked the EMC to help with the action plan but then rejected it because of its premises about climate change, a carbon market and alternative energy.

Board discussions about the plan went off track, said Legislator Stephen M. Putman, D-Canton. “I feel this group lost their way on that,” he said. “It was simply about St. Lawrence County government and how we could save money.”

Legislators may have gone down the wrong path because the plan was too aggressive, Mr. Morrill said. “I believe the EMC does not want to hear things unacceptable to them,” he said.

Dawn C. Howard, who will become the EMC’s chairwoman if appointed by legislators, said she wanted to move beyond the past.

“I’m hoping my first action isn’t to shut down the EMC,” she said. “My goal is to improve the communication.”

Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said the membership is up to legislators.

“This board bears a lot of responsibility for the makeup of the EMC,” he said. “I would like to see a lot more diversity.”

The Planning Office, which provides staff assistance to the EMC, will be short-staffed with the retirement of Jon R. Montan, and the county’s financial situation probably means a replacement for him will not be hired. “I think we may need to look at less time spent on outside groups, including the EMC,” said Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg.

The EMC may have hit a discordant note with lawmakers but they should not consider hurting an advisory board that focuses on natural resources, one of the county’s assets routinely touted by legislators, said Legislator Daniel F. Parker, R-Potsdam.

“I just find that ironic,” he said. “They serve at our pleasure to advise us. The absence of having that to reflect on and base our decisions on — I think we’ll be a poorer body.”

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