DEC seeks new training academy for ECO posts

Albany — A new training academy class for environmental conservation officers would go a long way toward addressing a huge shortage of ECOs in New York, DEC officials contend.

Peter Fanelli, director of DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement, said a letter has been sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo requesting a training academy class.

“We’ll see what happens with that,” Fanelli told the state’s Conservation Fund Advisory Board last month. “Nobody can tell me what to expect. Right now we’re holding at 40 vacancies. My biggest holes are still in the investigative unit. We could handle 60 in an academy class.”

The last ECO training academy class was held in 2008. While that class put the ECO staffing levels at full strength, numerous retirements since that time have created some gaping holes in staffing across the state.

And that ECO shortage is likely to increase, as more officers opt for retirement on the heels of a contract agreement that gave them retroactive salary increases that amounted to thousands of dollars in back pay.

“It led to many retirements, and it’s going to be a continual bleed (of officers),” Fanelli said. “We’re down 40 officers, forest rangers are down 20. If I got all my people and the rangers got 20 that would be (a class of) 60.”

In addition to the ECO and forest ranger staff shortages, Fanelli said state park police staffing was down by 100 officers. In the past, the training academy has been held for all three officers – ECO, forest rangers and state park police.

Fanelli says he’s not sure if the governor’s office will take that approach this time around if an academy class gets the go-ahead.

The state in 2008 purchased The Portly Angler, a popular fishing lodge along the Salmon River, for $1.25 million to be converted into a training academy and to improve access on the river.

Fanelli says those renovations, which involved converting the lodge and motel into classrooms and dorms, are essentially completed.

Prior to that purchase, DEC had been renting space at a motel un Fulton after moving out of an area it used for training academies at SUNY-Oswego.

The new 17.5-acre training academy site is located along Route 13 in the town of Richland, just south of the village of Pulaski and near Interstate 81.

The site also has about 500 feet of shoreline along the Salmon River.

“I estimate that, other than salaries (for instructors),  I can probably run the academy for about $180,000,” Fanelli said, adding that contracting out food and cleaning services will keep costs down.

The shortage of ECOs is the biggest problem Fanelli is grappling with right now, but it’s not the only one. He described the state ECO vehicle fleet as “rough.” ECOs did receive 14 new Chevrolet Tahoes this year, the first new vehicles since 2008.

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