The Adirondack Park is a global treasure, with clean water, large unbroken forests, wildlife and 130 historic communities. All who care about the Park will be interested in what Governor Cuomo has to say in his first State of the State message and first budget proposal of his second term. Both are expected on January 21 in Albany.
As we pause this year to celebrate our 40th Anniversary, the Adirondack Council is hopeful that the Governor will continue to show a strong interest in the Park’s future. Through cooperation and partnership, the Governor’s team can achieve important environmental and community development goals for the Park.
In December, the Governor published an assessment of his first term’s accomplishments for the environment and community development, in a report titled “Building on Success.” Among them were:
- Protecting former Finch Pruyn & Co. lands owned by the Nature Conservancy by buying conservation easements that prevent development on working forests, and buying properties for the largest addition to the State Forest Preserve in more than a century.
- Increasing the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to $162 million/year. The EPF is the state’s core funding for projects protecting clean water and open space, forests and farms, providing for stewardship of public lands, supporting Parks and waterfront revitalization, and smart growth.
- Preserving “the Park’s priceless natural resources for generations to come” with new wilderness and motor-free designations, while “expanding tourism opportunities and recreational access that benefits local communities.”
- Sponsoring and participating in summer and winter Adirondack Challenges, promoting natural resource based recreational offerings of the Adirondacks.
- Awarding millions of dollars for Regional Economic Development Grants in the Adirondack North Country, supporting a range of projects including clean water and tourism infrastructure, broadband, marketing and promotion.
Governor Cuomo’s self-described, first-term, clean water, public health, and open space conservation record highlights also include the decision to prohibit high-volume hydrofracking, committing more than $16 billion to environmental and energy programs, committing approximately $900 million to upgrade key parks and open space facilities, and leadership of a multi-state effort to reduce the carbon emission cap established under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative by 45 percent.
As the Governor prepares to list his priorities for funding and policy in the year ahead, there are specific opportunities for the Governor in his second term:
- Clean Water Infrastructure Funding (Grants and Loans): The Governor has indicated he will propose an infrastructure bank or fund, possibly using some of the more than $4 billion in one-time bank settlement funds the state has received. This is encouraging, especially if this will focus on clean water, community and environmental resiliency statewide. We hope this will include $200 million or more for Adirondack Park clean water infrastructure, including funds to implement a Park-wide program to stop invasive species from contaminating Park waters.
- Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) Increases: The Governor has pledged to increase the EPF in his second term. A coalition of advocates for public health, environmental programs, parks, farming, zoos and clean water have proposed that the EPF be funded at $200 million this year, as a step towards a fully funded $300 million EPF. Specific EPF appropriations important to the Adirondacks include an increase in land protection, state land stewardship, invasive species, waterfront revitalization, and smart growth community grants. New York Works funding can be an important supplement to the EPF.
- Regional Invasive Species Program & Funding: Thanks to a new law signed by the Governor, it is illegal to move a motor boat from one lake or river to another without removing invasive species. However, only Lake George and Loon Lake have boat inspection and decontamination stations and programs. Local government leaders have joined with environmentalists in calling for a park-wide program.
- Adirondack Park Agency Reforms: The December report by the Governor’s team on priorities is silent on the Adirondack Park Agency, charged with broad oversight powers for the six-million-acre Park. A dedicated team of commissioners and staff need resources, new tools, and clearer policy guidance to better protect the clean water, wildlife habitat, wild forest character and wilderness of the Park while also helping Adirondack communities be sustainable and vibrant. Science based updates could better protect the Park’s wildest and most remote and sensitive lands from backcountry sprawl.
- APA and Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Forest Rangers, and Environmental Scientists: Both agencies are suffering from budget cuts that forced staff reductions of close to 20percent during the recession. The Park Agency needs replacement personnel to assist local governments and project applicants. The DEC needs staff to protect and manage public lands.
- Rail Road Safety / Oil Trains: The Cuomo team issued a report noting improvements in the safety of some oil trains moving through the state. Community leaders, local emergency response officials and those concerned about clean water and wildlife are not satisfied. More still needs to be done.
This is a unique time in the more than hundred year history of the largest Park in the contiguous United States. In Albany dysfunction, late budgets and deficits have been replaced by improved government function, on-time budgets and surplus. There is an opportunity in the Adirondacks for a new way of doing business that honors and builds on the legacy of preservation of clean water and wilderness, while building more sustainable and vibrant communities. Leadership, increased funding and improved policies can secure the Adirondack Park’s future. I will join others in watching for this on January 21.
Photo by Phil Brown: Governor Andrew Cuomo takes questions from reporters at Boreas Ponds in 2012.