Aside from authorizing the addition of 12 acres to the Adirondack Forest Preserve last week, the NYS Legislature did little in May and June to help the clean water, wilderness and communities of the Adirondack Park, the Adirondack Council said today.
“The Legislature and Governor passed a pro-Adirondack budget on April 1, but didn’t accomplish much for the Adirondack Park after that,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “Lawmakers did pass a bill that will add 12 acres to the 2.7-million-acre public Forest Preserve and we are grateful to the sponsors for guiding it through both houses.
“However, leaders left many important issues on the table at the end of the session,” he explained. “Those include updated science based rules to protect the park’s wildest places from inappropriate development and off-road vehicles, while providing incentives for responsible timber harvesting and for appropriate development that supports sustainable local communities.
“These issues are vital to the future of the park, but just didn’t get much attention due to the dysfunction in Albany highlighted by criminal charges against the leaders of the legislature,” said Janeway. “It’s time for us to regroup, talk with the Governor’s team and our allies and supporters, as well as local government officials and other organizations in the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance, so we can start preparing now for a more productive 2016 session. It is also possible that Legislators will return this year. We want to be prepared if they do.”
Among the issues left unaddressed were:
Green Development – Updated science based rules are needed to discourage development of the Park’s wildest places, where it does the most harm to water and wildlife, while encouraging development in hamlets and villages, where it does the most good for people and communities.
Off-Road Vehicles – All-Terrain Vehicles have caused systemic damage to trails, water and wildlife on the Forest Preserve and should be using logging roads on commercial timberlands where the state holds public recreational rights and not public Forest Preserve.
Forestry Incentives – State incentives for the conservation of private timberlands and private stewardship would help protect clean drinking water and the park’s private open spaces, while lifting a significant burden from local taxpayers.
Community Infrastructure – Town and county officials have highlighted the need to address drinking water, clean water, communications and other utility infrastructure needs in communities and the Governor has flagged the need to address this consistent with protection of the integrity of the “Forever Wild” clause of the State Constitution.
Additional items left incomplete as the session ended included:
Banning Microbeads – Tiny pieces of plastic contained in personal care products, cleansers and detergents cannot be filtered by most wastewater-treatment plants and also end up in septic systems, polluting Adirondack lakes and rivers. The only way to stop their introduction is at the source.
Banning Mercury and Toxic Chemicals – Toxic chemicals found in children’s toys and other consumer products end up in our water and air and pose a risk to public health statewide.
Other: On Criminal Justice Reform, raising the age at which people are treated as adults, the Executive Branch has indicated it will take action, and on Community Net Metering, the Public Service Commission is also expected to take action.
Land Swap Approved
Meanwhile, Janeway praised Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, and Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Steven Englebright, D-Setauket, for sponsoring legislation that if signed by Governor Cuomo as expected will allow the state to complete a land exchange with a local town that was approved eight years ago.
In 2007, the Adirondack Council supported — and voters overwhelmingly approved — a Constitutional Amendment authorizing the state to swap parcels with the Town of Long Lake. The town needed one acre of adjacent “forever wild” Forest Preserve to drill a drinking water well for the hamlet of Raquette Lake. The hamlet’s drinking water reservoir could not meet federal safety standards.
Until recently, the town and state could not come to an agreement on the parcel the town would provide to compensate the state for the loss of Forest Preserve. The bill identifies a 12.2-acre parcel adjoining the Blue Ridge Wilderness, which the town has purchased and will convey to the state in exchange.
“The Adirondack Council worked hard to educate the voters about the importance of this Constitutional Amendment back in 2007,” Janeway said. “Our staff went to all corners of the state to speak with editors and reporters who would be explaining it to their readers, listeners and viewers and worked with other organizations to spread the word. It is gratifying to see the swap finally coming to fruition.”
Janeway noted that the 2015-16 state budget was generally positive toward the Adirondack Park. It included much-needed investments in clean water, wilderness, wildlife and communities of the Adirondack Park, including a three-year, $200-million state wide capital program to repair and upgrade wastewater treatment and drinking water facilities. Progress was made restoring funding for Adirondack priorities, but much more remains to be done.
Under the three-year capital investment plan, the state would set aside $50 million this year and $75 million in each of the next two fiscal years to pay for grants to communities for part of the cost of local drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. Many Adirondack communities may qualify for expedited grants of up to $5 million, based on financial hardships.
The budget also included an increase of $15 million in the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) above 2014-15, for a total of $177 million. The EPF appropriations include an increase of $7.4 million for capital projects in four Adirondack high-priority areas of open space protection, smart growth planning, invasive species controls and public land stewardship. EPF supporters had requested $200 million.
One unwelcome element of the budget was a $41-million raid on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) green energy fund, diverting it into the state’s General Fund, Janeway explained. The RGGI program is a nine-state cooperative pollution control program aimed at reducing carbon emissions from electric power plants.
“Next year’s budget goal is another step toward a $300-million, fully funded EPF,” Janeway explained. “That should include full EPF funding with Real Estate Transfer Tax revenue, as well as repayment of the RGGI raid.”
Outside the Environmental Protection Fund or EPF, the budget restored 36 staff positions at DEC after hundreds had been previously eliminated, funding for the Oil Spill fund was increased, new state funding for broadband was approved, an upstate revitalization fund of $1.5 billion was approved and there was reform and an extension of Superfund and the Brownfields program.
The Adirondack Council’s mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of New York’s six-million-acre Adirondack Park. The Council envisions an Adirondack Park comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by working forests and farms, and vibrant rural communities. Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.