Sunday, January 31, 2016

Willie Janeway: Governor’s Budget Supports Adirondack Wilderness, Communities

NYS CapitolIt is pretty amazing how times have changed in the Adirondacks.

When the Governor announced this year’s budget proposals, environmental organizations applauded increasing investments in the park’s communities. At the same time, local government officials such as retiring Newcomb Town Supervisor George Canon praised the Governor’s plan to purchase important new Forest Preserve lands.

Yes, that was George in the Governor’s pre-State of the State Address video, smiling at the camera as he thanked the Governor for buying 69,000 acres of new Forest Preserve formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn & Co.  Even the Essex County Board of Supervisors’ Ways and Means Committee passed a resolution praising the Governor’s plan to fully fund the Environmental Protection Fund.

These apparent role reversals are not really so surprising, however, when you delve into details.

There is plenty of good news in the Governor’s budget plans for the environment and for community advocates.  Cuomo mapped out a bold and ambitious agenda that presents real opportunities for improvements in both wilderness and communities.

Protecting our Adirondack legacy requires the kind of bold, transformational investments proposed by the Governor for open space, invasive species, climate change, clean energy, tourism, and community infrastructure.   Strong funding, combined with strong policies and agencies, will protect the beauty, charm and allure of the Adirondacks for generations to come.

Many of the Governor’s environmental funding programs will help improve the Adirondack Park’s economy and cut costs to local taxpayers.  Water infrastructure grants would help prevent major tax increases for repairing older wastewater systems.  A larger state investment in curbing invasive species will help lift a burden from lakeshore towns that have taken the initiative to protect the park’s lakes and rivers in an effort to protect local tourism, farming and water quality.

The Governor’s budget plan calls for a first time ever $300 million Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), an increase of $133 million funded by the state surplus. The fund supports environmental capital projects.  If approved by the Legislature, the EPF would provide $40 million for new park lands and open space, which would constitute a 50-percent increase from this year’s $26.5 million appropriation.

The EPF’s support for invasive species controls would rise to $10 million (currently $5.8 million). Farmland protection funding for conservation easements would increase from $15 million to $20 million. State land stewardship would increase from $18.5 million to $28 million. The EPF also contains a new $32.5-million climate change category that will fund community projects to improve community resiliency ($20 million); create a new Climate Resilient Farms program ($2.5 million); and, encourage smart growth ($2 million).

The Governor’s budget plans include $250 million for the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act over the next two years, an increase of $100 million.  This money could be used to rebuild and improve aging water supply and wastewater systems.

If the budget is approved the Adirondack towns of Newcomb, Indian Lake and Minerva will receive $660,000 of EPF money for waterfront revitalization grants. Also, Essex County will receive $300,000 and Hamilton County $150,000 in grants aimed at landfill closure/capping costs and landfill gas management.

Another $500,000 is set aside in a separate capital projects account for pre-closure and post-closure costs at Adirondack landfills.  This community funding, and the funding for land acquisitions, are among the many pieces of the budget proposal that the Adirondack Council supports.

On tourism, the Governor gave his economic development agencies a $50.5 million tourism campaign fund, up $5 million from this year.  He will again host an Adirondack Challenge rafting race.

Unfortunately, the Governor’s proposed funding for staff at the Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental remains flat for the next fiscal year.  Rebuilding state agency infrastructure is important too, as is adopting science-based conservation reforms for Adirondack Park Agency 1970’s era rules for development and clear-cutting.  Department of Environmental Conservation state land management practices need to be updated.

The Adirondack Park is a national treasure, a globally unique legacy that requires and deserves special attention.  We at the Adirondack Council are pleased that the Governor recognizes that the park is poised for change and requires his attention right now.

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Willie Janeway is the Executive Director of the Adirondack Council, a privately funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.

The Council envisions a park composed of large wilderness areas, surrounded by working farms and forests and vibrant, local communities.

The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action. Council members and supporters live in all 50 United States.

8 Responses

  1. M.P. Heller says:

    Nice reporting Willie. Thanks.

  2. Boreas says:

    I am confounded by purchasing more lands and funding promotion of the Park, yet keeping APA/DEC staffing as-is, which is chronically understaffed. The Park ain’t gonna stay purdy if there is little enforcement.

  3. Ethan says:

    Thanks for the update on the budget, Willie — much appreciated. And good news! As we wrangle over (critical) issues such as classification in the Boreas area, increased snowmobiling, and the status of the Polaris Bridge, it’s important to remember that this governor and his administration are pro-Adirondacks and are proposing a budget that reflects that!

  4. Bellota says:

    Nice. A progressive budget for the EDF from a Democratic governor.

  5. Marco says:

    Excellent! But, the DEC still needs more people (as Boreas says.) Fortunately, most of the people I see in the ADK’s are devoted to keeping the place clean. Their interpretation of “clean” varies wildly, though. But usually the tourists do their part.

    Although water, sewage and other infrastructure developments are good, this is the “maintenance” issues I feel are important. If we concentrate people in the Camp Grounds, more people means more “maintenance” for the towns and surrounding areas, as well as the camp grounds, and open trails used by these people.

    Keeping staffing the same is basically a reduction in the services the APA/DEC supplies because there are more maintenance problems to deal with. They do the “hands-on” work of designating areas and providing maintenance to a VERY large area and deal with the large number of tourists (not counted in most population counts.) Last year was a banner year for the camp grounds for example. Staff were pressed to maintain an official presence. We need the staffing at least to the old levels in 2007/2008, not a continued “austerity budget.”

    In hard economic times, many people elect to stay near home. For NY this means the ADK’s and Catskills. We need more camp sites and the infrastructure supporting this large temporary population for at least for the 6 months of tourist season. (Most tourists do not enter the back country, BTW.) Infrastructure development and maintenance for now and into the future are not addressed by this budget.

  6. Bruce says:

    Mr. Janeway,

    When you use the term “wilderness”, it might be helpful to those of us who don’t know you, to understand exactly what you are talking about. Are you talking about wilderness in the sense that some environmental groups advocate designating all forest purchases as Wilderness under the SLMP, or something different?

    • John Warren says:

      No environmental group is advocating designating all forest purchases wilderness.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      In general, “wilderness” is a general and subjective term that refers to wild places. Lots of Wild Forest in the Adirondacks is colloquially “wilderness.” However “Wilderness” with a capital “W” almost certainly is meant to refer to classified land, in our context either land so classified under the SLMP or by the Federal government under the Wilderness Act.

      I won’t speak for Willie, but I read the more general term in this piece. The one use of the word in the article is lower case.

      And as John Warren said, no group is advocating that all State land be classified as “Wilderness.”

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