It 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.