Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders deserve praise for approving a state budget that increases appropriations for the Environmental Protection Fund, enhances programs to fight invasive species and helps communities build needed clean water infrastructure.
The Adirondack Park is a national treasure and a global legacy for us and for future generations. This historic budget enhances that legacy with a $300 million Environmental Protection Fund, $350 million for clean water infrastructure grants, and more. It is a blueprint for how the nation should invest in water, wildlife, wilderness and communities.
Governor Cuomo, Sen. Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-East Northport, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx clearly recognized that in the Adirondacks, the environment and the economy work hand-in-hand. Their financial plan for the coming year includes record levels of funding for crucial environmental and community initiatives.
The Environmental Protection Fund will reach $300 million for the first time in its 22-year history. This $123-million increase — when combined with strong policies and agencies — will protect the beauty, charm and allure of the Adirondacks for generations to come.
The final budget also adds $200 million to the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, bringing total authorized spending up to $350 million over the next two years. The act provides grants to replace small-town sewage systems, and for other community drinking and waste water projects, bridging the gap between what the communities need and what they can afford.
Many of the budget’s environmental funding programs will also help improve the Adirondack Park’s economy and cut costs to local taxpayers.
Funds to combat invasive species more than doubled to $12 million (from $5.8 million) and will assist communities and regional organizations such as the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program. Another $450,000 was included to fight invasive species in Lake George.
In addition, the EPF provides $40 million for open space acquisitions, which is a 50-percent increase from last year’s $26.5 million appropriation. Farmland protection funding for conservation easements increased from $15 million to $20 million.
State land stewardship increased from $18.5 million to $28 million. The EPF also contains a new $24-million climate change category that will fund community projects to improve community resiliency ($14 million); boost the Climate Resilient Farms program (from $500,000 to $2.5 million); and, encourage smart growth (up from $600,000 to $2 million).
Another important new addition provides $7 million in environmental justice funding for inner-city and underserved communities. It will support air quality monitoring, environmental job training, and the reduction of exposure to environmental harms, as well as a new Connect Kids Outdoor Recreation Program ($500,000).
In addition to the major statewide funding, EPF programs that benefit Adirondack wilderness protection and Adirondack hamlets, some of the EPF is aimed at specific communities.
Local Waterfront Revitalization Program funding increased from $12.5 million to $16 million. For the first time, this includes funds to update local waterfront plans to mitigate climate risks with an appropriation of $2 million. This also includes $660,000 targeted for projects in the Adirondack towns of Newcomb, Indian Lake and Minerva.
Other local funding includes a grant to Essex County in the amount of $300,000 and another to Hamilton County for $150,000 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 Adirondack landfills, in accordance with an agreement with Essex County.
In promoting tourism, the state’s economic development agencies will implement a $50.5 million tourism campaign to attract visitors from around the world. This is a $5 million increase in funding from FY 2016.
Unfortunately, the budget does not restore cuts in funding for staff at the Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation, leaving agency infrastructure severely underfunded.
In addition, the budget includes a $68-million raid on funding for the northeastern Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Of that, $15 million will go to workforce training, $23 million to the General Fund and $30 million to aid communities in which power plants have closed.
State officials announced late last week they were still on track to spend $14.5 million this to acquire the 20,494-acre Boreas Ponds tract in Newcomb and North Hudson, using funds from the EPF.
As we said in our 2015 State of the Park Report, the Adirondack Park is poised for change.