Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposal for FY2017/18 includes a $300-million appropriation for the Environmental Protection Fund. This is complemented by a five-year, $2-billion dollar commitment to clean water infrastructure grants; a $50-million “AdventureNY” proposal for recreational infrastructure; $32 million in public and private funds to establish the former Frontier Town in North Hudson as a new High Peaks gateway; and, $153 million for an “Empire State Trail” that would include a leg through the Adirondacks, near Lake Champlain. The Adirondack Council and others have been enthusiastic about these proposals.
Budget subjects of concern include the lack of additional environmental agency staffing, state trail crews, clean water engineers, foresters, rangers, planners, law enforcement, and education and compliance personnel. We are also concerned about additional diversions of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) funds — away from energy conservation and clean-energy development. The budget is also missing a new plan the Governor has announced support for: property tax incentives to owners of forests who agree to keep their land intact and undeveloped.
The Adirondack Council praises the Governor’s transformational Adirondack plans, suggests that more can and should be done, and urges that town-oriented economic development efforts be matched with expanded Wilderness protection for new state Forest Preserve, including the Boreas Ponds.
Both the NYS Senate and Assembly leadership have expressed support for the Governor’s EPF proposal.
They are expected to approve it in the final budget with few changes. The budget deadline is April 1.
The EPF was created in 1993, following the adoption of the state’s first Open Space Conservation Plan. The EPF is a capital projects account that supports state investments in open space and public lands, landfill closure and capping; recycling facilities and other major, non-recurring environmental expenses. It is supported by the NYS Real Estate Transfer Tax, which generated more than $1 billion this year from the sale of high-value lands and buildings. Most of the tax is paid by property sellers in NYC and its suburbs, where real estate values are highest.
Here’s a breakdown of EPF programs that affect the Adirondack Park:
Open Space/Land Acquisition: The total available statewide would fall from $40 million in the current budget to $33 million, or a reduction of $7 million. The state has completed its acquisition of former Finch, Pruyn & Co. lands in the Adirondack Park from The Nature Conservancy, so immediate needs inside the Park will be much lower this year. Acquisition projects in other parts of the state may take priority while the Conservancy decides when, or whether, it will sell the other major Adirondack property it still holds, the 14,600-acre Follensby Pond tract near Tupper Lake.
Conservation Partnership/Land Trust Alliance: Money to assist land trusts with private land conservation efforts would increase from the current $2 million to $2.5 million in the next budget. Conservation easements on timberlands and farms are excellent tools for maintaining open space and the rural character of Adirondack communities, while encouraging a low-carbon economy with good sources of local food.
Invasive Species Controls: Grants to assist with the removal and prevention of invasive species infestations would remain the same, with $12 million overall. Eradication grants would remain the same at $5.5 million of the total, and $450,000 would again be earmarked for Lake George. The Adirondack Council and others had asked that this funding be increased for an expansion of the boat-inspection and washing program that began last year.
A new program would be established to assist Cornell University in its efforts to halt the spread of the hemlock wolly adelgid, a forest pest that wipes out mature hemlock forests in just a few years. While it has not yet reached the Adirondack Park, it is moving north through the Hudson Valley and is affecting areas of the Catskills. Hemlocks comprise 15 percent of all Adirondack trees. Their extreme height and dense foliage are vitally important for maintaining the deep shade that creates suitable microclimates for brook trout and other cold-dependent species.
State Land Stewardship: Would increase from $28 million to $30 million, an increase of $2 million. The Council is also calling for increases in NYS Department of Environmental Conservation staffing for care and protection of the “forever wild” Forest Preserve.
Especially in the High Peaks region, the state needs to invest additional resources to halt trail damage, erosion and habitat degradation caused by overuse, inadequate state staffing and inadequate sanitary facilities for visitors.
Smart Growth: Grants and planning assistance to municipalities seeking to channel new growth into appropriate locations would remain at $2 million. Many Adirondack communities are interested in smart growth, but need assistance with grant applications, planning and engineering costs.
Waterfront Revitalization, Adirondack Projects: Grants of up to a total of $660,000 would move through the Department of State Office of Planning and Development for the towns of Minerva, Indian Lake and Newcomb. These funds can support smart growth planning and post-planning project implementation and is not limited to traditional “waterfronts.” Typically this funding helps communities develop and implement updated planning, zoning, economic development and infrastructure project priorities.
Climate Adaptation: A total of $1.15 million would be appropriated for projects designed to help governments and agencies comply with the Community Risk and Resiliency Act of 2016. Of that, a total of $750,000 would go to local governments. The act requires officials to assess and plan for the risks to their communities from sea level rise and storm-related flooding associated with a rapidly changing climate. Adirondack communities were heavily damaged in 2014 from flooding caused by summer hurricanes Lee and Irene, as well as spring floods in the Champlain Valley.
Environmental Justice: Funding for the Connect Kids to the Outdoors Program would double to $1 million.