Proposal 3 is a proposed amendment to Article 14, the forever wild provision of the NYS Constitution, to create a new “Health and Safety Land Account” to help local communities with highway and utilities maintenance, location of wells for municipal water supplies, and creation of a bike path network. It also authorizes use of highway corridors for routing of utility lines by co-location or burial to expand broadband capacity, ensure delivery of other services like electric and phone, and routing of water and sewer lines.
This amendment has seen the same coming-together of stakeholders from across the Adirondack political spectrum that we saw in support of resolving the longstanding land disputes around Raquette Lake that was the basis of the Township 40 Amendment that passed in 2013. Hopefully, Proposal 3 this year meets with the same good fortune.
Protect the Adirondacks urges Adirondack residents and New Yorkers to vote yes on Proposal 3. This amendment to Article XIV of the NYS Constitution, which includes the forever wild provision, will create a new “Health and Safety Land Account.” We should all take amendments to Article XIV, Section 1, very seriously, but this one passes the test. This amendment is necessary and significant because it will assist the towns, villages, and counties in the Adirondack Park, as well as communities in the Catskills, that face practical challenges for maintenance of local roads and for managing the delivery of important services to their residents and communities provided by various utilities.
This amendment is on the statewide ballot on Election Day November 7, 2017 and is listed as Proposal 3, which states:
The proposed amendment will create a land account with up to 250 acres of forest preserve land eligible for use by towns, villages, and counties that have no viable alternative to using forest preserve land to address specific public health and safety concerns; as a substitute for the land removed from the forest preserve, another 250 acres of land, subject to legislative approval, will be added to the forest preserve. The proposed amendment also will allow bicycle trails and certain public utility lines to be located within the width of highways that traverse the forest preserve while minimizing removal of trees and vegetation. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?
This proposed amendment authorizes location of broadband, other utilities, and bike paths along state highway corridors traversing the Forest Preserve; authorizes location of broadband and other utilities in county, town and village road corridors that traverse the Forest Preserve; and, authorizes the creation of a 250-acre “Health and Safety Land Account” for the Adirondack and Catskill Parks principally for maintenance and management of local roads and for location of utilities. The Health and Safety Land Account can also be used for the location and construction of municipal water wells on lands within 500 feet of a highway corridor.
This new amendment meets the critical needs identified by Adirondack and Catskill local governments for greater flexibility in management and maintenance of local highways and bridges. It makes it easier for local road maintenance projects where roads are bordered by the Forest Preserve, siting of municipal water wells, and for building a network of bike paths in Adirondack and Catskill Parks. Extending broadband fiber cable to remote communities of the Adirondacks and Catskills will help to expand educational and economic development opportunities as well as to improve quality of life. This amendment is a building block to help to continue to build and develop communities. The issues addressed are real and this amendment assists local governments to maintain and ensure the safety of local roads and to more effectively aid in the delivery of services to residents
Many groups and Park leaders worked to support this new amendment in the Legislature and now a broad coalition supports passage of Proposal 3 on Election Day this November. This includes: Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages; the Local Government Review Board; Adirondack representatives such as Senators Betty Little and Jim Tedesco, Assemblymembers Dan Stec and Billy Jones; environmental groups such as the Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Council, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Protect the Adirondacks, The Nature Conservancy of New York; others such as The Adirondack Foundation, North Country Chamber of Commerce, InterCounty Legislative Committee of the Adirondacks, New York State Association of Counties, and New York State Conservation Council, among dozens of individual local governments. A broad array of Catskill Park local groups and local governments also supports passage of Proposal 3.
Proposal 3 is a two-part amendment. The first part is a conventional “land swap” amendment, whereby 250 acres will be purchased by the State of New York and added to the Forest Preserve to offset the creation of a 250-acre Health and Safety Land account. In this part, local governments would be authorized, in effect, to purchase and withdraw acreage from this account needed for various municipal activities, mainly road maintenance, according to a public process administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Legislature. Examples of other land swap amendments are NYCO (2013), Raquette Lake Water Supply (2007), Keene Cemetery (1995), Saranac Lake Landfill (1963), Piseco Airport 1 (1965), Piseco Airport 2 (1991), among others.
One key difference from other amendments, of course, is that we do not know the location of the 250 acres that will be removed from the Forest Preserve. This will likely happen over many years and involve many different communities. What we do know is that lands removed from the Forest Preserve will be roadside lands.
The second part is a conventional “use” amendment, whereby a limited set of new uses will be authorized on the Forest Preserve under certain conditions. In this part, local governments and utilities would be authorized to use lands bordering highway corridors for location of utilities and bike paths. These would primarily use existing utility poles, but would allow for larger poles to be added as well as new bikes paths to be created. Examples of use amendments are the Whiteface Ski Area (1941), Gore Mountain Ski Area (1947), and the Northway (1959), among others.
On the “land swap” part a total of 250 acres would be made available for the new Health and Safety Land Account administered by the DEC. The Health and Safety Land Account will allow projects principally for local road maintenance. There has long been a “Land Bank” administered by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for state highways, which has been very successful for decades. The Health and Safety Land Account would do the same for local roads (town, village, county) that either run through or are bounded by Forest Preserve.
For these projects, local governments will have to demonstrate that no viable alternative exists and that the roads in question are truly roads in existence prior to January 1, 2015, and are regularly maintained (these are not the Crane Pond Road or the West River Road or other similarly highly controversial roads on the Forest Preserve). Eligible projects include bridge repair or replacement and fixing dangerous curves and grades. There are limits on the lengths of such projects. Additionally, municipal water wells, and necessary appurtenances, may be located on Forest Preserve lands within 500 feet of a road.
On the “use” amendment part, various uses will be authorized within highway corridors. Again, these are roads in existence as of January 1, 2015 and the widths of the highway corridors are defined as the maintained areas and then set in the enabling legislation as no wider than three rods from the centerline. The uses that can occur include public utilities, such as electric, telephone, broadband, water and sewer lines. Utilities should be buried or co-located. The amendment also allows, when no other alternative exists, for new utility poles to be placed in the corridor or bigger poles to replace smaller poles along with the necessary placement of supporting guy wires.
The last “use” allowed is location of bike paths. This can be done through widening of roads to accommodate bike lanes, such as has been done on some of the local roads in Wilmington or through creation of an off-highway bike route, such as those along Route 30 near the Fish Creek Campground that are separated from the road by a strip of grass or trees.
The full text of proposed amendment in Proposal 3 is at the end of this article.
It’s important to understand that Proposal 3 is accompanied by “enabling legislation” passed by the State Legislature in 2017 that details the ways that this complicated amendment will be implemented. The enabling legislation set up a process for replacement of the 250 acres of lands eligible to be removed as a pre-condition for establishing the Health and Safety Account.
Here are some of the other procedural and administrative highlights for how this amendment will be administered:
- The “definitions” section of the bill is important because it sets parameters on many aspects of how this amendment will be implemented.
- The enabling legislation sets out a process for how DEC will review proposed project that seek to use Health and Safety Account lands.
- The enabling legislation ensures that there must be a public hearing for each proposed project that seek to use Health and Safety Account lands.
- The enabling legislation enumerates the actual steps for transfer of Forest Preserve.
- The enabling legislation sets out a process for local governments to purchase the lands.
- The enabling legislation sets limits on the length of each project where road-side Forest Preserve is acquired and sets limits on the width of a highway corridor, which is measured as three rods from the highway centerline.
- Some larger projects will require legislative review after the DEC review in a process similar to a municipal parklands alienation process.
- On the “use” amendment part the enabling legislation sets out how the Forest Preserve lands within a highway corridor can be used for location or co-location of utilities and bike paths. Municipalities or utilities seeking access to road corridors will follow a similar review process, along with public hearings, noted above and administered by the DEC.
Unfortunately, not all proposed amendments to Article 14, Section 1, had enabling legislation in place at the time they were voted on by the public. Enabling legislation helps to make this transaction transparent and sets up a number of safeguards for the public and the Forest Preserve. One recent and notable failure on that count was the 2013 NYCO amendment.
Click here to read the enabling legislation. This is found in “Section L” of the “omnibus bill” passed by the Senate and Assembly in the last hours at the end of the 2017 legislative session. Click here to read information from the NYS Board of Elections on Proposal 3.
For all of the reasons outlined above, Protect the Adirondacks supports passage of Proposal 3 and we encourage Adirondack residents and New Yorkers to vote yes.
Here’s the text for the actual Article 14 amendment in Proposal 3:
NOTWITHSTANDING THE FOREGOING PROVISIONS AND SUBJECT TO LEGISLATIVE APPROVAL PRIOR TO ACTUAL TRANSFER OF TITLE, A TOTAL OF NO MORE THAN TWO HUNDRED FIFTY ACRES OF FOREST PRESERVE LAND SHALL BE USED FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A HEALTH AND SAFETY LAND ACCOUNT. WHERE NO VIABLE ALTERNATIVE EXISTS AND OTHER CRITERIA DEVELOPED BY THE LEGISLATURE ARE SATISFIED, A TOWN, VILLAGE OR COUNTY MAY APPLY, PURSUANT TO A PROCESS DETERMINED BY THE LEGISLATURE, TO THE HEALTH AND SAFETY LAND ACCOUNT FOR PROJECTS LIMITED TO: ADDRESS BRIDGE HAZARDS OR SAFETY ON COUNTY HIGHWAYS, AND TOWN HIGHWAYS LISTED ON THE LOCAL HIGHWAY INVENTORY MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEDICATED, AND IN EXISTENCE ON JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN, AND ANNUALLY PLOWED AND REGULARLY MAINTAINED; ELIMINATION OF THE HAZARDS OF DANGEROUS CURVES AND GRADES ON COUNTY HIGHWAYS, AND TOWN HIGHWAYS LISTED ON THE LOCAL HIGHWAY INVENTORY MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEDICATED, AND IN EXISTENCE ON JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN, AND ANNUALLY PLOWED AND REGULARLY MAINTAINED; RELOCATION AND RECONSTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE OF COUNTY HIGHWAYS, AND TOWN HIGHWAYS LISTED ON THE LOCAL HIGHWAY INVENTORY MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEDICATED, AND IN EXISTENCE ON JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN AND ANNUALLY PLOWED AND REGULARLY MAINTAINED, PROVIDED FURTHER THAT NO SINGLE RELOCATED PORTION OF ANY SUCH HIGHWAY SHALL EXCEED ONE MILE IN LENGTH; AND WATER WELLS AND NECESSARY APPURTENANCES WHEN SUCH WELLS ARE NECESSARY TO MEET DRINKING WATER QUALITY STANDARDS AND ARE LOCATED WITHIN FIVE HUNDRED THIRTY FEET OF STATE HIGHWAYS, COUNTY HIGHWAYS, AND TOWN HIGHWAYS LISTED ON THE LOCAL HIGHWAY INVENTORY MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEDICATED, AND IN EXISTENCE ON JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN, AND ANNUALLY PLOWED AND REGULARLY MAINTAINED. AS A CONDITION OF THE CREATION OF SUCH HEALTH AND SAFETY LAND ACCOUNT THE STATE SHALL ACQUIRE TWO HUNDRED FIFTY ACRES OF LAND FOR INCORPORATION INTO THE FOREST PRESERVE, ON CONDITION THAT THE LEGISLATURE SHALL APPROVE SUCH LANDS TO BE ADDED TO THE FOREST PRESERVE.
S 2. Resolved (if the Assembly concur), That article 14 of the constitution be amended by adding a new section 6 to read as follows:
S 6. WHERE STATE, COUNTY, OR TOWN HIGHWAYS LISTED ON THE LOCAL HIGHWAY INVENTORY MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEDICATED AND IN EXISTENCE ON JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN, AND ANNUALLY PLOWED AND REGULARLY MAINTAINED, TRAVERSE FOREST PRESERVE LAND, PUBLIC UTILITY LINES, LIMITED TO ELECTRIC, TELEPHONE, BROADBAND, WATER OR SEWER LINES AS DEFINED IN LAW, MAY, CONSISTENT WITH STANDARDS AND REQUIREMENTS SET FORTH IN LAW, AND FOLLOWING RECEIPT OF ALL PERMITS OR AUTHORIZATIONS REQUIRED BY LAW, BE BURIED OR CO-LOCATED WITHIN THE WIDTHS OF SUCH HIGHWAYS AS DEFINED IN LAW, AND BICYCLE PATHS MAY, CONSISTENT WITH STANDARDS AND REQUIREMENTS SET FORTH IN LAW, AND FOLLOWING RECEIPT OF ALL PERMITS OR AUTHORIZATIONS REQUIRED BY LAW, BE CONSTRUCTED AND MAINTAINED WITHIN THE WIDTHS OF SUCH HIGHWAYS, AS DEFINED IN LAW; PROVIDED, HOWEVER, WHEN NO VIABLE ALTERNATIVE EXISTS AND WHEN NECESSARY TO ENSURE PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY, A STABILIZATION DEVICE FOR AN EXISTING UTILITY POLE MAY BE LOCATED IN PROXIMITY TO THE WIDTH OF THE ROAD, AS DEFINED IN LAW; PROVIDED FURTHER, THAT ANY CO-LOCATION, BURIAL, MAINTENANCE OR CONSTRUCTION SHALL MINIMIZE THE REMOVAL OF TREES OR VEGETATION AND SHALL NOT INCLUDE THE CONSTRUCTION OF ANY NEW INTRASTATE NATURAL GAS OR OIL PIPELINES THAT HAVE NOT RECEIVED ALL NECESSARY STATE AND LOCAL PERMITS AND AUTHORIZATIONS AS OF JUNE FIRST, TWO THOUSAND SIXTEEN.
Photo: Adirondack roadway right-of-way (Peter Bauer photo).