Thursday, April 11, 2019

John Sheehan: Adirondacks and the NYS Budget

NYS CapitolConservationists had much to applaud after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature passed a State Budget that will protect clean water, buy new park land, resist invasive species, build more resilient trails and make the park more welcoming place for all state residents.

Conservationist also had a right to wonder why the budget included no additional staff at key agencies, and why the state didn’t pass comprehensive legislation requiring the state to meet new carbon emissions goals. The budget did include funding for some climate initiatives.

The budget adds another $500 million to clean water project funding, on top of the $2.5 billion to which the Governor has already made available. This will provide grants to help our small Adirondack communities to cope with the huge job of providing clean water and wastewater treatment to 12.4 million visitors every year. It will also safeguard the source of most of the state’s major rivers and drinking water from pollution, road salt and other contaminants.

The NYS Budget – approved on the morning of April 1 – contains an Environmental Protection Fund for capital projects that remained steady at $300 million. EPF highlights include more than $33 million for the purchase and protection of open space, including $2.5 million for a Land Trust Alliance grant program and $200,000 for the Lake George Park Commission.

A proposal by Governor Cuomo to raid the EPF by using it to pay for state employee salaries was rejected by the Legislature.

For the first time, the budget also includes EPF funding authorization in the Environmental Justice category for $250,000 to create a new Adirondack Diversity Initiative. This funding will allow the ADI to be transformed from an all-volunteer effort to a formal program with a home and a coordinator. It should be just the boost ADI needs to create bridges of understanding between people of different backgrounds, cultures, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and perspectives.

Funds will come from a $7 million environmental justice category in the EPF.

The state will dedicate $20 million for “climate change mitigation and adaptation” including $10.65 million for Climate Smart Community grants; $4,500,000 for Climate Resilient Farms; $200,000 for a “wood products council;” and $2,000,000 for Smart Growth Grants.

The budget also includes $33 million for “state land stewardship” including funds for trails and to curb overuse; $13.3 million to fight invasive species, including another $450,000 specifically for Lake George, $6 million for eradication grants and $500,000 to Cornell University to combat the invasive hemlock wooly adelgid – an insect that kills hemlock trees.

Agricultural Priorities

The Essex Farm Institute – a project of the Adirondack Council – said it was pleased that “important research, marketing and promotion programs farmers rely on were fully funded.”

EFI also highlighted the extension of the agricultural workforce tax credit to help offset a portion of rising minimum wage costs for farmers, and supported the successful effort to make permanent the 2 percent cap on property tax increases.

EFI thanked Governor Cuomo and Assembly leaders, including Agriculture Committee Chair Donna A. Lupardo, D-Binghamton, Senate Agriculture Chair Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, and Rural Resources Commission Chair Sen. Rachel May, D-Syracuse, for their efforts.

Other Adirondack funding includes

  • Visitors’ Interpretive Centers – $300,000 split between Paul Smith’s College
    ($120,000) and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Newcomb ($180,000) to run the park’s two Visitor Interpretive Centers;
  • Local government landfill closure support – Essex Country $300,000 and Hamilton County $150,000;
  • Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation – $250,000 reappropriated from last year (not new funding); and,
  • Olympic Regional Development Authority – $80 million in new capital improvement funding.

Not included in the budget

  • Climate Change: No action on legislation to codify state policy on carbon emissions reductions
  • Additional staff at Adirondack Park Agency/Dept. of Environmental Conservation: DEC gained five positions at the new Frontier Town campground and visitor hub at Exit 29, but no new rangers or forest-management staff

Statewide progress

Plastic Shopping Bag Ban: The statewide ban on plastic single-use bags includes a 5-cent fee on paper bags that counties and cities can opt into and split with the state. The fee, which would go into effect on March 1, 2020, would be split 60/40, with 3 cents going to the state Environmental Protection Fund and 2 cents staying with the county or city. There are numerous exemptions, including newspaper bags, produce bags, garment bags and food takeout bags. New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually.

New Food Waste Requirements: As of January 1, 2022, businesses or persons who generate large amounts (two tons per week or more) of food waste such as supermarkets, educational institutions, hospitals, correctional facilities, and large food service businesses like malls and entertainment venues must separate their excess edible food for donation and excess inedible food for composting. More than 2.5 million New Yorkers struggle to have enough to eat. At the same time, 40 percent of the food produced in this country is wasted – and here in New York, food makes up 18 percent of our municipal solid waste stream. Methane from food decomposition contributes significantly to climate change.

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Before John Sheehan joined the Adirondack Council's staff in 1990, he was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, and previously worked as a journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday. For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.




15 Responses

  1. Bob Glennon says:

    Let me get this straight: $80 million for ORDA to pour down the money sewer that is the bailout of the NINETEEN-EIGHTY Winter Olympics but not one thin dime for more Forest Rangers, who save lives virtually EVERY DAY? Are our so-called “representatives” mad?

    • Boreas says:

      Bob,

      Are they mad? Probably not. But they are our representatives whether we voted for them or not. It is OUR obligation to make these representatives aware of what matters to each of us. It is going to take more than myself and a few others sending letters and emails to get proper Ranger staffing in the Park – it is going to take a major media and letter-writing campaign to get attention. In particular, Basil Seggos (appointed by Gov. Cuomo) needs to explain to NYS how he feels what is essentially a 10+ year old emergency Ranger staffing cap is still considered “adequate”. He believes DEC is “doing more with less” by allying with other state and local departments to manage the Park. We need to blast the administration with the truth. In today’s dial-up S&R system pulling Rangers all over the place, they need to stay close to their vehicles. You cannot adequately protect a growing Park with fewer feet on the ground. We all need to dust off our pens and get more involved in letting this administration know our position on Ranger staffing.

      • Bob Glennon says:

        I did all I could to assist my son-in-law, Forest Ranger and union rep Scott van Laer, to make the case for more Rangers; you may recall his testimony at Budget hearings covering inter alia the life-saving winter rescue of the young couple from Algonquin, a multi-day, VERY multi-Ranger ultimately successful operation.

        IMHO the case was made, and made in spades; even legislative staff said so. But the message was fuhgaddabowdit, the State’s in the hole; can’t be done this year.

        This, Boreas, is not rational, and the damn ORDA $80 million (for WHAT?) is a legislative spit in the eye.

        But thanks for reading.

        • Boreas says:

          Bob,

          I agree. This lack of funding is neither rational nor is it good stewardship. Perhaps avoidable fatalities will be the only thing that gets their attention. That would be sad.

    • Doug Jones says:

      It’s not just the Rangers, it’s the ECO’s and Operations as well. When I first moved back to the Adirondacks, there were three ECO’s in my area, there’s now one. The maintenance center near here has less than 20% of the staff they had 20 years ago. The Rangers used to have seasonal assistant Forest Rangers to help patrol trails and wilderness sites, and those are long gone.

      In the meantime the number of people using the Adirondacks has increased, and while the focus here has been on the High Peaks, it’s the entire Adirondack Park. . Trailheads that I remember having maybe two cars parked there now have a dozen or more. Wilderness camping sites that used to have maybe one group a week are now continuously occupied, and it’s not uncommon to see “No vacancy” signs at every campground every weekend.

    • Susan Weber says:

      Bob Glennon: Yes, obviously!!! And hello to you from me.
      As more and more people take advantage of our wonderful state lands, the demands for assistance & rescue grow. More staff is obviously badly needed. It’s a health & safety issue. But not popular with the Gov’s elite buddies. Ah, for the good old Mario…..

  2. Vanessa B says:

    This all looks great, especially the Diversity Initiative, EXCEPT the lack of budget for more rangers!

    I have been following Scott Van Lear’s work on this issue, which is most commendable. Any ideas for how seasonal visitors can help here? Have signed the petition and spread the word. I’m from out of state, however, so I don’t have the ability to influence state legislators.

    • Boreas says:

      Vanessa,

      I am not sure legislators won’t listen to non-resident letters of complaint. If the issue is seen in neighboring states it may just embarrass them enough to think about the situation. Non-resident tourist dollars are just as green as ours. If visitors do not feel safe, letters or voices of concern to local community leaders and establishments will eventually trickle all the way to Albany.

    • John Sheehan says:

      Try sending a letter to a local newspaper about this. You can pick on and send it either by email or online. It would be seen by state legislators — especially if you mention them — and by folks who run local businesses. Most important, it would encourage others who agree to speak up too.

      • Charlie S says:

        “Try sending a letter to a local newspaper about this.”

        If you send it to the Times Union make sure Tena Tyler don’t get a hold of it. She’s a ‘wordsmith’ or at least that’s what she told me some few years ago when I sent my last letter to a daily rag. Thanks to her I am very hesitant to send letters to the newspapers anymore. She edits them, and because she’s a ‘wordsmith’ she knows best what your letter should look like in print even if it’s not your letter by the time it is put to print. That was my case. It was her letter not mine, she changed all of my words around and even threw in a word I would have never used. It was embarrassing to have my name under that letter and there ought to be a law against such things!

  3. roger dziengeleski says:

    Millions for climate change but only $200,000 for wood products when replacing steel, concrete and plastic with wood products results in substantial green house gas manufacturing emissions. Time to change that.

  4. Charlie S says:

    “$13.3 million to fight invasive species, including another $450,000 specifically for Lake George”

    The state creates the problems then throws money out to fix the problems. If there was foresight we wouldn’t have any of this!

    • Susan Weber says:

      Not sure how “the state” has created the milfoil problem in Lake George, but I do know that only the state has the wherewithall to fix it…that and the raw sewage that the defective Village treatment plant leaches into our drinking water! This lake is a regional economic engine but this will end if the lake is polluted — or merely gets that reputation.

  5. Charlie S says:

    They allow motorboats on Lake George because there’s money in boat recreation. Invasive species aren’t on their budgetary list until invasive species become a problem. It would have been cheaper had they put money into prevention versus trying to eradicate which is not an easy thing to do once they are established…invasive species that is. No foresight as always.

    Just like the state allowed GE to build two plants near the Hudson River, in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, and also allowed them to discharge PCBs into said river. Then they spent all of those millions cleaning it up decades later which I cannot see how they could possibly ever do. Society has a fart stuck on its brain Susan when it comes to economy.

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