The Adirondack Council thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Legislative leaders April 1 for much-needed environmental capital projects that were slated to be approved in the NYS Budget agreement.
They included a $3-billion “Restore Mother Nature” bond act and a $300-million Environmental Protection Fund that includes money to address overuse and preserve the most popular wilderness areas, trails and destinations in the Adirondack Park.
Given the challenges the Governor and Legislature are facing with the coronavirus outbreak, this is a very good budget for the Adirondacks. We understand that there may still be some need to economize as state revenues may be affected by the current public health crisis. This budget recognizes that clean water, open space, wildlife and a healthy environment remain priorities no matter what other challenges we are facing.
We are especially pleased to see that the state is taking seriously its obligation to address overuse of the High Peaks Wilderness Area and other popular destinations. That will help both communities and the “forever wild” Forest Preserve. We thank the Legislature’s EnCon Chairmen — Steve Englebright in the Assembly and Todd Kaminsky in the Senate – for working with the Governor to authorize funds for environmental protection and public health.
The Bond Act was granted initial approval in the Capital Projects bill. It must also be put on the ballot and approved by the state’s voters in November. The Environmental Protection Fund requires only the Governor’s signature to become law.
Also expecting approval is as a one-year extension of the law barring the transport of aquatic invasive species from one water body to another. The Adirondack Council supports a short extension given the disruption to the legislative session, to allow for an opportunity to strengthen the law, making boat inspections mandatory prior to launch in the Adirondack Park.
If approved, about $1.5 billion would become available for infrastructure that protects communities, clean water and parks in the face of a changing climate. It also includes $1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction related to climate, including a maximum of $250 million for a buyout program, and $100 million each for shoreline protection and inland flooding or waterfront projects.
Nearly all of the Adirondack Park’s 130 rural communities are located on a lake or river shoreline.
For water-quality improvements and “resilient infrastructure,” $550 million is allocated, including $200 million for water infrastructure projects and $100 million for storm water grants to municipalities. Adirondack communities average fewer than 1,000 residents. Most will require grants to bring municipal sewage and storm water facilities up to modern standards.
The Bond Act also includes:
- $700 million for “climate change mitigation,” including $350 million set aside for “green buildings.”
$550 million for open space conservation and recreation, including a maximum of $75 million for fish hatcheries, at least $200 million for open space and $100 million for farmland protection
About $200 million for other projects.
Another bill under consideration includes the language needed to send the bond to voters for approval in November, detailed program wording and a potential safety-valve plan to withdraw or delay the bond proposal if the state’s economic situation worsens.
In addition to the Bond Act, the Budget’s Capital Projects Bill also provides a new $500 million, which should again provide $1 billion for water infrastructure grants to local governments.
The Environmental Protection Fund
The Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) would receive $300 million again this year, including $31 million for new Open Space land protection projects, some of which could be in the Adirondack Park. Importantly, lawmakers rejected Governor Cuomo’s push to tap the capital fund to pay staff to administer it.
The Appropriation for “state land stewardship” increased to $34.4 million (from $33 million last year) and a new authorized use of those funds is for “trail crews or other activities related to sustainable use of the forest preserve and other state lands that are threatened by overuse.” Also, included in the land protection and management funding for the Adirondack Forest Preserve is $1.2 million for “Essex County Overuse.”
This could support shuttles, education and other components of a strategic effort to manage visitor traffic to the most popular trailheads in the Town of Keene, a main gateway to the High Peaks Wilderness Area. The State’s High Peaks Wilderness Overuse Task Force is scheduled to deliver recommendations in June.
- Funding for invasive species controls in the EPF is again just over $13 million. Lake George will get $450,000, as it did in 2019.
- The budget includes $250,000 for the Adirondack North Country Association Adirondack Diversity Initiative, and $300,000 split between the Paul Smith’s and Newcomb Visitor Centers. There is another $2 million for community smart growth grants, more than $10 million for Climate Smart Communities, plus another $4.5 million for “Climate Resilient Farms.”
- Most other EPF categories affecting the Adirondacks were unchanged. The EPF pays for open space, parks, solid waste and recycling facilities, environmental justice programs and climate change mitigation/adaptation.
- For Essex and Hamilton counties – the two out 12 Adirondack counties located entirely inside the park — the EPF continues payments for closing their municipal landfills ($300,000 to Essex and $150,000 to Hamilton, which had been eliminated in the Governor’s proposal.