Saturday, April 4, 2020

NYS Budget Capital Projects Good for Adirondacks

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.

 Bond Act

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.

 

 

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John Sheehan

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.




10 Responses

  1. It is time for NYS to stop spending millions of dollars on easements and land purchases . The western Adirondacks ( towns in St Lawrence county) are littered with easement lands that are virtually clear cut . What a deal got the land owner. NYS pays my taxes for x amount of years while I hunt it and then I will clear cut it and then it is yours.

    • Boreas says:

      There are certainly problems with both types of acquisitions – especially easements. But keep in mind, one purpose behind them is to avoid potential land subdivision and development while expanding public access. I don’t believe these acquisitions should be stopped, but perhaps simply modified WRT forestry practices.

    • John Sheehan John Sheehan, Adirondack Council says:

      The pace of cutting on lands where the state holds a conservation easement is a matter of concern. Overall, it appears that the rate of tree cutting on large, private commercial forests in the Adirondack is outpacing the rate of regrowth, including on lands where the state has negotiated a conservation agreement with the landowner.

      This not the case on private lands outside of the park, where commercial tracts are smaller and tend to be family-owned.

      Note also that the state currently offers no financial incentives to forest landowners unless they are willing to harvest the trees. So this policy creates some of the pressure to harvest, or overharvest. The rest is driven by market pressure — the opportunity and desire to make money. When market pressure and financial pressure cause harvesting rates to exceed the rate of growth, forests decline.

      On forests where the state holds an easement, the rate of harvest should be limited. The Gov. George Pataki’s team chose 80% of the annual growth rate for the original Champion International easement in St. Lawrence County. I believe the DEC gave that away when it renegotiated the easement.

      Today, there is a bill being debated by the Legislature called Empire Forest for the Future Initiative, which would provide some additional financial help to private landowners who don’t want to see their forests disappear. Those incentives are needed. For now, those who wish to manage their lands for maximum wilderness value must do so at their own expense.

      • Boreas says:

        John,

        “Note also that the state currently offers no financial incentives to forest landowners unless they are willing to harvest the trees.” Any idea how this came about? Seems illogical with a “conservation” easement. It would seem NOT harvesting should at least be an option.

        “On forests where the state holds an easement, the rate of harvest should be limited.” Agreed, particularly within the Park. I don’t know how many grassland or wetland conservation easements exist, but these areas are important as well.

        • Easements owned by the state require the forest practices to be sustainable. The owner either has to be certified under FSC or SFI or provide a management plan to be approved by NYS DEC. There is an imbalance in the Adirondack Park in terms of forest cover type diversity. More acres in Mature forest and very few acres in early forest successional stages (seedling/sapling). To assure species diversity across the Park, and habitat for all wildlife species, cutting to create seedling/sapling forests is essential. Cutting on easement lands is doing this. It is not a problem, nor is it unregulated.

          • Boreas says:

            Roger,

            Well, that is one way to look at the issue.There are other points of view that are not based on definitions assigned by the forestry industry. Your argument boils down to what one considers a “mature” forest. Not all of us agree that what the industry considers mature is the proper definition of a mature forest. Many of us don’t believe a 100 year-old forest is a mature forest just because the trees are big enough to be commercial again. Few of the trees are even close to their maximum age. If the Park consisted of nothing but 1500+ year old virgin stands that have never been cut, you might have a case about diversity. But many would consider 100 year growth to still be early-successional forest, still recovering from past practices of over-cutting and fire.

            A forest isn’t defined as just a bunch of trees. Most of the forest community is in fact underground. It is an ecosystem that takes centuries to recover from unnatural cutting practices. What we see above ground today over much of the park is just the first-generation beginning to come of age, which is when the industry wants to start cutting again. Forest soils, especially in our area, can become depleted if not left to recover properly. That doesn’t happen in 100 years. I don’t have any problem with cutting on private land managed for forestry products, but I don’t feel easement lands should be “required” to be cut before the soils have a chance to recover fully. So I guess we will have to disagree.

            Stay safe!

            • It isn’t age, it is stand structure. Forest management practices mimic natural events including wind, fire, ice and other disruptions to stand structure. The difference between a 100 year old stand and a 1500 year old stand (or forest) may not differ much in the structure and various components of the ecosystem are adapted to various stand structures. All are needed. Thanks,

  2. With the budget shortfall and Covid-19 pandemic, this isn’t the year to spend 3 billion on climate change projects. Better to buy ventilators and other goods. As to the EPF, it should be spent on trail improvement, parking lots and other stewardship projects on the forest preserve, not purchasing more lands.

    • John Sheehan John Sheehan, Adirondack Council says:

      Roger:

      Let me begin by saying thank you for being one of the few commenters who actually signs his name regularly to his comments in this forum. However, I disagree with part of your comment. In an essay in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise this week, the Adirondack Council called for a minimum investment of $60 million to $90 million in immediate improvements to local hospitals and health care networks. Our source of funding was different from yours. We recommended the Regional Economic Development Councils. We believe it would be poor policy to put off climate change projects like those contemplated in the bond act, since they too will have a significant impact on public health. We do recognize however, that the governor may withdraw the proposal before it gets to the voters, if his budget projections show it would do more harm than good. It too would put a lot of people to work. As for the EPF, some is indeed slated for trails and stewardship. We can all cheer that. The other eligible capital project categories are established by the Governor and Legislature and most are worthy of support. I am happy to report that the Governor’s plan to pay the salaries of state employees from the EPF was rejected by the Legislature.

      • Thanks John, but I guess we will agree to disagree. If we feel strongly about actions for climate change, they should start with behavior changes. Smaller homes, cars and less travel, not state taxes and spending. Be well.

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