The Adirondack Council praised the NYS Budget agreement for treating the Adirondack Park like the national treasure that it is, providing new funding for wilderness preservation, clean water projects and community enhancement.
The Council noted that the budget includes money for state and local officials to cope with overuse of the park’s wilderness by record crowds, new clean water projects, broadband communications, increased diversity and new jobs.
“We thank Legislative leaders Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as well as Environmental Conservation Committee Chairs Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Steve Englebright and the Governor’s office for the Adirondack Park wins in this budget,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “We are excited to see that legislative leaders took Adirondack community needs seriously and worked to address them while keeping environmental protection at the forefront of Adirondack policy.
“We are grateful for the thanks we have received within the park from those who saw that the Adirondack Council acted with partners to bring vital community concerns into the state’s budget deliberations,” Janeway said. “Working together, we got the ball rolling on some important quality-of-life objectives. They include local property tax relief, universal access to affordable broadband internet service, attracting a diverse pool of new residents, and dispersing part of our overflow crowds to new places where they can bring new energy and jobs to struggling local economies.”
At the same time, the state budget includes a $3-billion bond act (subject to voter approval in November 2022) for capital projects including overuse of wild lands and open space protection, as well as major climate change-related projects. The Environmental Protection Fund is funded at the recent maximum of $300 million, including state funding to hire independent experts to create a new management framework for Adirondack visitors. And for the first time in years there was no proposal to raid the fund for unauthorized agency expenses. Another $500 million has been set aside for new municipal clean water project grants (a big saver of local property tax dollars inside the park), he said.
The Adirondack Park is one of the few landscapes in the world where the law guides residents and businesses to live and work in harmony with nature. At 9,300 square miles (six million acres) it is the largest park in the contiguous United States. Half is protected by the state Constitution’s “forever wild” clause. The other half is commercial timberland, private estates, resorts, homes, businesses in 92 towns and nine small villages.
About 130,000 people lived in the park year-round in 2015, and there were about twice as many seasonal residents. Both numbers have soared due to COVID, but the park’s population density is still only about half of neighboring Vermont’s. The Adirondack Park contains 90% of the motor-free wilderness and Old Growth forest remaining in the Northeast.
“Our Forest Preserve – including our largest wilderness area – is currently experiencing its highest level of tourism ever,” said Janeway. “This budget will help us better preserve our wild spaces by applying proven techniques to visitor management. That’s especially important as the Adirondacks become more popular and fuel an economic rebirth inside the park. The better we handle the crowds, the brighter the future will be.”
Bond Act — A $3-billion “Clean Water and Jobs” bond act will be authorized for the Nov. 2022 ballot. It would pay capital costs for Open Space Land Conservation and Recreation: $550 million including funding for Fish Hatcheries, $75 million, Open Space, $200 million, and Farmland Protection, $100 million. Dedicated funding for Climate Change Mitigation, $700 million, including funding for Green Buildings, $350 million. Also, Restoration and Flood Risk Reduction: $1 billion including a Voluntary (flood zone) Buyout Program, $250 million; Shoreline Protection, $100 million; and Inland Flooding and Local Waterfront Revitalization, $100 million. Finally, $550 million for water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure projects, including funding for Water Infrastructure Improvement Act projects, $200 million; Municipal stormwater projects, $100 million.
Environmental Protection Fund — $300 million including funding for Adirondack and Catskill overuse/visitor-use management framework; $800k dedicated to for Essex County communities to cope with overuse (operate shuttles, maintain sanitary facilities, provide trailhead educators, etc.). The Adirondack Diversity Initiative was again funded at $250,000.
Water and Sewer Facilities – Another $500 million in water infrastructure money (on top of more than $3.5 billion already provided since 2015, including grants that help Adirondack communities to afford multi-million-dollar clean water projects.
Broadband – $1 million for the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act approved in the budget, which tasks the Public Service Commission with creating a map of the availability, affordability, and reliability of broadband internet service in New York State, using federal stimulus funds.
In addition to the state budget, Janeway noted that some help could be expected from the $1.9-trillion economic stimulus package approved by the Biden administration and Congress. In March, the administration announced a 30-by-30 Plan to protect 30% of the American landscape by 2030 as part of the national effort to curb climate change. The administration also included a $100-billion infrastructure improvement plan calling for funding for universal broadband.
Boreas Ponds aerial – Carl Heilman/Almanack file photo