Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Money for infrastructure

Improving water infrastructure across the Adirondacks is key to protecting water health. Explorer file photo

Gov. Kathy Hochul in her State of the State policies promised $500 million in clean water infrastructure funding.

A book offering more details about the proposal, which will be fleshed out even more when Hochul presents her budget in the coming weeks, said she planned to establish “community assistance teams” to work with small municipalities on advancing projects.

Those teams “will provide proactive outreach to small, rural, and disadvantaged communities, and assist with accessing financial assistance to address their clean water infrastructure needs.” That assistance could be critical to many North Country communities, which often struggle to garner funding through key state water programs.

Last year, I reported on about $500 million in water infrastructure needs across just the Adirondack Park and highlighted the challenges facing many of those projects. Small water districts struggle to offset the high cost of infrastructure upgrades, and few Adirondack districts qualify under rules that ease the process for disadvantaged communities.

I talked to Keene Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson earlier today about the town’s need for a new well and upgraded pump controls. With only 230 users in the water district, funding the expensive project on the backs of ratepayers could be devastating.

“My fear is that it’s going to be more money into the same structures that don’t work for towns like Keene,” Wilson said of new funding. Will the community assistance teams help assuage those fears?

Town leaders and Adirondack advocates highlight the particular importance of strengthening water systems in the state’s most protected environmental areas. Failing systems contaminate local waters, and protecting Adirondack waters is core to the park’s existence, the logic goes. “Those things become a little more high stakes when in the park,” Wilson said.

The policy book also included a shoutout to the state’s recent approval of the Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line planned to carry electricity from Quebec hydropower facilities to power-hungry New York City – a key piece in the state’s strategy for decarbonizing the economy.

Hochul didn’t mention it specifically during her address, but the book highlighted the environmental bond voters approved in November (worth $4.2 billion in state borrowing). Among a list of the first projects funded, one stood out to me: modernization of the state’s fish hatchery system. I’ll seek more information on what this could mean for Adirondack facilities and waterways.

Check our website for full coverage of Hochul’s speech from policy reporter Gwen Craig, who was on the ground in Albany.

Photo at top: Highway and water supervisor Jason Monroe, left, and Chester Town Supervisor Craig Leggett discuss water and sewer issues in Pottersville. Explorer file photo

This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

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