In & About the Park
Final State Budget Sets Stage for Adirondack Gains
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John F. Sheehan
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, April 3, 2017
Final State Budget Sets Stage for Adirondack Gains
Money Could Flow for Clean Water, Wilderness and More Vibrant Communities
ALBANY, N.Y. – The final 2017-18 NYS Budget approved by Governor Cuomo and the Legislature could pave the way for an historic expansion of the Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness to include the Boreas Ponds, and an investment of millions in Adirondack Park communities.
The budget authorizes $2.5 billion dollars in new funding for major clean water infrastructure projects statewide and $300 million for the Environmental Protection Fund. Both of these programs should help the environment and communities of the Adirondack Park, the Adirondack Council said today.
“This budget marks the second consecutive year with $300 million in appropriations for the state Environmental Protect Fund, which provides capital funds to support land acquisition, farmland protection, state land stewardship, local community Smart Growth grants, Climate Smart Communities initiatives, parks and clean water projects,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “The additional $2.5 billion in Clean Water capital funding -- over roughly five years -- will provide a huge boost in available grants to communities for drinking water infrastructure, wastewater infrastructure and source-water protection, and will help address impacts of road salt.”
“We applaud the Governor, the Senate and the Assembly for their leadership and commitment to clean water, clean air, wildlife and communities, in the Adirondacks and across the state,” said Janeway. “Congress should take their cue from this, not the Trump administration budget proposal.
“And to compliment this budget, the Governor’s Adirondack Park Agency can and should now endorse a plan to expand the High Peaks Wilderness by 30,000 acres to include the Boreas Ponds, at least a one mile buffer, and other critical lands and waters,” said Janeway.
The classification of more than 55,000 acres of new state lands in the Adirondack Park is a non-budget issue that is a priority for Adirondack advocates in New York and across the country.
The Clean Water grants program was broken into numerous categories, with significant funding for programs that would aid the Adirondack Park and the rest of rural New York, including $1 billion for water infrastructure grants designed to close the gap between the cost of a project and the amount a community can actually afford, Janeway said.
This is especially important in the Adirondack Park, which fuels the state’s economy by attracting 10 million annual visitors to small communities whose taxpayers struggle to handle the costs of multi-million-dollar clean-water system upgrades, he noted.
Other highlights of the clean water funding include:
- $245 million for Water Quality Improvement Projects (reduce polluted runoff, improve water quality and restore habitat in New York's waterbodies);
- $25 million for road salt management projects;
- $110 million for source water protection projects (purchase of lands and waters); and,
- $75 million for septic system and cesspool upgrades (also provides for replacement).
In addition, Janeway praised the Governor’s plan to enhance Exit 29 of the Adirondack Northway (I-87) by making it a recreational, transportation and commerce hub for the southern approaches to the High Peaks Wilderness Area, surrounding communities and a variety of trails.
“This would complement Wilderness protection for the nearby Boreas Ponds,” said Janeway. This is proposed as part of a more than $70 million “New York Works” appropriation that also funds access projects statewide.
Passage of reforms designed to increase the age of criminal responsibility in the state will mean most 16- and 17-year-olds who commit non-violent crimes will be diverted away from adult courts and prisons, instead having their cases adjudicated in family court.
The new law will help small communities avoid the disruption of losing even a small number of youths to an adult criminal justice system that tends to bring them into contact with and form relationships with adult criminals. In addition, too many teenage lawbreakers get their first look at the Adirondack Park from a prison-bus window, leading them and their families to avoid the park later in life.
Some other Adirondack priorities remain on the “to do” list:
Staffing & Stewardship – Staffing at state agencies that manage the Adirondack Park’s public lands and waters are still down 25 percent from less than ten years ago, and many advocates are calling for targeted restorations, especially for state land stewardship;
Forest Conservation – An update is needed for the timberland tax-abatement program (sections 480 and 480a of the state property tax code) to provide greater incentives for sustainable, private forestry practices; and,
All-Terrain Vehicles – There is a need to enact a general ban on all-terrain vehicles on the Forest Preserve to halt the damage to roads, trails and off-trail areas. State Forest Rangers and Conservation Officers issued a report last year calling ATVs the toughest and most damaging enforcement problem they face on the Forest Preserve.
“There remains an unmet need for better natural resource stewardship of existing state lands and waters in the Adirondack Park, especially in the eastern High Peaks and other high-use areas of the park,” Janeway stated. “The state agencies that care for the park need more staff, or partners with more staff, to accomplish this important task.”
Janeway said his greatest disappointment in the budget was the Governor’s and Legislature’s agreement to again raid the fund balance of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s carbon allowance sales proceeds. The budget removes $23.9 million from the RGGI account, which was intended to pay for energy conservation, renewable energy development and green jobs. Instead, it will go into the General Fund where it can be used for any state purpose.
The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council envisions a Park comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, as well as vibrant, local communities.
The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action. Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.