2019 NYS Legislative Session | An Adirondack Review

By: John Sheehan - Adirondack Council Director of Communications
Monday, July 1, 2019

When the 2019 NYS Legislative Session ended on the morning of June 21, there were some clear statewide victories to celebrate for clean air, clean water and public health in the form of sweeping new laws that position New York as the global leader on climate change and provide grants for communities seeking to rebuild failing wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.

The Adirondack Council and other advocates for the preservation of the Adirondacks were disappointed with limited progress addressing threats to the clean water, air, wildlands, and wildlife of the Park, including aquatic invasive species, misuse of all-terrain vehicles, and outdated controls on development. Disappointingly, two local legislators went against a bill designed to conserve open space and local property tax dollars by moving development closer together and closer to communities. This bill had been modified as a result of a Common Ground Alliance lead effort, and had earned statements of support from the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, the Local Government Review Board, environmentalists, and others.

There were wins for local communities on roads and bridges, as well as a new program to advance diversity and inclusion.

Some highlights from the 2019 New York State legislative session:

Communities Gain Land Bank

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/5things/Mayfield - Great Sacandaga heilman_NA097334.jpgCommunity leaders of the Adirondacks were the big winners with the approval of a state land bank to carry out a recent Constitutional Amendment. The amendment authorized up to 250 acres to be used by local governments to straighten town and county roads crossing the Forest Preserve and to install water, electric and telecommunication lines on the shoulders. The Adirondack Council supported and worked hard on this effort.

The Adirondack Council was pleased that the Park’s communities got everything they needed with the land bank. This was a high priority and a big victory for local government officials, who were seeking some flexibility when working around town roads that cross the Forest Preserve. We congratulated Horicon Town Supervisor Matt Simpson, who has worked hard to make it possible to build a new Middleton Bridge over the Schroon River and make it easier for emergency vehicles to reach the homes on the other side.

Historic Climate Change Bill

The Legislature approved the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a landmark bill to combat the causes and minimize the impacts of global climate change. The legislation would reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 85 percent by 2050, while eliminating carbon-based fuels from the electric grid. It also would allocate funds for communities impacted by climate change. Supporters hailed it as the most aggressive state law in America. The Governor said he would sign it. Senator Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, who represent parts of the Adirondacks that were devastated by Tropical Storm Irene, voted against the bill. Regardless of political party, our state officials need to recognize and act upon the threat that global climate change poses for the waters, wildlife and communities of the Adirondack Park.

Adirondack Park Agency (APA) Board Appointments

Advocates for the preservation of the Adirondacks were uniformly disappointed that the Governor failed to nominate a full and diverse slate of new and returning candidates to the APA Board. The state Senate refused to approve a partial list of nominees, despite pressure from the Governor’s office and local government officials, insisting that the board needed diversity so it could fill its mandate to be independent, and provide oversight of other agencies.

The individuals nominated would have been acceptable if they were part of a full slate that included reappointments and new nominees with expertise in environmental law, conservation science, and planning. The Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, and Protect the Adirondacks! issued a joint statement explaining this prior to the end of the session.

The Governor had initially proposed only three nominees. Then, at the last minute, he put forth a fourth nominee to fill seven seats. There are seven seats vacant or whose occupants’ terms expired at the end of June. The state Senate rejected the Governor’s half-slate, which was strong on local government, business and community development interests, and made it clear that nominees must have more expertise in the tools needed to protect this national treasure.

Forest, Wildlife Protections Scuttled

Reform of the APA’s rules for major subdivisions in remote locations made some progress as well, but also led to disappointment. A Conservation Design bill would have brought mandatory clustering of development and conservation of open spaces to safeguard wildlife, water quality and forest health on the Park’s most remote private lands. This bill had the support of the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance and the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, who joined with conservation organizations in a memo of support to the Legislature. Senator Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec actively opposed this legislation.

ATVs on Radar, No Action

Legislation was introduced, but not approved, to better regulate the use of all-terrain vehicles and prevent them from damaging sensitive public lands in the Adirondacks and beyond. Legislative leaders in both houses said they would give the issue more attention in 2020.

Movement on Ebikes

The Adirondack Council worked with sponsors to amend legislation allowing electric bicycles to be registered. The legislation says they will only be allowed on the Forest Preserve where the Dept. of Environmental Conservation authorizes them (consistent with other Forest Preserve safeguards).

Renewed Invasive Species Law

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/5things/SouthBayBoatWash_AWI.jpgThe Legislature renewed a law that was scheduled to expire June 1 requiring boaters to take measures to prevent the spread of invasive species from one lake or river to another but refused a five-year extension without improvements. The Adirondack Council had advocated for strengthened law that would require decontamination prior to launch in any Adirondack waterbody. While the law was not strengthened, legislative leaders pledged to strengthen the law next year and gave stakeholders time to consider how to make mandatory decontamination work and inform a stronger bill for next year.

Back in March when the state budget was approved it contained the following:

More Clean Water Infrastructure Grants

In April, the Legislature approved $500 million for clean water project funding, on top of the $2.5 billion the Governor has already made available for grants to communities over five years. This will fund projects that help keep partially or untreated sewage or other pollutants out of Adirondack waters and drinking water, such as the Ausable River, the Fulton Chain of Lakes, Lake George, and Lake Champlain. Many Adirondack communities have older systems in need of expensive repairs or have no wastewater treatment systems at all. This will help those communities with unfunded projects.

New Farmers Grant Program

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/5things/EssexFarm-8130.jpgThe Legislature passed the New Farmers Grant Fund Program sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Metzger, D-Middletown, and Assem. Donna Lupardo, D-Binghamton, and supported by Sen. Racheal May, D-Syracuse. If signed, it would support and train farmers in the Adirondacks to build resilient, diversified farms that are economically viable, socially responsible and environmentally beneficial. As a program of the Adirondack Council, the Essex Farm Institute is an advocate encouraging the climate resiliency of local farms, promoting food for human health, protecting open space and acting as a catalyst for strengthening the business of food production in the Adirondacks.

Environmental Capital Projects

Also in the budget approved late in March, the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) included $33 million for the purchase and protection of open space, including $2.5 million for a Land Trust Alliance grant program and $200,000 for the Lake George Park Commission. A proposal by Governor Cuomo’s division of budget to raid the EPF (a capital projects fund) by using it to pay for day-to-day administrative costs was rejected by the Legislature.

Funding for Adirondack Diversity Initiative

For the first time, the budget also included an EPF funding authorization in the Environmental Justice category for $250,000 for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative (ADI). This will allow the ADI to be transformed from an all-volunteer effort to a formal program with a home and a coordinator. The Adirondack North Country Association, based in Saranac Lake, expects to hire the ADI coordinator as soon as possible,

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/staff-headshots/John.jpgFor the past 25 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.  John develops and executes the Council’s public relations and communications programs. 

He works with the media to explain the unique nature of the Adirondack Park and to help the public understand the Council’s efforts to sustain its clean air, wilderness, wildlife, clean water and vibrant communities.  He is the principal author of our annual State of the Park Report and assists with the editing of all Council publications. 

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