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The End of the Legislative Session - The Good, the Bad and the Undone

Tuesday, June 30, 2015
By: Kevin Chlad - Adirondack Council Legislative Director

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/LeadershipandGovernment.jpgAs the 2015 session gavel quietly fell, the Governor and Legislature headed home after crafting a pro-Adirondack budget and leaving many of the Park’s greatest legislative needs on the table for next year.

As I walked away from the Capitol, legislators were packing up for the summer to head back to their districts. Their summers will be filled with parades, community forums and backyard barbeques. But my mind is already elsewhere. I’m dreaming of the next time I’ll be on flat water, watching a couple of crows chase an eagle away while the loons fish and a steady breeze keeps the mosquitoes at bay.
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Though the crows, the eagle, the loons, and the mosquitoes may not know nor care, the state produced a pro-Adirondack budget. The Adirondack Council worked hard with our partners in advocacy and government to establish a new NYS Wastewater Infrastructure Investment Act, which will invest $200 million over three years in the form of matching grants for communities. These grants will make up the difference between their water quality project costs and what the community can actually afford to spend. For the communities and wildlife of the Park, this is a tremendous step forward.

The Environmental Protection Fund also grew this year. The $15 million increase restores the total to $177 million and adds funding to four Adirondack Council priority categories:

  • Open Space Land Acquisition had an increase of $4.9 million.
  • State Land Stewardship had an increase of $1.15 million.
  • Invasive Species had an increase of $1.15 million.
  • Smart Growth had an increase of $200,000.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/Trains/Port Kent2_2.jpgAn extra $15 million was also dedicated to the state’s Oil Spill Fund to help communities protect their residents and waterways from a spill, fire or explosion from an oil train derailment, bringing its total to $40 million. The state will also get 36 Department of Environmental staff for oil spill response, wildlife habitat protection and a new academy for Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Officers.

More good news is that the legislature did pass a bill, with the support of the Adirondack Council, which gives one acre of state land to the Town of Long Lake in exchange for 12.2 acres of land that will be added to the Forest Preserve. This legislation implements an amendment to Article XIV of the Constitution that was approved by the people of the State of New York in 2007, which provides one acre of Forest Preserve to be used for a new drinking water supply for the Hamlet of Raquette Lake. Both Senator Betty Little and Assemblyman Steve Englebright were sponsors of this legislation, and we are very grateful for their efforts to get this land swap completed.

There is much to celebrate in the pro-Adirondack budget and with the Article XIV implementing legislation. But, unfortunately, the current dynamics of the legislature stalled many other much-needed reforms to the detriment of the Park’s water, wildlife, residents, and visitors.

The Adirondack Park Agency Act, now over 40 years old, greatly needs an update to reflect the scientific findings of the last four decades. Mechanisms that encourage wildlife-sensitive subdivision design and allow conservation and community development density transfers would improve water quality and wildlife habitat.
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All-terrain vehicle (ATV) trespass on public and private land continues to threaten the quality of life and clean water for the Park’s communities. ATV riders continue to seek an increase in the size and types of vehicles that can be registered as an ATV in New York State. However, this change should not happen before meaningful legislative reforms are enacted that will protect the Forest Preserve in the Adirondack Park, enable our Forest Rangers and police to ensure rider compliance with ATV laws and fund ATV impact remediation and rider education.

Reforms to Timber Tax Abatement Programs are long overdue. Amendments should be made to Real Property Tax Law 480/480a to expand the program to encourage habitat protection when a landowner doesn’t plan to cut timber. Better mechanisms should also be created to reimburse communities who lose a large portion of their tax base due to the 480/480a programs.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/microbead products_small.jpgFor a number of years, the Governor and Legislature have chosen not to pass a law that would ban the sale of products containing microbeads. Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic contained in personal care products, cleansers and detergent agents that cannot be filtered by most wastewater-treatment plants, polluting Adirondack lakes and rivers.

In addition, the Legislature has failed to pass legislation that would prohibit toxins from being used in the production of children’s products. These toxins not only pose a risk to public health, but also to water quality and wildlife reproductive cycles when they enter the waste stream.

As you can see, many initiatives remain on the table, to be taken up again next year. This summer, I will be spending lots of time planning for the next legislative session, and traveling around the state to talk with legislators and the Governor’s staff about the Park’s greatest needs.

But for now, as Thoreau would say, “…I believe I’ll go canoeing.”
 
 
 

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Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/kevin-chlad.jpgKevin Chlad joined the Adirondack Council staff in 2011.

Kevin provides support to the Council’s Albany-based Legislative and Communications team, assisting with outreach to government officials and the media to help spread the word about the Council’s advocacy for the Adirondack Park and specific policies that will impact the Adirondacks.

Kevin Chlad graduated in 2008 with a degree in Environmental Studies of the Adirondacks from SUNY Potsdam. Besides his previous time spent at the Adirondack Council as a Clarence Petty Intern in 2009, Kevin has held numerous other Adirondack occupations, including Ausable River Steward, canoe guide, and fire tower summit steward (Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain). When not advocating ecological integrity, Kevin is an avid ice climber and adventurer.

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