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Adirondack Council Thanks Voters for Land Bank O.K. & Rejecting Constitutional Convention

For more information:
J
ohn F. Sheehan
518-432-1770 (ofc)
518-441-1340 (cell)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, November 7, 2017

ALBANY, N.Y. – The Adirondack Council thanked voters today for amending the NYS Constitution to create a small land bank to help communities in the Adirondack and Catskill parks to adapt to living alongside the best-protected forest in the world.  The environmental organization also thanked the voters for rejecting a Constitutional Convention that would have jeopardized the Forever Wild clause, which protects three (3) million acres of public Forest Preserve from logging, lease, sale and development.

“We are grateful to the voters for understanding that a Constitutional Convention would have put the Forever Wild clause at risk,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.  “Convention delegates could have rewritten or eliminated portions of the Forever Wild clause.  That would have been a disaster for the Adirondacks and Catskills.

“We are also grateful for the voters’ support for Proposal 3, which will create a land bank for use by towns and counties for community and public safety projects,” Janeway said.  “This vote was close, perhaps because the proposal was perceived by many as a weakening of New York’s ironclad protections that keep the Forest Preserve of Adirondack and Catskill parks wild forever.  New Yorkers are hesitant to approve exceptions to the Constitution’s Forever Wild clause, even for good purposes, and it didn’t help that this proposal doesn’t include a significant, net expansion and improvement to the Forest Preserve.”

Recent amendments to the Forever Wild clause (Article 14, Section 1) approved since 1995 have featured land swaps that provided a benefit between 2-to-1 and 12-to-1 in new acreage to the Forest Preserve.  They were approved by wide margins.  This proposal didn’t”.

The Forever Wild clause (Article 14, Section 1) is the strongest forest protection law in the world.  It prohibits the lease, sale or taking of public lands by anyone.  It bans all logging and development. It cannot be altered without the consent of the voters.  All state residents have legal standing to sue the government if the clause isn’t enforced.

The Adirondack Council has been a staunch defender of the Forever Wild clause since the non-partisan, not-for-profit environmental organization was founded in 1975.  This summer, Council created the Committee to Defend Forever Wild to promote its support for Proposal 3 land bank and its opposition to Proposal 1, the Constitutional Convention.  It has spent tens of thousands on advertising, public appearances, editorial board meetings and media interviews statewide.

“The newly approved land bank will actually help to build public support for the Forever Wild clause, without the risk of altering the ironclad protections that keep the Forest Preserve wild forever,” Janeway said.  “It creates a very modest land bank to help Adirondack and Catskill communities carry out public safety and community-improvement projects that are currently blocked by small parcels of Forest Preserve, along a town or county road.  Forest Preserve must remain wild, so there is no building or timber removal allowed, regardless of how small the parcel.”

Lands must instead be removed from the Forest Preserve, and replaced. This requires the consent of the voters.

Public and private lands sit side-by-side in the Adirondack and Catskill parks, often in a checkerboard or patchwork pattern.  Roadside improvements such as new sewer lines, drinking water or broadband telecommunications lines have been stymied by a small patch of Forest Preserve that prevents a connection between two parcels of private land.

“This can lead to frustration and resentment in the community, and urgent calls to eliminate or alter the Forever Wild status of the Forest Preserve,” Janeway said.  “The land bank will provide the breathing room that communities need to remain sustainable, while having no material impact on the size or health of the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves.  It will affect only 250 acres on the edge of roads, and there are three million acres of Forest Preserve.  All 250 acres will be replaced before the first project application will be considered.”

            Now, minor roadside problems can be solved in a rational process, overseen by state environmental officials.  Projects must be limited in size to qualify.  No single project could use more than a mile of roadside, for example.

To create the bank, a new 250 acres will be acquired and added to the Forest Preserve now, so there will be no net loss of public land.  Then, communities can apply for approval of projects that will use a small portion of the land bank.  Once the 250 acres is used, the bank is extinguished.

Voters approved a similar land bank in 1957 for the NYS Dept. of Transportation to use in straightening state highways.  Over the past 60 years, about half of those 400 acres have been used.

Six times in the past 22 years, the voters have approved amendments to the Forever Wild clause to accommodate large community projects that required a land swap involving five acres or more of Forest Preserve.  Those larger projects will still require separate Constitutional Amendments.

“The land bank is really designed for projects that communities felt were too small for them to ask for a Constitutional Amendment,” Janeway explained.  “For towns with only a few hundred residents, the idea of carrying out a statewide voter education campaign -- just to install half a mile of internet cable -- was just too intimidating.  But if that cable helps a town to survive, we are one step closer to an Adirondack Park where people and nature thrive together and support one another.”

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.

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