By Jay Lawson
The Adirondack Council, though largely pleased with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s stated focus for the Adirondacks in 2015, is calling on the New York State Legislature to go even farther than proposals being advocated by the governor.
The pro-Adirondack budget proposals made by Cuomo are not enough, according to the Adirondack Council, which issued a statement Wednesday.
The environmental advocacy group is asking the legislature for additional funds to protect clean water, fight invasive species and preserve open spaces.
As the largest park in the contiguous United States, the Adirondacks are deserving of such protection and the funding that would allow it, the Adirondack Council stated.
“The Adirondack Park is a national treasure,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway.
“To build on a 123-year legacy of preserving Adirondack clean water, wildlife, wilderness and communities, we call on the State Legislature to enhance the governor’s proposals,” he said.
Specifically, the Environ-mental Protect Fund needs restoring to $172 million, an increase of $10 million, Janeway said.
It must be further expanded to $200 million, towards a goal of $300 million, he added.
Protecting a clean and healthy environment in the Adirondack Park will help its residents and its economy in the years ahead, according to Janeway.
The Adirondack Council made this argument at a recent legislative hearing on the environmental conservation budget for 2015-16.
Monies to preserve wilderness and support communities were requested, as were capital grants to upgrade out-of-date clean water infrastructure.
“Most Adirondack communities currently rely on aging septic systems to treat their wastewater and, by effect, are unprepared for new economic opportunities,” Adirondack Council Legislative Director Kevin Chlad said.
“The economic future of the Adirondacks depends on clean water, diverse and resilient energy systems, safe and environmentally friendly roadways and bridges, high-tech communications capacities, and enhanced protections for the wild lands and waters of the Park,” he said.
Chlad called on the Legislature to act on the following Adirondack-related initiatives:
• Clean Water: Set aside $200 million from the $5-billion-plus bank settlement for Adirondack clean water infrastructure projects would protect pure water while transforming the Park’s hamlets into highly sought-after locations for starting businesses.
• Environmental Protection Fund: Approve and enhance the $10 million increase proposed by the governor, as progress towards a goal of reaching a $200 million EPF in the near future, and a fully-funded $300 million EPF in the long-term.
Chlad asked the legislature to approve an increase to $30 million (from the governor’s $25.5-million proposal) in the Open Space account of the EPF.
In addition, he urged legislators to use the more-than-adequate Real Estate Transfer Tax for any EPF increases, rather than transfer existing funding from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, as the governor has proposed.
• Broadband Telecommu-nications: Provide more “last mile” funding so that new fiber-optic communications lines under construction between communities will reach homes and businesses, even in sparsely populated areas of the Adirondack Park.
Chlad cautioned that expansion of any telecommunications should be compatible with the Park’s wild character and with respect for the Adirondack Park Agency Act and the “Forever Wild” legacy of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
• State Land Stewardship: Support the governor’s proposal to increase this line in the EPF by $1 million, and add another $6.5 million to bring the State Land Stewardship investment to $25 million dollars.
• Invasive Species: Approve the governor’s proposed increase in this category of the EPF from $4.7 million to $5.7 million for use in developing an Adirondack Park regional invasive species strategy; and, work toward an annual investment of $10 million, as the NYS Invasive Species Council recommends.
• Smart Growth: Enhance the governor’s proposal to increase this appropriation from $400,000 to $600,000 by bringing it to $2 million, with a subcategory designating $1 million dollars annually to assist communities with land use planning in the Adirondack Park.
• Department of Environ-mental Conservation: Replace staff that was eliminated due to budget cuts during the recession (30 percent of workforce), including additional Forest Rangers, 50 percent of whom will be eligible to retire within six years.
In addition, Director Chlad urged the Legislature to ask the DEC to include a specific budget line item, which is not part of the Forest Ranger OPS budget line, to support not less than 20 Assistant Forest Rangers.
• Adirondack Park Agency: Approve or enhance the increase in Personal Service and Non-Personal appropriations of $177,600, an increase of 3.5 percent, and support continued efforts to restore the APA budget.
The APA’s staffing has dropped from 72 to 54 since 2009, according to Chlad. New planners and outreach staff are needed.
• All-Terrain Vehicles: Advance a dialog to address problems associated with off-road and ATVs on the Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks, and better accommodate and manage legal riding opportunities on better-suited, non-state lands and private lands where the state owns recreational rights.
• Biomass and Timberland Tax Abatement Reform: Support sustainable, smart Adirondack biomass, with wood coming from sustainably managed private forests, managed to be carbon neutral or better, and with emission controls that enhance protection of public health.
Reform the tax abatement law as recommended in the Governor’s Opportunity Agenda.
• Tourism: Continue to promote Adirondack tourism through the “I Love NY” campaign and personal appearances by state government leaders.
• Oil Trains: Advance efforts to address the risks to small, vulnerable communities and precious water resources from oil trains and barges.
The governor has proposed expanding the cap on the Oil Spill Fund from $25 million to $40 million, and provide up to 18 new staff to administer this program, Director Chlad said.