Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Tuesday for making New York “a premier ecotourism destination,” emphasizing state lands that are open for outdoor recreation while protecting them and building capacity in communities to accommodate visitors.
His agenda and budget proposals for the coming fiscal year acknowledged unprecedented levels of visitors already in some popular areas, affecting natural resources and visitor experiences while creating health and safety issues.
The Adirondack Park, with 2.6 million acres of state land, has been drawing crowds to the High Peaks region with attendant parking and safety problems along highways near trailheads.
“In heavily traveled areas and popular state-owned destinations, New York will invest in safe and environmentally friendly transportation options, launching electric shuttle systems and installing additional electric vehicle charging stations,” according to the governor’s 2019 agenda.
One specific proposal would establish a designated water trail, linking more than 1,700 miles of navigable state waterways using consistent branding and a website. It would be a complement to the 750-mile Empire State Trail, which two years ago he called for creating by 2020, crossing the state from New York City to Canada and from Albany to Buffalo, including about 400 miles of existing segments of multi-use trails.
In 2017, New York had a tourism record of 244 million visitors with an economic impact of $108.7 billion, Cuomo told an amphitheater in Albany filled Tuesday with supporters, state legislators and press.
Among many social, economic, transportation and education initiatives he described, Cuomo laid out his environmental agenda and budget proposals for the fiscal year that begins April 1, emphasizing a faster shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. He called for large increases in solar and wind-power generation and energy storage with the goal of making New York’s electrical energy grid completely carbon-free by 2040.
Cuomo described plans to add another $2.5 billion to state funding for repairing and upgrading drinking water and sewer systems over five years. He also would make $3 billion available for renewable energy and clean transportation projects and another $2 billion for protecting parks, open space and making the state more resilient to more intense and frequent storms fueled by global warming.
“While the federal government is taking us backwards from the Paris accords and so forth, we’re going to go the exact opposite direction of the federal government,” Cuomo said. He called for a state law to ban offshore drilling for oil and natural gas and any related infrastructure on its land and coastal waters, saying the Trump administration’s federal drilling plans threaten New York’s tourism and fishing industries.
Within $175.2 billion of proposed government spending in the upcoming fiscal year from all government funds, Cuomo proposed funding the state Environmental Protection Fund at $300 million again. “The investment will prioritize programs to protect New York’s water bodies, promote stewardship projects in parks and on other state lands, revitalize municipal waterfronts and build community resilience to climate change,” according to his agenda.
An accompanying budget book calls for spending $15 million in economic development funds for tourism marketing of regional attractions and $70 million to upgrade the Olympic Regional Development Authority’s facilities and ski resorts. Those include Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington and Gore Mountain in North Creek.
The budget proposal lists $1.414 billion for the Department of Environmental Conservation, up 7 percent or $94 million from this year, and says the increase reflects capital spending including clean water infrastructure. It doesn’t mention additional funding for forest rangers, which conservationists have been calling for.
The Cuomo administration proposed a $5 million budget for the Adirondack Park Agency with no increase from this year.
It plans to call on the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry to convene a consortium of universities, including Clarkson, to develop solutions for adapting to rapid climate change. “Areas of focus will include protecting our water quality, building resilient communities and infrastructure, increasing carbon storage through forestry, combatting invasive species, developing new eco-friendly materials, and advancing renewable energy.”
The budget proposal will be reviewed by the legislators who are expected to respond with their own funding and program proposals. The administration said legislation it would need to carry out its proposals includes authorizing the DEC to accept gifts and enter public-private partnerships.
Legislation also would be required for other Cuomo proposals like banning single-use plastic bags, expanding beverage container recycling, making permanent the fee for waste tire recycling and establish new labeling requirements for products that contain potentially hazardous chemicals.