Andrew Cuomo moves into the governor’s office this month at a time of deep concern for the well-being of the Adirondack Park. He should act quickly to restore adequate protections for the Park and move forward on critical actions that have been postponed too long
Cuomo succeeds a governor who demonstrated little understanding of or interest in the Adirondacks. Engulfed by a financial crisis and impaired by political breakdown in the state Senate, David Paterson had to cut programs and agencies across the state. But the ax fell with extra violence on programs that the Adirondacks rely on, among them the Environmental Protection Fund, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Adirondack Park Agency.
Cuomo faces the same daunting circumstances as Paterson, and it’s likely that the Park along with the rest of the state is in for continued hard times. But even while imposing austerity he must bring equity and balance to state policy and restore some of those programs that preserve natural wonders and encourage economic health.
One key to wise Adirondack policy is to recognize that environmental preservation and economic health are two sides of the same coin. Cuomo must chart a course that protects the unique natural qualities of the Adirondack Park for their own sake but also because they are at the heart of the region’s economic viability. The Park’s wildness and beauty are the reason visitors pour into the region and bolster the economy with their spending. They are the reason residents choose to live here and build communities.
As part of an agenda for the Adirondacks, Cuomo should:
• Live up to the state’s commitment to protect and acquire critical lands by fully funding the Environmental Protection Fund and holding it safe from budget raids. Honor agreements to purchase tracts that were part of the historic Nature Conservancy deals for former Finch, Pruyn paper-company lands and for Follensby Pond and the surrounding forests. Pledge not to cap or reduce the state’s payment of local property taxes for state-owned land.
• Undo the disproportionate cuts the Paterson administration inflicted on the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency. Good stewardship of the Park depends on these agencies’ ability to enforce protective laws, manage natural resources, and ensure visitors’ safe enjoyment of the Park. As a result of cutbacks, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said his department was hanging by a thread. He was fired for speaking the truth.
• Support stronger protection of shorelines and highlands from careless clearing and building. Overdevelopment threatens the ecology and scenic character of some of the most important places in the Park.
• Preserve the character of the Park’s wild areas, its most precious quality and most valuable asset. Two ways to do this are by breathing life back into a “Quiet Waters” effort to modestly increase the number of waterways free from gasoline-powered boats and by rewriting snowmobile-trail guidelines that currently permit construction of veritable roadways for high-speed snowmobile traffic deep in our Forest Preserve.
• Safeguard water quality by requiring and financing modern sewage-treatment facilities in villages and hamlets and adequate septic systems in more rural areas. Work with local planners to protect watersheds through vegetative buffers on shorelines and streams, low-runoff construction techniques, and low-impact building designs. Crank up the fight against invasive aquatic species by expanding education programs and installing boat-washing facilities at launch sites. Change highway policies to minimize the use of road salt.
• Adapt economic-development programs to target the type of small businesses that are more likely to locate in the Adirondacks.
• Fund the creation of infrastructure for broadband Internet service to make it possible for more telecommuters to work from within the Blue Line.
• Abandon support for an early state constitutional convention. It’s true that New Yorkers desperately need a government that’s more transparent and effective. But a convention that places the entire constitution on the table for amending would open the door to all kinds of mischief, including attacks on Article 14, which keeps our Forest Preserve forever wild. If the way to repair the governmental breakdown is by changing the constitution, then do so through narrowly focused amendments aimed at specific problems. Don’t hang the whole constitution out there like a piñata to be battered by all comers.
New York has been farsighted enough to provide the Adirondack Park with better protection than many of the nation’s natural treasures, but we still have a long way to go to provide the lasting safeguards it deserves. Andrew Cuomo can help put the state back on the right path by forcefully pursuing this Adirondack agenda.
—Tom Woodman, Publisher