State budget to arrive with Adirondack Park projects, $4.2 billion environmental bond act
By Gwendolyn Craig
Environmental organizations praised funding for Adirondack Park initiatives, a $4.2 billion environmental bond act and $400 million environmental protection fund slated to be in the state’s $220 billion budget, though lawmakers were still debating and voting into the afternoon on Friday.
The 2022-2023 budget, the Adirondack Council said, will include $2.1 million for the Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute, $500,000 for an Adirondack lakes survey, $600,000 for visitor use management in the Catskills and Adirondacks, $1.6 billion for broadband statewide and $500 million for clean water grants. Though the capital budget bill was not yet released or voted on Friday afternoon, Adirondack Council Communications Director John Sheehan said lawmakers signaled that the items would make it into the final budget.
Sheehan said the Council received funding for everything it had asked for in its Forever Adirondacks campaign, a coalition “seeking clean water, jobs and wilderness” spearheaded by the Council’s Aaron Mair.
“These new programs are a testament to the value that the Adirondack Park and its unspoiled wilderness hold for all of the people of New York,” Mair said in a news release. “This victory is a testament to this coalition of government, academia, grassroots and not-for-profit partners speaking in a united voice to protect the national treasure that is the Adirondack Park. As advocates, we declare victory and thank all of our supporters.”
Early declarations of victory have been the story of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s first state budget as it inched toward the finish line.
On Thursday, though no votes had been cast on any of the budget bills and the state Assembly and Senate majority leaders were not in attendance, Hochul announced that “the long-awaited day has arrived” and leaders had come to a “conceptual agreement.” A budget was due April 1, but several big-ticket policy and spending items appeared to stall passage. That included Hochul’s deal to provide $600 million in state funds toward a new stadium for the football team the Buffalo Bills, as well discussions over bail reform, ethics reform and the coronavirus pandemic.
“This budget is a blueprint for the future,” Hochul said on Thursday. “It is an embodiment of that dream. Not only are we going to recover from the ravages of the pandemic, but we’re going to emerge from it even stronger.”
Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, also released an early statement on the enacted budget Friday, though it was not yet enacted.
“With unprecedented investments in environmental protection and conservation, green energy initiatives and resiliency programs, Governor Hochul and legislative leaders sent a resounding message that New York will tackle the dangerous impacts of climate change at every turn, especially on our most vulnerable communities, while continuing to protect and restore our fragile ecosystem,” Seggos wrote.
Republican leaders were less congratulatory. Shortly after Hochul’s Thursday speech, GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy released a statement calling the budget a “colossal failure.”
“It’s a week late, was negotiated in secret by three Democrats, will be voted on without any time to read the bills and we are still short on key details,” Langworthy wrote.
The bill listing the environmental bond act passed the Senate and Assembly on Friday. The Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022 was first proposed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo at $3 billion. Hochul proposed a $1 billion boost. The Assembly wanted the bond act to be $6 billion and the Senate sought $5 billion. The compromise sum became $4.2 billion.
The state debt creation must be approved by voters in November. If passed, the funding would go toward projects that reduce flood risk, preserve open space, mitigate the impacts of climate change, improve water quality and improve water infrastructure. The bill also directs a goal of 40% of the funds go toward disadvantaged communities.
More on the projects
A look at some of the Adirondack projects local leaders hope will be included in the state’s next budget.
- Comprehensive lakes survey
- Timbuctoo Summer Careers Job Institute
- Water infrastructure projects
- Visitor use management: An Explorer series that looks at solutions
Middle Pond in the Saranac Lake Wild Forest is one of several dozen Adirondack lakes that have been continuously monitored in some form since the 1980s. File photo by Mike Lynch
Though the capital projects bill was not yet released Friday afternoon, the Adirondack Council was confident that it would also include $300,000 for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, up from $250,000.
The council was also enthusiastic about the $2.1 million it expected for the Timbuctoo Summer Careers Job Institute, connecting students from the City University of New York Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn with the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The project received support from members of the Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus after it visited the Lake Placid region last fall.
The last time a comprehensive survey of Adirondack lakes was done was in the 1980s, according to the Adirondack Council. Now that, too, is expected to get a funding start with $500,000 though the council said it is expected to require $6 million over three years.
“It’s time to redo the baseline study that proved acid rain needed state and federal attention,” Mair said in a release. “This time, climate change is the target.”
Visitor management is also expected to get more attention. Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway said he believes the DEC will issue proposal requests for a visitor management expert by the fall. The proposed $600,000 will go toward maintaining and creating trails, funding stewards, shuttles and education in the Adirondacks and Catskills.
The Adirondack Park Agency was also expected to get a $30 million increase for a new building. It was not clear on Friday afternoon if that funding was still on the table. APA spokesman Keith McKeever said specific details on site planning and building design are to be determined. There was no funding proposed for additional APA staff, though McKeever said the agency was working to fill its seven vacant positions and be back up to full staffing at 54 people.