By GWENDOLYN CRAIG
ALBANY — The environment was a central talking point during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, and his written proposals included a focus on the Adirondacks.
While environmental groups mostly praised his proposals and ideas for new spending, local lawmakers were concerned about the state’s growing $6 billion deficit and the impact of new bail reform laws. They also thought more attention to infrastructure and the economy is needed.
After listing a number of policies and programs affecting New Yorkers, Cuomo said, “Nothing will be worth a damn if we don’t have a planet to live on.”
Out of 34 proposals he mentioned, there were two specific Adirondack projects, including $9.4 million to build a new wastewater treatment plant in Lake George and $14 million to rebuild the mid-station lodge at Whiteface Mountain, which was destroyed last year in a fire.
Though Cuomo did not specifically talk about these projects on Wednesday, the 318-page State of the State book mentions the Adirondacks 12 times, and statewide proposed programs and legislation could also affect the park.
One of those sweeping environmental proposals that had a number of green groups excited was legislation that Cuomo hopes voters will support in November. Called the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, it is a $3 billion fund that would focus on habitat restoration and flood reduction in the face of climate change.
The governor said more than 60% of the state’s “counties have been significantly flooded twice in the past 10 years.” During his administration Cuomo has witnessed five 100-year floods. “The numbers just don’t add up anymore,” he said.
Some of the $3 billion would also go toward combating harmful algal blooms, which have threatened drinking water sources and beaches across the state. Some of the money would go toward addressing overuse in the High Peaks. Protect the Adirondacks lauded the plan, noting that it will amount to a decade’s worth of the state’s current $300 million annual Environmental Protection Fund spending in a single year if voters approve it.
Groups like Audubon, Scenic Hudson and the Natural Resources Defense Council also praised the proposed act. It pairs with other green initiatives the governor has proposed, including increasing electric vehicle infrastructure throughout the state, promoting green jobs, expanding glass recycling and banning single-use foam food containers.
“The governor has made clear that New York will continue to uphold its vital leadership role in the fight against the climate crisis,” said Rich Schrader, the New York Legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a news release. “His plans hold a great deal of promise and indicate a willingness to tackle some of our toughest challenges — from making New York more resilient to powerful storms, to growing clean energy jobs, to strengthening the health of our wildlife habitats.”
William Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, was glad to see Cuomo recognize that more needs to be done to address the ever-growing popularity of the Adirondacks.
“We applaud the Governor for recognizing the need to address overuse, preserve and provide access to popular wilderness trails and destinations in the Adirondack Park, and build much-needed 21st Century infrastructure,” Janeway said in a news release.
The Adirondack Council also commended the governor’s plan to to address more wireless coverage around the state, focusing on 1,950 miles of major roadways. The issue has been a major one for the Adirondacks, and Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said he was glad to hear it was one of the governor’s priorities.
“The topography and the rural-ness, it’s a challenge; it’s an issue,” Stec said. “It’s a public safety issue. It’s a home value issue. It’s an education issue.”
State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, was more critical of the State of the State message. In a press release, Little highlighted the state’ $6 billion deficit, the decreasing number of residents and the declining infrastructure. Stec was also concerned about the deficit.
“Ecological protection is important, but I really want to emphasize economic prosperity,” Little said. “Investments in broadband must continue and we need to expand cell service for safety and for the economy. We need to continue investing in water and sewer infrastructure, keeping our lakes and rivers clean and ensuring our schools and hospitals have the funding they need.”
Stec was amazed at Cuomo’s decision not to mention the bail reform laws enacted on Jan. 1. The new system prevents judges from setting bail on a long list of alleged crimes. A number of alleged criminals have walked free with an appearance ticket, and in some instances have gone on to commit more crimes.
“Clearly, the new law isn’t working and is putting innocent people at risk,” Little said. “Getting rid of it and starting over with the expectation of the Legislature taking its time to get it right is what’s needed.”