State leaders ask for input for priority projects
By Chloe Bennett
Government leaders on Friday addressed attendees in Saranac Lake on the $4.2 billion bond act intended to protect the state’s environment. Land conservation, job creation, infrastructure investment and other potential projects were central focuses, but economic benefits were also highlighted.
“We’re projecting 84,000 jobs through the Bond Act,” said Basil Seggos, Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner.. “Those are largely direct jobs — planning, construction, the engineering that goes with it, monitoring, maintenance, all that.” Jobs similar to those produced from current work on the Adirondack Rail Trail could be available under bond act projects. The economic projection is likely conservative, he said.
Representatives from various state agencies spoke one-on-one with participants and sought input through surveys. Decision-makers are tasked with prioritizing uses for the bond act borrowings that voters authorized in November 2022.
The bond act addresses four main categories: Climate change mitigation, restoration and flood risk reduction, water quality and infrastructure improvement, land conservation and recreation.
Seggos said the meeting came at an appropriate time — after infrastructure damage in the North Country from record-breaking rainfall. Some $650 million is set aside for infrastructure maintenance to adapt dams, bridges and culverts to the effects of extreme weather, such as this summer’s. “I’d say it’s, in some ways, fitting to do this Bond Act Listening Tour this summer in the context of some of the most incredible weather that we’ve ever seen, some climatic conditions that are frankly unprecedented, and I think we’re all seeing them,” Seggos said.
Other speakers who presented items on the bond act were Barbara Rice, the Adirondack Park Agency’s executive director, and Maureen Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the Environmental Facilities Corporation. Harrietstown Council Member Ashley Milne introduced the session in the town hall. The event drew dozens of people.
Some of Friday’s large crowd was made up of local organizations, with a majority having visited Saranac Lake before. The diversity of interests was impressive to attendee Jackie Bowen, director of conservation for the Adirondack Council. “I think it really shows that there is a lot of interest and a lot of recognition of the value of the bond act money across New York State,” she said. “It also indicates how much we really need the money in this region”
The money could go toward trail work in the Adirondacks, but that is uncertain. Increased visitation over the years calls for sustainable trails that will last more than 10 years, Bowen said.
All project ideas related to trails are welcome from the public, said Ron Rausch, deputy commissioner of environmental stewardship for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The state plans to consider project ideas from survey takers during the listening tour, with a deadline target of Sept. 15.
At least 35% of funding from the bond act is planned to benefit disadvantaged communities, a designation created by state agencies and the Climate Justice Work Group. Keeseville is the only Adirondack location that meets the criteria. Outside of the park, Plattsburgh and Parc in Clinton County are identified as disadvantaged communities.
The state is also seeking public comments on its school bus electrification program, which would provide discounts to bus operators who purchase or lease electric school buses. Comments are due by Sept. 1.