Late spending plan will fund lake research, visitor management, dam work and more
By Gwendolyn Craig
Adirondack Park projects involving climate education, visitor management, lake surveys and more will get a sliver of the state’s $229 billion budget legislators began passing this week in multiple bills negotiated with Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Hochul had resisted some of the spending, but many environmental groups were relieved when reviewing the bills printed after an unusually long budget delay. Legislators were expected to continue voting on budget bills into Tuesday night.
In the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), where many Adirondack Park-related projects are housed, the Hochul administration had proposed doing away with many carve-outs, including money for visitor management in the Adirondacks and Catskills. Hochul’s budget plan also did not fund a climate change survey of Adirondack lakes, much to the dismay of researchers already gearing up for the study.
Those initiatives were tucked in the final spending deal in the $400 million EPF. Other pots of money in the EPF could be used for investments within the Blue Line, including $500 million for clean water grants to municipalities and $38.9 million for open space protection. There did not appear to be any funding for road salt reduction initiatives.
John Sheehan, communications director for the Adirondack Council, said there no longer appeared to be a “raid” on the EPF to finance some state Department of Environmental Conservation staff. That had also been a proposal in Hochul’s executive budget.
State Assemblyman Matthew Simpson, R-Horicon, said “I think the EPF is a big win for the Adirondacks and Catskills. It shows that it’s a priority of all of us here in the Assembly and the Senate.” He was glad to see line items for projects because “it’s a visual reminder” of what will be funded.
Statewide, environmentalists hailed other wins, including a ban on gas hookups in most new buildings starting in 2026. The budget also includes policy directing the New York Power Authority to retire its fossil fuel plants by 2030.
Simpson is worried about the phasing out of gas hookups and its impact on rural Adirondack Park residents, many of whom rely on propane generators.
“It will leave people vulnerable, to be frank,” Simpson said. “I don’t want to see those banned if there is no alternative. We live in a different region. This may be a great proposal for New York City and the more populated areas but for our rural North Country towns, communities, it’s putting us in peril.”
Raul (Rocci) Aguirre, acting director of the Adirondack Council, said the budget made strides in protecting wilderness and water. The council has networked with the state Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, and Aguirre said their influence was particularly instrumental in getting some of the Adirondack Park projects in the budget.
“We are especially thankful for the Caucus’s work to support science, clean air and clean water with the lake survey, plus open space and diversity,” Aguirre said in a release.
Kelley Tucker, executive director of the Ausable River Association, said the $500,000 the state budget allocated in 2023 for the Survey of Climate and Adirondack Lake Ecosystems arrived to the consortium a couple of months ago. She is grateful for the $2 million allocated this year, which she expects will assist work next spring. The survey, which will assess impacts of warming waters, harmful algal blooms and carbon cycling on Adirondack lakes, has been on a roller coaster ride of different funding proposals. Tucker said the state Senate’s draft budget had suggested $5.5 million so researchers could get the work done as quickly as possible. The state Assembly proposed $4 million. Hochul’s executive budget left it out completely.
“They’ve gone back to $2 million, which is great,” Tucker said.
The Adirondack Mountain Club also praised the EPF’s $8 million designated for visitor management and safety. “This budget is a welcome development for all who love the outdoors and value the natural beauty of the forest preserve, said Cathy Pedler, ADK’s advocacy director, in a release.
Other Republican lawmakers representing the Adirondack Park were mostly critical of the budget. State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, called it “pie and pork in the sky.” Tedisco stressed how Hochul used a strategy used by many governors in the past called “messages of necessity,” to bypass a three-day period legislators customarily receive so they have time to review bills.
Hochul has assured that the negotiations with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, also Democrats, were worth the wait. Negotiations on controversial policies concerning bail and housing weighed down the process. After announcing an agreement last week, Hochul said: “”I promised New Yorkers we’d make our state more affordable, more livable and safer, and this budget delivers on that promise.”
The budget was due by April 1. Conservatives chastised the Democratic majority’s and governor’s tardiness and what they described as exorbitant spending. The budget is about $2 billion more than what Hochul proposed in February.
Adirondack budget wins
Adirondack Park budget items include:
- $90 million for the Olympic Regional Development Authority for maintenance and upgrades to its facilities. This is $2.5 million less than Hochul’s executive budget proposal.
- Up to $20 million for the Conklingville, Sixth Lake and Old Forge dams.
- $8 million for Adirondack and Catskill visitor safety and wilderness protection. Many groups, including the Adirondack Mountain Club, had requested this item to be $10 million. Hochul had not included this as a line item in her executive budget.
- $2.1 million for SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry for the Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute. This funding was outlined in the executive budget.
- $2 million to fund a Survey of Climate and Adirondack Lake Ecosystems.
- $900,000 to the Lake George Park Commission.
- $500,000 to Adirondack Architectural Heritage for a fire safety system at the Camp Santanoni Historic Area.
- Up to $500,000 to Cornell University for controlling hemlock woolly adelgid.
- $420,000 for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, an increase of $120,000 from the budget negotiated a year ago. Hochul had proposed $300,000 in her executive budget.
- $300,000 to the village of Lake Placid for purchasing land associated with the Adirondack Rail Trail parking area. This was in Hochul’s plan.
- $300,000 to Essex County and $150,000 to Hamilton County for their continued agreement with the DEC to keep landfills out of the Adirondack Park. The agreement was made under former Republican Gov. George Pataki.
- $250,000 for the support of the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center.
- $250,000 to SUNY ESF that was not specified, but included with a flurry of spending for visitor centers.
- $100,000 to the Adirondack Mountain Club for a new High Peaks Information Center.