Governor lists recreation, roads and energy priorities
By Gwendolyn Craig
New York’s first female governor presented a State of the State address Wednesday that mapped plans to combat climate change, expand broadband service and boost the size of an environmental bond act.
In a separate 237-page book, Gov. Kathy Hochul also proposed upgrades to Gore Mountain in North Creek and vague plans for addressing crowds in the Adirondack Park’s forest preserve. Her vision included sweeping investments in renewable energy and infrastructure.
“New Yorkers need the help of everyone in this room to pass an ambitious agenda,” Hochul said. Dressed in white before a sparse Assembly chamber, she acknowledged the continuing challenges of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. She outlined priorities of job creation, climate change mitigation, affordable housing construction and reforms to the government institutions such as the state ethics panel.
“We’ve endured so much hardship over these past two years,” the Buffalo Democrat said. “New York always rises from the ashes. That is why I believe that this is not a moment of despair but a moment of great possibility.”
The address was the first by the state’s 57th governor, who is running for election this fall after replacing Andrew M. Cuomo following his August resignation. Environmental organizations praised her pledge to invest in green energy and to increase a proposed environmental bond act to $4 billion.
The bond act, initially envisioned to be $3 billion, is to be put before voters in November. Some groups say she is aiming too low. A climate justice coalition called NY Renews called on Hochul to invest $15 billion in climate initiatives.
While some felt her environmental commitments did not go far enough others worried about financing of the initiatives, which Hochul will detail later. Her budget plan is expected in two weeks.
Hochul mentioned the Adirondack Park in passing during her speech, but in the book she released she noted an unspecified investment in the North Creek Ski Bowl at Gore Mountain. Operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority, the ski bowl would be updated to include more year-round park amenities and include a recreation center that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Ski Bowl was first opened in 2007 as a lift service for tubing, according to Gore Mountain’s website. It is located at the foot of Little Gore Mountain.
Bill Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, said the investments in Lake Placid and Gore Mountain are “extremely exciting,” especially considering the World University Games are scheduled to be hosted next winter in Lake Placid. Local leaders are looking forward to welcoming more visitors and continuing to upgrade facilities.
State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said the Gore Mountain project would be a benefit to the North Creek area. “I’m appreciative of a nod and an investment that she’s indicating she wants to make in two areas of the Adirondacks in activities that are of personal interest to me,” Stec added. “We’ve had an increase of people there and we need to do more to maintain that infrastructure.”
Dave Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, reacted with wariness, saying “great care must be taken to build new recreational infrastructure” so the Gore area does not become overwhelmed with people. Hochul’s address book recognized the Adirondacks and Catskills as “more susceptible to damage and deterioration from increased use.”
Last year the state adopted some advisory group recommendations for managing crowds in the High Peaks, most recently hiring two coordinators for managing the state’s forest preserves. The state is expected to implement more of the group’s recommendations.
The governor’s spending ideas for the Environmental Protection Fund include crowd management projects, trail safety, climate resiliency, stewards and engaging visitors.
Michael Barrett, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), said he hopes the fund will increase to $500 million from $300 million. He looks forward to seeing the stewardship items in the state budget.
While Adirondack Park organizations applauded Hochul’s nod to forest preserve investments, they’d like more. Gibson advocates for twice the number of forest rangers plus additions to the Adirondack Park Agency staff, particularly planners and land managers. And state Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, also called for more rangers and stewards.
Stec, Jones and Farber cited Hochul’s proposal of $1 billion in new broadband investments as a sound strategy. Farber said he hoped it will close the “digital divide.”
Farber said these Adirondacks-related proposals show Hochul “and her team are not only listening, but they are acting.”
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Climate, environment plans
Nonprofit organizations including the Nature Conservancy, New York League of Conservation Voters, Adirondack Council, Protect the Adirondacks, ADK and others praised Hochul’s plans for green energy, decarbonization and the proposed $1 billion boost to the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Bond Act. A number of proposed investments should help the state achieve its renewable energy goals outlined in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
“We are in a climate crisis,” Hochul said. “We must act like it.”
“We cannot respond to the climate crisis with proclamations, platitudes, or pennies on the dollar,” NY Renews said. “Without billions of dollars in this year’s budget, efforts like phasing out our reliance on fossil fuels … will not be realized.”
Hochul also charged the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to come up with ideas for a green hydrogen economy to foster renewable electricity. About $27 million in hydrogen innovation funding could be available later in 2022.
The Empire Center for Public Policy, a nonprofit Albany think tank, expressed pessimism toward the “unproven” technology. “If this gamble does not pay off, New York may find itself desperately short on its energy needs in less than 20 years,” the center said.
Hochul proposed expanding the state’s Climate Resilient Farming Program. It provides grants for greenhouse gas reduction projects and climate mitigation. Jones said in his many years of watching State of the State addresses, this was the first time he recalled a governor mentioning farmers.
“It sounds like she’s making an investment in our workforce and in our agriculture industry,” he said. “That’s welcoming news for the farming community that we have here in upstate New York and the North Country.”
Hochul also showed concern about flooding. She called for a five-year capital plan for the state Department of Transportation to fix and bolster local roads and bridges to better handle extreme weather events. And she intends to push for legislation to improve wetland mapping requirements and regulation. Her vision also includes funding for septic system upgrades and protecting waters from harmful algal blooms, a growing problem on Lake George and other Adirondack lakes.
Stec said he’d like to see bond act funding go toward water infrastructure projects, although he is not supporting passage because the state budget is approaching a record $212 billion.
Hochul mentioned a point Republican lawmakers have criticized–the exodus of 300,000 New Yorkers last year. Stec said he was glad Hochul acknowledged the migration, but hoped she would do more to make staying more appealing.
“We have a spending problem and that is part of the reason why people are leaving the state,” Stec said. “I’m not sure that billions of dollars on an environmental act is a wise move.”