Trail access funded, climate programs not
By Gwendolyn Craig
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed executive budget includes funding to resurface Adirondack Loj Road, a popular gateway to many High Peaks, as well as $8 million to address visitor safety and wilderness in the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves.
But cuts were also made to climate and diversity initiatives, leaving some groups hoping state legislators will add them back in, and showing that the $4.3 billion deficit projected a few weeks ago was closed by more than just unanticipated tax revenue and bonuses.
The details emerged in budget bills filed late Tuesday following Hochul’s presentation of her $233 billion “balanced” budget. The state Legislature announced a schedule of joint budget hearings, which will kick off on Jan. 23 and run through Feb. 14. The final budget is due on April 1.
North Elba Supervisor Derek Doty called it “music to his ears” to hear Hochul has proposed $1.25 million to the town for resurfacing Adirondack Loj Road. The Adirondack Mountain Club’s parking lot and building is at the end of the road and provides access to peaks including the state’s two highest, Mount Marcy and Algonquin.
The roadway project is part of a greater access plan including a new 100-vehicle parking lot on South Meadow Road, something the state Department of Environmental Conservation had made a priority in a 1999 High Peaks Wilderness unit management plan.
Michael Barrett, executive director of ADK, said the organization was “thrilled to see that funding to repave the road that leads to the Adirondack Park’s busiest trailhead made it into the Governor’s budget.”
Doty said the paving is part of a long-time agreement between the state and town. Using the town’s fund balance, North Elba has already resurfaced about 2.6 miles of Adirondack Loj Road starting from state Route 73, with the hopes that the state would come through with funding. There are about 1.4 miles left to pave, but Doty said the town has finished major sections.
“Let’s just say a prayer that it passes,” Doty said about the final budget.
It’s unclear when the DEC plans to build the parking lot.
Dozens of signatories representing local governments, land trusts and environmental organizations had hoped Hochul would allocate $10 million to the Adirondack and Catskills forest preserves. The governor held the amount to “up to $8 million” for visitor safety and wilderness activities addressing “overuse.” Barrett said he looked forward to working with legislators to ensure the money makes it to the final budget.
While there were items in the budget bills for the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Council noted that the Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute and the Survey of Climate and Adirondack Lakes Ecosystem did not receive funding in the new fiscal year. The budget targets reappropriated funds from the 2023-24 budget for the programs.
“You don’t close a $4 billion budget gap by cutting $4 million in science and high school programming that offer outsized benefits for frontline and disadvantaged communities,” said Raul Aguirre, executive director of the council.
The Adirondack Diversity Initiative, part of the Adirondack North Country Association, was also slated to get $120,000 less than last year.
The council also criticized the governor’s two-year commitment of $500 million for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, which represents a $250 million cut. Hochul’s proposal to double the state’s grant cap for water infrastructure projects appeared to be a positive step for Adirondack communities, the council noted, but with the 50% funding reduction, Aguirre said it “will have the opposite effect on water affordability for New Yorkers.”
The governor can make amendments to her spending plan in the 30 days following filing of the executive budget bills. “We call upon the Governor to correct these measures that will harm safety and affordability for those who live in and those who benefit from the Adirondacks,” Aguirre said. New Yorkers for Clean Water and Jobs, a coalition of organizations that includes the Nature Conservancy, echoed this, adding that “at least $80 billion is needed to repair and update New York’s drinking water and sewer infrastructure. We urge the legislature to commit at least $600 million this year, as a first installment in a new $4 billion commitment to clean water funding over the next five years.”
A spokesperson for Hochul did not directly respond to the criticisms but said the governor “is committed to protecting clean water and public health, creating jobs, and saving New Yorkers money,” and highlighted already invested funds and the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act voters passed in 2022.
And while Hochul maintained the Environmental Protection Fund at $400 million, the council and the coalition criticized her proposal to use $25 million of it for staffing expenses, instead of dedicating the money to open space and land preservation. In the last several years the executive budget has made such proposals, with backlash from environmental organizations arguing that staffing should be addressed in individual department budgets.
The state Legislature plans to hold the environmental conservation budget hearing, which often discusses most of the Adirondack Park-related initiatives, on Feb. 7.
Other included items
Other items included in the executive’s budget bills are:
- $6,638,000 for the operation of the Adirondack Park Agency and $31.5 million reappropriated for the rehabilitation and construction of facilities which will likely be used for a headquarters (with a historic building in downtown Saranac Lake under consideration);
- $579,100,000 to the DEC for operations;
- $500,000 to Cornell University for the control of invasive hemlock woolly adelgid;
- $12.5 million for the Climate Smart Communities program;
- $4 million for services and expenses regarding the stewardship of newly acquired and existing state lands and for the implementation of unit management plans, costs related to invasive species management and other state forest related spending;
- Up to $20 million for the Conklingville, Sixth Lake and Old Forge dams, part of a $90 million initiative that includes dam safety, flood protection, air monitoring and recreational projects;
- $250,000 to Paul Smith’s College for the Adirondack Park interpretive centers support;
- $82.5 million to the Olympic Regional Development Authority for related maintenance of its Olympic and ski facilities, energy efficiency projects, life maintenance, building maintenance and payment of liabilities.
Top photo: A crowded day on Adirondack Loj Road in Lake Placid. Photo by Mike Lynch