The 2016 Legislative session wrapped up with a flurry of Adirondack Park activity. The State Senate conducted business over night on Friday June 17th and did not adjourn until 5:00 AM. In the end, a new Article XIV Constitutional Amendment was passed, the Township 40 implementing legislation was passed, three new Adirondack Park Agency Board members were confirmed, and one new member of the Lake George Park Commission was confirmed.
The new Article XIV Constitutional Amendment garnered the most attention and legislative negotiating in the final days. This amendment authorizes location of broadband, other utilities and bike paths along state highway corridors bordered by Forest Preserve, authorizes location of broadband and other utilities in county, town and village road corridors, and authorizes the creation of a 250-acre “health and safety land account” principally for maintenance and management of local roads and for location of utilities. The “health and safety land account” can also be used for the location and construction of municipal water wells.
The new amendment was not accompanied by enabling legislation and is subject to legislative approval for various matters, including how new lands will be added to the Forest Preserve to replace land bank acreage, how land bank acreage will be accessed by local governments, the process for review of local projects, whether local projects will require legislative approval, the overall width of the road corridors applicable to this amendment, among many other items.
This introduction constitutes “1st passage” of a new Constitutional Amendment. “2nd passage” would take place in the next successive Legislature, most likely in 2017. The amendment would then need to be approved by the voters, again most likely in November 2017. The amendment requires legislative approval by the Legislature of an administration plan. This would most likely be accomplished by the Legislature in 2018 or thereafter. The health and safety land account of 350 acres will need to be replaced by new Forest Preserve lands.
There were two major issues that drove this new amendment. The first was the need to resolve legal issues for state and local highways that traverse the Forest Preserve in order to locate utilities in these corridors. There have been some instances where highway corridors were inaccessible for new utility uses due to Forest Preserve issues. The most recent example is the highway corridor from Ray Brook to Lake Placid on Route 86. Last year, it was determined that a new fiber optic broadband line could not be legally buried alongside the highway in the corridor, so it was brought to Lake Placid utilizing the railway corridor. This caused serious disruptions to planning efforts.
While Forest Preserve issues have limited expansion of broadband in some instances throughout the Park, the overwhelming majority of Adirondack communities could be accessed with fiber optic broadband through existing networks with grant monies to bring this expensive service to thinly populated areas. It’s important to note that some of the communities in the Adirondack Park that are most heavily dominated by Forest Preserve lands have excellent fiber optic broadband access, such as Keene and Long Lake. In both cases, the fiber lines originate in Watertown and are carried through the Park on utility poles on highway corridors.
The second major issue was the need to improve how local governments manage and maintain local highways. In 1957 a Constitutional Amendment was passed to provided a 400 acre land bank for the NYS Department of Transportation to utilize for management and maintenance of state highways in the Adirondacks. To date, the DOT has used about 250 acres for various highway maintenance operations where they needed to go outside the legal highway corridor into the Forest Preserve. The new amendment creates a similar program for local roads. Note that these are state and county roads that are legally recognized by the DOT and maintained. This is not the Crane Pond Road or the West River Road where it extends within the Silver Lake Wilderness.
The new Constitutional Amendment meets the critical needs of local communities throughout the Adirondacks and Catskills while protecting the public Forest Preserve.
Here is the link to the new legislation (A.10721A): Here is the text of the new legislation:
1 Section 1. Resolved (if the Senate concur), That section 1 of article
2 14 of the constitution be amended by adding a new undesignated paragraph
3 to read as follows:
4 Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions and subject to legislative
5 approval prior to actual transfer of title, a total of no more than two
6 hundred fifty acres of forest preserve land shall be used for the estab-
7 lishment of a health and safety land account. Where no viable alterna-
8 tive exists and other criteria developed by the legislature are satis-
9 fied, a town, village or county may apply, pursuant to a process
10 determined by the legislature, to the health and safety land account for
11 projects limited to: address bridge hazards or safety on county high-
12 ways, and town highways listed on the local highway inventory maintained
13 by the department of transportation, dedicated, and in existence on
14 January first, two thousand fifteen, and annually plowed and regularly
15 maintained; elimination of the hazards of dangerous curves and grades on
16 county highways, and town highways listed on the local highway inventory
17 maintained by the department of transportation, dedicated, and in exist-
18 ence on January first, two thousand fifteen, and annually plowed and
19 regularly maintained; relocation and reconstruction and maintenance of
20 county highways, and town highways listed on the local highway inventory
21 maintained by the department of transportation, dedicated, and in exist-
22 ence on January first, two thousand fifteen and annually plowed and
23 regularly maintained, provided further that no single relocated portion
1 of any such highway shall exceed one mile in length; and water wells and
2 necessary appurtenances when such wells are necessary to meet drinking
3 water quality standards and are located within five hundred thirty feet
4 of state highways, county highways, and town highways listed on the
5 local highway inventory maintained by the department of transportation,
6 dedicated, and in existence on January first, two thousand fifteen, and
7 annually plowed and regularly maintained. As a condition of the creation
8 of such health and safety land account the state shall acquire two
9 hundred fifty acres of land for incorporation into the forest preserve,
10 on condition that the legislature shall approve such lands to be added
11 to the forest preserve.
12 § 2. Resolved (if the Senate concur), That article 14 of the constitu-
13 tion be amended by adding a new section 6 to read as follows:
14 § 6. Where state, county, or town highways listed on the local highway
15 inventory maintained by the department of transportation, dedicated and
16 in existence on January first, two thousand fifteen, and annually plowed
17 and regularly maintained, traverse forest preserve land, public utility
18 lines, limited to electric, telephone, broadband, water or sewer lines
19 as defined in law, may, consistent with standards and requirements set
20 forth in law, and following receipt of all permits or authorizations
21 required by law, be buried or co-located within the widths of such high-
22 ways as defined in law, and bicycle paths may, consistent with standards
23 and requirements set forth in law, and following receipt of all permits
24 or authorizations required by law, be constructed and maintained within
25 the widths of such highways, as defined in law; provided, however, when
26 no viable alternative exists and when necessary to ensure public health
27 and safety, a stabilization device for an existing utility pole may be
28 located in proximity to the width of the road, as defined in law;
29 provided further, that any co-location, burial, maintenance or
30 construction shall minimize the removal of trees or vegetation and shall
31 not include the construction of any new intrastate natural gas or oil
32 pipelines that have not received all necessary state and local permits
33 and authorizations as of June first, two thousand sixteen.
34 § 3. Resolved (if the Senate concur), That the foregoing amendments be
35 referred to the first regular legislative session convening after the
36 next succeeding general election of members to the assembly, and, in
37 conformity with section 1 of article 19 of the constitution, be
38 published for 3 months previous to the time of such election.
In addition to passage of this new amendment, the implementation legislation for the Township 40 amendment was passed. Township 40 was Proposal 4 on the NYS ballot in November 2013. It authorized a process to resolve a longstanding controversy for scores of landowners around Raquette Lake that had clouded title due to historic claims that these lands were Forest Preserve. The historic record is a mess on most of these properties. Resolution through the courts for properties with the best historic records were won five times by private landowners and five times by the state. Each case takes a great deal of state resources to prosecute. While far from perfect this resolution seemed the best outcome possible for a longstanding intractable conflict. The benefit to the state for resolution will be purchase of the Marion River Carry tract on the Marion River and Utowana Lake.
Protect the Adirondacks salutes the strong leadership of State Assembly Conservation Committee Chair Steve Englebright, who made smart decisions and held firm on these matters to protect the forever wild Forest Preserve.
The last major issue was approval by the State Senate of three new Board members to the Adirondack Park Agency. The APA Board is led by 11 members, three from state agencies and eight nominated by the Governor and approved by the State Senate. Of these eight, five must be fulltime residents of the Adirondack Park and three from areas outside the Park. There can be no more than one Board member per county.
Barbara Rice or Saranac Lake was confirmed as a new Board members. She is an owner of Rice’s Furniture, a long-time fixture in Saranac Lake. She was a Trustee on the Saranac Lake Village Board, and in that capacity stood firm to provide just scrutiny of the new Lake Flower Resort project. She is also currently elected to the Franklin County Legislature.
Of the other four in-Park Board members, Sherman Craig received a new 4-year term. He was also named as Chairman by Governor Cuomo to replace Lani Ulrich of Old Forge. Craig is a local economic development advocate in the Clifton-Fine area. He has been the strongest supporter of the Cuomo agenda to motorize the Forest Preserve on the APA Board. Dan Wilt, a business owner from Piseco, was also given a new term. Wilt has been an outspoken opponent of new land acquisition. The other members are Bill Thomas, former Town of Johnsburg Supervisor, and Art Lussi, a businessman from Lake Placid.
Two appointments were made for outside-the-Park Board members. Chad Dawson was approved to replace Dick Booth, who was a towering presence on the APA Board where he tried to defend the Forest Preserve against poor planning and decision making by the Cuomo Administration. Read a statement Booth issued at the APA meeting in March where he said “For many months, the Governor and the Governor’s staff have forced the Agency toward the result reached today. They have done so by rigidly controlling what analysis state agency staff was allowed to prepare and present to the Agency. They have rigidly controlled what materials Agency staff may prepare and present to the Agency. We have not had a full and open discussion on what in fact were all the issues reflecting the action that we have taken today.” Booth also published a farewell address of sorts entitled State Land Master Plan Classifications Of Large-Acreage Forest Preserve Acquisitions Where Special Resource Values Exist and Potential Classification of The Boreas Ponds Tract.
Dawson is a retired and distinguished professor from the SUNY-ESF, who is best known for co-authoring Wilderness Management: Stewardship and Protection of Resources and Values, the authoritative text on wilderness management. Also approved was John Ernst of New York City, who owns the Elk Lake Lodge and the Elk Lake Reserve. Ernst recently gifted a conservation easement to the state and has been a longtime philanthropist in the Adirondacks and involved with numerous organizations and institutions. These two men join Karyn Feldman, an election law attorney from Columbia County, who is involved with large landowner interests in the Adirondacks.
The APA Board has been lopsided for years now. Former Board member Dick Booth was the lone green voice on the Board. The Governor has been criticized for a noted lack of balance on the APA Board and these three new appointments show small steps by the Governor towards an elusive balance, but the overwhelming majority of the APA Board will remain committed to his agenda of supporting private land development, regardless of how poorly designed and negatively impacting forest resources, and for motorizing the Forest Preserve. It will take several more appointments of new APA Commissioners, from diverse backgrounds, to achieve real balance that promotes real debate and ensures that decisions are made based on the best available data, analysis and research.
The last issue handled by the Legislature was appointment to the Lake George Park Commission, where Kathy LoBombard was appointed.