Vote Yes on Proposal 3 on November 7, 2017 to amend Article 14, Section 1, the forever wild provision, to create new “Health and Safety Land Account” to help local communities with highway and utilities maintenance

September 27, 2017

Vote Yes on Proposal 3 on November 7, 2017 to amend Article 14, the forever wild provision of the NYS Constitution, to create a new “Health and Safety Land Account” to help local communities with highway and utilities maintenance.

Protect the Adirondacks urges New Yorkers to VOTE YES on Proposal 3, which amends Article XIV of the NYS Constitution, which includes the forever wild provision, to create a new “Health and Safety Land Account.” Protect the Adirondacks works to uphold the forever wild provision in the State Constitution and we take amendments to Article XIV, Section 1 very seriously. We see this amendment as necessary and significant to assist the 92 towns and 12 counties in the Adirondack Park, as well as communities in the Catskills, that face practical challenges for maintenance of local roads and for managing the delivery of important services through various utilities to their residents and communities.

This amendment is on the statewide ballot on Election Day November 7, 2017 and is listed as Proposal 3, which states:

The proposed amendment will create a land account with up to 250 acres of forest preserve land eligible for use by towns, villages, and counties that have no viable alternative to using forest preserve land to address specific public health and safety concerns; as a substitute for the land removed from the forest preserve, another 250 acres of land, subject to legislative approval, will be added to the forest preserve. The proposed amendment also will allow bicycle trails and certain public utility lines to be located within the width of highways that traverse the forest preserve while minimizing removal of trees and vegetation. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?

This proposed amendment authorizes location of broadband, other utilities, and bike paths along state highway corridors traversing the Forest Preserve; authorizes location of broadband and other utilities in county, town and village road corridors that traverse the Forest Preserve; and, authorizes the creation of a 250-acre “Health and Safety Land Account” for the Adirondack and Catskill Parks 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 on lands within 500 feet or a highway corridor.

This new amendment meets the critical needs identified by Adirondack and Catskill local governments for greater flexibility in management and maintenance of local highways and bridges, for utilizing state and local highways to deliver and expand broadband capacity, for routing and expanding other utilities, and for locating and building bike paths. If passed, the new Health and Safety Land Account will provide a structure by which 250 acres of Forest Preserve lands alongside state or local highways could be utilized for various approved uses for various highway maintenance projects and the construction of wells for public water supplies.

A broad coalition worked to support this new amendment in the Legislature and supports passage of Proposal 3 on Election Day this November. This includes: Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages; the Local Government Review Board; Adirondack representatives such as Senators Betty Little and Jim Tedesco, Assemblymembers Dan Stec and Billy Jones; environmental groups such as the Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Council, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Protect the Adirondacks, The Nature Conservancy of New York; others such as The Adirondack Foundation, North Country Chamber of Commerce, InterCounty Legislative Committee of the Adirondacks, New York State Association of Counties, and New York State Conservation Council, among dozens of individual local governments. A broad array of Catskill Park local groups and local governments also supports passage of Proposal 3. This amendment has seen the same coming-together of stakeholders from across the Adirondack political spectrum that we saw in support of resolving the longstanding land disputes around Raquette Lake that was the basis of the Township 40 Amendment passed in 2013. Hopefully, Proposal 3 this year meets with the same good fortune.

The new amendment will help to continue to build and develop communities. Extending broadband fiber cable to remote communities of the Adirondacks and Catskills will help to expand educational and economic development opportunities as well as to improve quality of life. This amendment also makes it easier for local roads maintenance projects where roads are bordered by the Forest Preserve, siting of municipal water wells, and for building a network of bike paths between Adirondack and Catskill communities. These issues are real and this amendment assists local governments to maintain and ensure the safety of local roads and to more effectively aid in the delivery of services to residents.

Proposal 3 is a two part amendment. The first part is a conventional “land swap” amendment where 250 acres will be purchased by the State of New York and added to the Forest Preserve to offset the creation of a 250-acre Health and Safety Land account. In this part, local governments would be authorized, in effect, to purchase acreage from this account needed for various municipal activities, mainly road maintenance, according to a public process administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Legislature. The second part is a conventional “use” amendment whereby a limited set of new uses are allowed under certain conditions. In this part, local governments and utilities would be authorized to use highway corridors for location of utilities and bike paths. These would primarily use existing utility poles, but would allow for larger poles to be added as well as new bikes paths to be created.

On the “land swap” part a total of 250 acres would be made available for the new Health and Safety Land Account administered by the DEC. The Health and Safety Land Account will allow projects principally for local road maintenance. There has long been a “Land Bank” administered by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for state highways, which has been very successful for decades. The Health and Safety Land Account would do the same for local roads (town, village, county) that either run through or are bounded by Forest Preserve.

For these projects, local governments will have to prove that no viable alternative exists and that the roads in question are truly roads in existence prior to January 1, 2015, and are regularly maintained (these are not the Crane Pond Road or the West River Road or other similarly highly controversial roads on the Forest Preserve). Eligible projects include bridge repair or replacement and fixing dangerous curves and grades. There are limits on the lengths of such projects. Additionally, municipal water wells, and necessary appurtenances, may be located on Forest Preserve lands within 500 feet of a road.

On the “use” amendment part, various uses will be allowed within highway corridors. Again, these are roads in existence as of January 1, 2015 and the widths of the highway corridors are defined as maintained areas and then set in the enabling legislation as no wider than three rods from the centerline. The uses that can occur include public utilities, such as electric, telephone, broadband, water and sewer lines. The utilities should be buried or co-located. The amendment also allows, when no other alternative exists, for new utility poles to be placed in the corridor or bigger poles to replace smaller poles along with the necessary placement of supporting guy wires.

The last “use” allowed is location of bike paths. This can be done through widening of roads to accommodate bike lanes, such as has been done on some of the local roads in Wilmington or through creation of an off-highway bike route, such as those along Route 30 near the Fish Creek Campground that are separated from the road by a strip of grass or trees.

Proposal 3 will effect real issues that affect Adirondack and Catskill communities. Proposal 3 will help Adirondack and Catskill Park communities to improve community development projects, such as the expansion of broadband, while also improving road maintenance and management. Here are some examples of how Proposal 3 would positively effect things for the rural communities of the Adirondacks and Catskills:

  • Recently, the Town of Fine in St. Lawrence County, was blocked from completing an upgrade and expansion of the town’s water supply because of Forest Preserve lands along the roadside that blocked connection of private lands. Under Proposal 3, this new water line could be buried alongside the road.
  • The Towns of Chester and Horicon in Warren County would like to relocate a bridge over the Schroon River approximately 2.5 miles from its current location to improve emergency response to an important tourist resort and a number of local residences. The new bridge would shave more than five miles and approximately 10 minutes off the emergency response time. It would also result in lower road maintenance costs for the towns and reduced transportation times for the local school district. Because the new bridge would extend onto a small portion of state Forest Preserve land, however, this proposed project has been on hold for seven years. If Proposal 3 is approved, this small area of land — less than two-tenths of an acre — can be removed from the Forest Preserve through the Health & Safety Land Account.
  • The Development Authority of the North Country recently installed fiber optic cable to provide advanced communications between two rural health centers in Ray Brook and Lake Placid in Franklin County, improving patient care and safety. Because the road between the centers runs through the state Forest Preserve, the cable had to be placed beneath a recreational railroad line that is also used as a snowmobile trail — making wintertime repairs, under feet of snow, extremely complicated. Had Proposal 3 been passed earlier, the fiber optics could have been run under the much more accessible public road.
  • Hamilton County recently installed three miles of fiber optic cable along a state road to connect two local 911 dispatch centers and provide a critically important communications back-up in the event of a telephone outage. Because the road runs through the state Forest Preserve, however, New York State allows the fiber optics to be used only for emergency communications purposes, not to provide a backup for the local phone system in general. Had Proposal 3 been passed earlier, this common-sense improvement to the entire phone system would have been possible.

In its recent voter guide the NYS League of Women Voters reported that it could find no opposition to Proposal 3. It enjoyed great bipartisan popularity in the State Legislature where it was passed nearly unanimously in both the Republican State Senate and Democratic State Assembly.

The full text of proposed amendment in Proposal 3 is at the end of this article.

It’s important to recognize that Proposal 3 is accompanied by “enabling legislation” passed by the State Legislature in 2017 that details the ways that this complicated amendment will be implemented. The enabling legislation set up a process for replacement of the 250 acres of lands eligible to be removed as a pre-condition for establishing the Health and Safety Account.

Here are some of the other procedural and administrative highlights for how this amendment will be administered:

  • The “definitions” section of the bill is important because it sets parameters on many aspects of how this amendment will be implemented.
  • The enabling legislation sets out a process for how DEC will review proposed projects that seek to use Health and Safety Account lands.
  • The enabling legislation ensures that there must be a public hearing for each proposed projects that seek to use Health and Safety Account lands.
  • The enabling legislation enumerates the actual steps for transfer of Forest Preserve.
  • The enabling legislation sets out a process for local governments to purchase the lands.
  • The enabling legislation sets limits on the length of each project where road-side Forest Preserve is acquired and sets limits on the width of a highway corridor, which is measured as three rods from the highway centerline.
  • Some larger projects will require legislative review after the DEC review in a process similar to a municipal parklands alienation process.
  • On the “use” amendment part the enabling legislation sets out how the Forest Preserve lands within a highway corridor can be used for location or colocation of utilities and bike paths. Municipalities or utilities seeking access to road corridors will follow a similar review process, along with public hearings, noted above and administered by the DEC.

Unfortunately, not all proposed amendments to Article 14, Section 1, had enabling legislation in place at the time they were voted on by the public. One recent and notable failure on that count was the 2013 NYCO amendment.

Click here to read the enabling legislation. This is found in “Section L” of the “omnibus bill” passed by the Senate and Assembly at the last hours at the end of the 2017 legislative session. Click here to read information from the NYS Board of Elections on Proposal 3.

For all of these reasons, Protect the Adirondacks supports passage of Proposal 3 and we encourage New Yorkers to vote yes.

Here’s the text for the actual Article 14 amendment in Proposal 3:

NOTWITHSTANDING THE FOREGOING PROVISIONS AND SUBJECT TO LEGISLATIVE APPROVAL PRIOR TO ACTUAL TRANSFER OF TITLE, A TOTAL OF NO MORE THAN TWO HUNDRED FIFTY ACRES OF FOREST PRESERVE LAND SHALL BE USED FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A HEALTH AND SAFETY LAND ACCOUNT. WHERE NO VIABLE ALTERNATIVE EXISTS AND OTHER CRITERIA DEVELOPED BY THE LEGISLATURE ARE SATISFIED, A TOWN, VILLAGE OR COUNTY MAY APPLY, PURSUANT TO A PROCESS DETERMINED BY THE LEGISLATURE, TO THE HEALTH AND SAFETY LAND ACCOUNT FOR PROJECTS LIMITED TO: ADDRESS BRIDGE HAZARDS OR SAFETY ON COUNTY HIGHWAYS, AND TOWN HIGHWAYS LISTED ON THE LOCAL HIGHWAY INVENTORY MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEDICATED, AND IN EXISTENCE ON JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN, AND ANNUALLY PLOWED AND REGULARLY MAINTAINED; ELIMINATION OF THE HAZARDS OF DANGEROUS CURVES AND GRADES ON COUNTY HIGHWAYS, AND TOWN HIGHWAYS LISTED ON THE LOCAL HIGHWAY INVENTORY MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEDICATED, AND IN EXISTENCE ON JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN, AND ANNUALLY PLOWED AND REGULARLY MAINTAINED; RELOCATION AND RECONSTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE OF COUNTY HIGHWAYS, AND TOWN HIGHWAYS LISTED ON THE LOCAL HIGHWAY INVENTORY MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEDICATED, AND IN EXISTENCE ON JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN AND ANNUALLY PLOWED AND REGULARLY MAINTAINED, PROVIDED FURTHER THAT NO SINGLE RELOCATED PORTION OF ANY SUCH HIGHWAY SHALL EXCEED ONE MILE IN LENGTH; AND WATER WELLS AND NECESSARY APPURTENANCES WHEN SUCH WELLS ARE NECESSARY TO MEET DRINKING WATER QUALITY STANDARDS AND ARE LOCATED WITHIN FIVE HUNDRED THIRTY FEET OF STATE HIGHWAYS, COUNTY HIGHWAYS, AND TOWN HIGHWAYS LISTED ON THE LOCAL HIGHWAY INVENTORY MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEDICATED, AND IN EXISTENCE ON JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN, AND ANNUALLY PLOWED AND REGULARLY MAINTAINED. AS A CONDITION OF THE CREATION OF SUCH HEALTH AND SAFETY LAND ACCOUNT THE STATE SHALL ACQUIRE TWO HUNDRED FIFTY ACRES OF LAND FOR INCORPORATION INTO THE FOREST PRESERVE, ON CONDITION THAT THE LEGISLATURE SHALL APPROVE SUCH LANDS TO BE ADDED TO THE FOREST PRESERVE.

S 2. Resolved (if the Assembly concur), That article 14 of the constitution be amended by adding a new section 6 to read as follows:

S 6. WHERE STATE, COUNTY, OR TOWN HIGHWAYS LISTED ON THE LOCAL HIGHWAY INVENTORY MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEDICATED AND IN EXISTENCE ON JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN, AND ANNUALLY PLOWED AND REGULARLY MAINTAINED, TRAVERSE FOREST PRESERVE LAND, PUBLIC UTILITY LINES, LIMITED TO ELECTRIC, TELEPHONE, BROADBAND, WATER OR SEWER LINES AS DEFINED IN LAW, MAY, CONSISTENT WITH STANDARDS AND REQUIREMENTS SET FORTH IN LAW, AND FOLLOWING RECEIPT OF ALL PERMITS OR AUTHORIZATIONS REQUIRED BY LAW, BE BURIED OR CO-LOCATED WITHIN THE WIDTHS OF SUCH HIGHWAYS AS DEFINED IN LAW, AND BICYCLE PATHS MAY, CONSISTENT WITH STANDARDS AND REQUIREMENTS SET FORTH IN LAW, AND FOLLOWING RECEIPT OF ALL PERMITS OR AUTHORIZATIONS REQUIRED BY LAW, BE CONSTRUCTED AND MAINTAINED WITHIN THE WIDTHS OF SUCH HIGHWAYS, AS DEFINED IN LAW; PROVIDED, HOWEVER, WHEN NO VIABLE ALTERNATIVE EXISTS AND WHEN NECESSARY TO ENSURE PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY, A STABILIZATION DEVICE FOR AN EXISTING UTILITY POLE MAY BE LOCATED IN PROXIMITY TO THE WIDTH OF THE ROAD, AS DEFINED IN LAW; PROVIDED FURTHER, THAT ANY CO-LOCATION, BURIAL, MAINTENANCE OR CONSTRUCTION SHALL MINIMIZE THE REMOVAL OF TREES OR VEGETATION AND SHALL NOT INCLUDE THE CONSTRUCTION OF ANY NEW INTRASTATE NATURAL GAS OR OIL PIPELINES THAT HAVE NOT RECEIVED ALL NECESSARY STATE AND LOCAL PERMITS AND AUTHORIZATIONS AS OF JUNE FIRST, TWO THOUSAND SIXTEEN.

Protect the Adirondacks urges New Yorkers to VOTE YES on Proposal 3 on Election Day on November 7, 2017.

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