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State budget: DEC, APA would be cut, land-purchase funds upheld

January 18, 2012
By CHRIS MORRIS - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed 2012-13 budget has drawn a lot of concern - and a bit of praise - from environmental advocates.

The budget, which was laid out in a presentation Tuesday afternoon in Albany, would cut $167 million from the state Department of Environmental Conservation - a 16.1 percent decrease from last year. That loss comes as federal stimulus dollars begin to dry up.

The state's Environmental Protection Fund would stay at 2011-12 levels, or about $134 million. Cuomo has proposed setting aside $70.6 million for open space programs, money that generally goes to buying land and conservation easements. The budget includes funds for flood control, erosion and dam safety projects, as well as money for improvements and capital projects at state parks, historic sites and ski centers.

The state Adirondack Park Agency would see a $105,000 cut if Cuomo's budget was adopted unchanged.

John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council said that cut would harm an agency that's already underfunded and understaffed - one that recently gave up its Visitor Interpretive Centers and has dropped from a high of 74 staff members in 2007 to 53 now.

"The APA has suffered staff cuts of 30 percent over the past five years," he said in a statement released to the media.

As a result, Sheehan said, the agency can't keep up with enforcement.

"In the summer of 2011, the APA modified its enforcement of land-use code violations, granting amnesty from civil penalties for all illegal subdivisions created prior to 2001 and offering after-the-fact permits instead."

Sheehan said cuts at the DEC will force the department to delay enforcement of a new state law that requires businesses that use large amounts of water to get a permit. The 2011 law states that users of more than 100,000 gallons of water daily need DEC permission, but that requirement will be delayed for five years, Sheehan said.

"When an administration with a four-year term announces it is postponing its duties under the law for five years, the public has a right to be concerned," he said.

Another prominent green group applauded Cuomo's budget, however - specifically the fact that he would keep up funding the EPF.

Connie Prickett, spokeswoman for the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, told the Enterprise by email "this is not only good policy for New York, it also creates jobs.

"Through its various programs, the EPF supports more than 350,000 jobs in New York State across a broad spectrum of industries, including outdoor tourism, agriculture and protecting drinking water for millions of New Yorkers."

Prickett said the EPF has helped protect many "state treasures" that will help Cuomo promote New York as one of the world's top tourism destinations.

Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward said she hasn't seen Cuomo's specific plans for Adirondack land acquisition; under Gov. David Paterson, the DEC hoped to buy former Finch, Pruyn timerlands near Newcomb and Follensby Park near Tupper Lake - both from the Nature Conservancy. Sayward said that if the Cuomo administration moves ahead with land purchases in the Park, cutting resources at DEC is counterproductive.

Sayward noted, however, that some cuts at DEC might look disproportionate when compared to other agencies, as Cuomo plans to use existing balances in the Environmental Conservation Fund to pay for 65 environmental conservation officers. That means the money for those positions wouldn't come from the state's general fund.

"I am not sure how our conservation groups are going to react to that; I've got some phone calls to make on that one," Sayward said.

Cuomo has also proposed to streamline "various fish and wildlife licenses, permits and associated fees that will result in reduced administrative effort for DEC and the hunting and fishing community, and more efficient spending of Conservation Fund resources."

Sayward, as well as state Sen. Betty Little and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, told the Enterprise that Cuomo should not move to purchase additional land in the Adirondacks.

"As far as land acquisition goes, there are some areas in downstate New York where they don't have much open space, so it's important to keep some money there," Sayward said.



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