On June 25, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $30 million in funding to implement regional sustainability plans across the state, and the deadline is approaching for North Country communities to apply for some of that money.
The funding marks the first round of Cuomo's $100 million Cleaner, Greener Communities program. The program divided New York into 10 regions, and each received $1 million to construct plans for the program last fall. The remaining $90 million will be doled out over the next three years.
Each community in the region can submit a list of potential "cleaner, greener" projects by the Aug. 12 deadline. Projects will then be selected and included on an application to the state, due Aug. 24.
The Cleaner, Greener Communities program challenged the regions' planning consortiums to develop smart-growth plans that would improve energy, transportation, land use, waste management, water management, economic development, agriculture and forestry in their communities. Each consortium also conducted a greenhouse gas emissions study, which calculated those emissions and projected reductions that would result from implementing the sustainability plan.
The North Country consortium was led by representatives from each of the seven North Country counties: Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Lewis. Essex County served as the region's municipal sponsor and administrator of the plan. The county subcontracted the Saranac Lake-based Adirondack North Country Association & Ecology and Environment Inc., an environmental management company based out of Lancaster.
ANCA's role was coordinating meetings and outreach with public and stakeholder interests, which included local governments, community leaders, business owners and nonprofits. E & E collected data and consolidated all the information into what those involved felt were the most important priorities and opportunities for the North Country.
"We're not designing this plan to go after a pool of money; we're designing this plan to represent a long-term set of sustainability goals for the North Country," said Kate Fish, executive director of ANCA. "I think the benefit the North Country brings to the table is that our economy is so largely dependent on our incredible natural resource space, so that protecting one and promoting the other goes hand-in-hand."
The primary goals of the North Country's sustainability plan, "Our Economy," are to transform the region into the most self-reliant energy economy in the state and to attract investment based on natural and community assets. The plan includes recommendations on four categories aligned with those goals: renewable energy, transportation efficiency, working lands and vibrant downtowns.
The renewable energy recommendations are focused on increasing the use of biomass as a thermal heating fuel by transitioning homes, businesses and institutional buildings from heating with imported oil to heating with organic matter such as wood. Increasing use of solar power in the region and providing training for renewable energy technology jobs is also a priority.
"About 94 percent of the energy generated in the North Country is from renewable sources: mostly hydro, followed by wind," Fish said. "We're already sitting on a natural capital that helps drive our economy. Any electricity that gets generated goes into the grid and is sold. We are a net exporter; we can't use all the electricity we generate."
The transportation efficiency recommendations call for counties to collaborate to expand public transit routes and for each community to expand broadband Internet availability, create affordable transportation options for residents and improve aging infrastructure.
The working lands recommendations cite the North Country's waters, forests and agricultural land as drivers of economy, quality of life and community development. The focus is to utilize those resources to expand eco-, agri- and cultural tourism opportunities, and to grow the forestry industry using locally grown and produced biomass fuel.
"We're not talking about expanding the land that's available for forestry; we're talking about actually using it," Fish said.
The vibrant downtowns recommendations would work toward concentrating development in pedestrian-friendly downtown areas. An emphasis would be on constructing solid, energy-efficient buildings and reducing emissions by adopting higher energy-efficiency standards and reducing dependence on cars.
To be eligible for grant money, applicants need to submit a consolidated funding application and have goals consistent with those of the "Our Economy" plan, which can be read online at www.adirondack.org.
"This is an opportunity for a community with less resources to say, 'Hey, let's go out and apply for a $25,000 or $30,000 grant out of a pool of money to upgrade our municipal plan," Fish said. "It does encourage land use that is integral to the whole sustainability plan."
"Rather than competing with each other for this funding, we think the better approach would be to just do a regional project," said Garrett Dague, deputy county planner for Essex County. "It's basically following the recommendations for this plan."
Communities can apply for money to complete projects or to fund comprehensive plans for potential projects.
"Depending on what potential projects the counties come back with, a couple of counties could get some decent-sized projects funded," Dague said. "Hopefully we'll be submitting some smaller projects for planning, too."
Shaun Kittle can reached at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.