Legislature OKs Ad’k land bank

The state legislature approved two measures last week that affect both public and private land owners in the Adirondack Park: creating a “land bank” and sorting out Raquette Lake disputes dating to the 1870s.

One bill would amend the “forever wild” clause of the state constitution to allow towns, counties and utility companies to swap land for construction projects in the Adirondacks and Catskill parks.

Often, state Forest Preserve land begins only a short distance off the side of the road, or even under the road, and this can create complications when doing road work or adding utilities, such as water and sewer pipes or power lines. A road butting up against state land can also make it impossible to eliminate dangerous curves or conduct drainage or culvert work.

The land bank may be used to eliminate these issues, and for municipal wells if a town or village’s drinking water wells become unpotable and the only option is to drill a new well on Forest Preserve land.

The amendment would create a land bank of 250 acres that small amounts of land could be swapped out of.

This is not a new issue, as the state passed a similar bill in the 1950s. That land bank has been completely tapped for road and bridge construction.

In 2005, Raquette Lake’s wells needed to be replaced, and the only option was to relocate them to Forest Preserve land. This two-acre swap required a constitutional amendment of its own, and the new bill will eliminate the need for piecemeal amendments. Similar statewide referendums were held to expand a cemetery in Keene and to build a new power line to Tupper Lake along a state highway in Colton.

The land bank could also be used to add bike paths, telephone and broadband lines within the boundaries of any state, county or town highway within the Adirondack and Catskill parks.

Now that the bill has been passed, it will need to be passed again by the next legislature before it heads to a state-wide vote for approval. This process is followed with all constitutional amendments in New York.

The second Adirondack measure the legislature passed cleared land titles on Raquette Lake that have been in dispute for decades. The discrepancies in the titles stemmed from old records that did not line up with newer property maps, dating back to a series of disputed tax sales in the 1870s and 1880s.

The issue was resolved by the legislature, and granted clear titles to about 200 land owners on the lake. In exchange, the state received 300 acres of conservation land along the Marion River, including a popular canoe carry.

This bill will implement a constitutional amendment that voters passed in 2013.

Several green groups, including the Adirondack Mountain Club, Protect the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Council have come out in support of the bills.

“I am proud of the professional and collegial manner in which all parties worked together for the best outcome for both the Forest Preserve and the communities that call the Adirondack Park or Catskill Park their home,” Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth said in a press release.

“We are environmental advocates and we were pleased to work with Adirondack communities to achieve legislative successes this year,” Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie C. Janeway said in another press release. “The Adirondack Park’s 130 rural communities are an important part of our globally unique park.”