State land bank lingers in Albany

Though the state legislative session ended Wednesday, the North Country’s Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Billy Jones say they anticipate lawmakers will return to Albany and might pass a land bank for the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves.

The Senate and Assembly almost reached agreement in the final hours of the session on the Health and Safety Land Accounts amendment to the “forever wild” provision of the state Constitution, which would provide access to 250 acres of state Forest Preserve lands that could be used to maintain local highways bordered by Forest Preserve, dig municipal water wells and authorize the burial and co-location of utility lines and bike paths in state and local highway corridors.

The Senate completed the second passage of the amendment while the Assembly did not pass it, choosing to wait until the terms of the enabling legislation were finalized. The Senate also passed enabling legislation.

“There are a lot of people that have worked extremely hard to see this come to fruition,” Jones, D-Chategauy, said Friday evening, “and we are hopeful that when we get back in session we can see this get passed.

“It could happen any time,” Jones added. “Whenever the leaders and the governor get something worked out, we can get back in and finish our business, and we are hopeful we can do that as soon as possible.”

“I am anticipating we will be back in Albany and optimistic that when we return, we’ll see passage in the Assembly to keep the amendment on track,” Little, R-Queensbury, said Friday evening in a statement issued through her spokesman Daniel Mac Entee. “Obviously this is an initiative that has a lot of support and will do a lot of good for the communities of the Adirondacks and Catskills.”

Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, has also helped lead discussions to pass the amendment.

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said lawmakers could still pass this legislation this year. His environmental group supports it.

“Bigger issues will drive the decision to reconvene the Legislature, but this may provide an opportunity to pass these Adirondack matters,” he wrote in a statement.

Bauer also singled out how the Legislature failed to pass new legislation to amend the Adirondack Park Agency Act to require “conservation design” for large subdivisions. The proposed law was introduced by Assembly Conservation Committee Chairman Steven Englebright and opposed by local government officials, some members of the Common Ground Alliance steering committee, and scientific research organizations that requested more time to convene a consensus-driven public process to develop broad-based support for this bill.

Bauer added that a wide-ranging stakeholder process is being planned to start this summer with the purpose of having a new conservation design bill ready for legislative introduction in January 2018.