Bills would activate land bank with Forest Preserve additions

Two bills before the state Assembly and Senate would activate a land bank created for the Adirondack and Catskill parks with a constitutional amendment.

The bills — introduced by North Country Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Billy Jones — describe two parcels of land: one of 214 acres in the Catskills and one of 1,206 acres in the Adirondacks. The parcels, totaling 1,420 acres, would be added to the Forest Preserve and would also satisfy the requirement that a health and safety land account of 250 acres be created.

Voters statewide approved the land account, also known as the land bank, as a constitutional amendment in 2017. It allows local governments to take small pieces of Forest Preserve for road and bridge projects, or others such as drilling a municipal drinking water well — such as voters statewide approved for Raquette Lake in 2007.

Previously, for example, if a town within the Adirondacks wanted to add a bike lane to the side of a road that went through Forest Preserve lands, the town would have to get a statewide constitutional amendment passed. That process takes years: It requires passage by two separately elected state Legislatures and then by a statewide ballot measure. With the land bank, the town would be able to swap out the land needed for the bike path without reducing the total amount of acreage within the Forest Preserve.

Of the two land parcels being added to the Forest Preserve, the Adirondack one is in the Essex County town of Moriah.

“The proposed Essex County land acquisition would provide natural resource protection and public recreation opportunities in an under-utilized area of the Adirondack Park,” the justification for the bill says. “Adding this property to the forest preserve will conserve the headwaters of an important watershed in the Lake Champlain basin property shares boundaries with existing protected lands. The Land presents opportunities for hunting, wildlife viewing, fishing, paddling, camping, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.”

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that these bills would make the 250-acre Adirondack-Catskill land bank larger. While the bills, if approved, would have the state acquire parcels equaling 1,400 acres, only 250 of those would count toward the land bank. The Enterprise regrets the error.)