State budget directs millions to Adirondacks
New York’s $220 billion budget for the new fiscal year devotes billions of dollars to economic development and environmental protection, including millions to address the impacts of increased hiker traffic in the Adirondack and Catskills parks.
This year’s budget increases state spending by more than $8 billion from last year’s $212 billion budget. The state expects to balance the higher budget with an increase in federal funds and higher-than-expected tax revenues, according to the Associated Press.
The new budget, approved more than one week after it was due on April 1, features a $4.2 billion investment into green energy, climate change mitigation efforts and environmental protection through the proposed Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act. The act, originally passed by the state legislature in 2020 with a $3 billion price tag attached, would allow the state to take on $4.2 billion in bonds for environmental initiatives.
This act will be on the ballot this November. It was expected to be on the ballot in 2020, but the vote was delayed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
The new state budget also sets aside $400 million for the Environmental Protection Fund; $500 million in funding for clean water grants, which would give communities new water and sewage treatment facilities; and directs $15 million to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to “improve state lands, rehabilitate campgrounds and upgrade recreational facilities,” according to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office.
The state budget also granted another $105 million in capital funding to the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, mostly for upgrades to Olympic facilities and ski resorts ahead of the 2023 FISU World University Winter Games.
Environmental Protection Fund
The state Environmental Protection Fund, which doles out millions of dollars each year through the DEC to fund large green projects, is set at $400 million under the approved budget — a $100 million increase from last year’s fiscal budget.
Eight million dollars from the EPF is allocated for projects designed to increase visitor safety and combat the various impacts of hiker traffic in the park, which have become an increasing concern over the past few years — especially along the popular state Route 73 corridor — as a rising number of hikers and other nature-seekers travel to the High Peaks region. Some efforts to curb the impact of hiker traffic in the frontcountry and backcountry, like the creation of a new hiker shuttle route and a pilot parking reservation system at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve parking lot, are already underway.
A coalition of 26 local organizations, environmental groups and municipalities advocated for $10 million in funding to address the impact of hiker traffic on state lands last year. Adirondack Mountain Club Directory of Advocacy Cathy Pedler said in a statement that the $8 million that was ultimately included in the budget will be used for trail safety and resiliency, educational outreach, trailhead infrastructure and to implement the recommendations of the High Peaks and Catskills Strategic Planning Advisory Groups.
Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson, Jr., who was in the High Peaks advisory group, applauded the new funding.
“The funding directed at managing high use is a much-needed boost for the partnerships and efforts by the state, local government and conservation groups that have been taking shape for the past few years. Stewardship and environmental protections are critical to keeping the park a special place for New Yorkers for generations to come,” Wilson said in a statement.
The EPF includes $600,000 to support a new visitor use management framework similar to those in national parks. The framework would help officials assess the need to alter or add trails, reroute traffic patterns and would create and maintain outdoor facilities like restrooms, campsites, interpretive centers, parking lots and information kiosks. The DEC expects to hire a visitor management expert with the funds by this fall, according to a news release from the Adirondack Council.
Paul Smith’s College was awarded $225,000 for its Visitor Interpretive Center this year, up from $180,000 last year. VIC Director Scott van Laer said in a statement that the funding would help the VIC hire more staff and add to its environmental programming.
Essex County received $150,000 in funding for landfill closures and gas management.
The EPF also includes $48.7 million for statewide land stewardship, $40 million for new park lands and forest preservation, $21 million for farmland protection, $15 million for the Climate Smart Communities program, $19 million for municipal recycling and $3 million in Smart Growth grants to encourage development in the Adirondacks. All of those investments have increased since last year’s budget.
The new budget includes $105 million in capital funding for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. Of that, $92.5 million is expected to fund an upgrade and modernization plan to improve Olympic facilities and ski resorts, with a focus on preparing for the 2023 World University Winter games; $10 million will go toward “critical maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades”; and $2.5 million will come from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation budget as part of the New York Works Initiative, which aims to create jobs that pay at least $50,000 a year. This funding for ORDA is the same amount proposed by Hochul in her budget book earlier this year.
It’s unclear which venues and projects, specifically, the state funding will go toward; an ORDA spokesperson was not available for comment by press time Thursday.
New APA headquarters
The approved budget carves out $29 million for new Adirondack Park Agency offices. The APA has met in a small, 1950s-era log cabin for the last 50 years on a shared campus with New York State Police and the DEC in Ray Brook. APA Public Information Officer Keith McKeever said in an email Thursday that the building is poorly designed and in bad condition; he didn’t think it wouldn’t be cost-effective to renovate it for the agency’s needs.
McKeever said the agency is still considering all of its options before deciding on where the new building would be, or if the agency would opt to renovate an existing building. He said the agency wants a building that’s energy efficient, accessible, serves staff needs and gives the agency more opportunities to engage with the public. When asked if the state gave the APA a deadline to complete the project, McKeever said that the project is a “high priority” for the agency and that it would move forward as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute, a new program that helps City University of New York students find conservation jobs in partnership with the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Newcomb, received $2.1 million in federal funding through the state budget. The institute was named after one of the 1840s suffrage settlements in the Adirondacks, where 3,000 Black men gained ownership of a 40-acre homestead that gave them the right to vote.
The Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation, a Ray Brook-based nonprofit that has performed long-term monitoring 52 of the park’s lakes since the 1990s, received $500,000 toward a $6 million survey of Adirondack lakes. The survey would be similar to the comprehensive survey of 1,400 Adirondack lakes that ALSC performed ahead of widespread acid rain regulations in the 1980s, according to the release from Adirondack Council. This multi-year study would place an emphasis on climate change and would employ a team of scientists working in partnership with ALSC. The corporation currently employs one full-time staff member.
ALSC and the Ausable River Association announced this week that the two nonprofits plan to merge by the end of this year. ALSC would remain an independent program under the merger.
The Adirondack Diversity Initiative, a Saranac Lake-based organization that works to improve diversity and inclusivity in the park, received $300,000 in federal funding this year, a $50,000 increase from last year.
The budget also includes a revision to a state policy that protects wetlands. The new policy allows the state to have jurisdiction over smaller wetland areas, as little as 7.4 acres, outside of the park. The previous minimum acreage was 12.5. The state can already protect wetlands as small as one acre in the park, though the policy revision expands the APA’s control over development on lake shores and other deep-water wetlands.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the 2023 New York state budget was approved at $221 billion. The budget was approved at $220 million. The Enterprise regrets the error.