Adirondack and Catskill land bank proposed

June 10, 2016

Senator Betty Little today announced a proposed New York State Constitutional amendment (S.8026) and corresponding enabling legislation (S.8027) to create a 750-acre land bank for the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.

The land bank could be utilized to approve important local projects on state Forest Preserve lands without a need to amend the New York State Constitution in each instance.  Of critical importance, the amendment and enacting legislation include numerous safeguards protective of article 14 of the State Constitution.

For the past several months, state lawmakers, local officials, including representatives of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages (AATV) and Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, environmental stakeholders, including the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Protect the Adirondacks!, Adirondack Wild and The Nature Conservancy, and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have met in Albany to discuss the issue and work to reach an agreement.

For many years, and most recently led by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), there’s been an ongoing discussion about the need for a land bank similar to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) land bank that has been successfully utilized for close to six decades.

This new land bank would ensure small projects in the Adirondacks and Catskills for municipal water supply, highway and bridge improvements, public utilities, environmental infrastructure and bicycle pathways could proceed without the need to amend the New York State Constitution each time, a process that can take several years.

“The amendment and proposed legislation is narrow in scope and will accommodate  ‘quality of life’ and public safety projects important to Adirondack and Catskill residents and visitors, while protecting the environment through numerous safeguards,” said Little.

“I know firsthand how challenging it is to win the support of two successive Legislatures and the approval of voters on the Statewide ballot to amend the State Constitution.  That process will remain in place.  This proposal, however, provides a smart and reasonable way forward for small projects that are necessary, legally appropriate and address a pressing need."

Specifically, article 14 of the State Constitution would be amended “allowing public utility lines and bicycle paths on certain state lands in the forest preserve and establishing a forest preserve land bank for public projects.”

Eligible projects that would qualify include environmental infrastructure located near highways; public utility lines and associated infrastructure located near highways; bicycle paths in the width of town, county or state highways; bridge projects;  relocation and reconstruction of existing town and county highways to make them safer, such as straightening curves; and municipal water supply projects.

No individual project could use more than five acres of state land.  Unless otherwise authorized by the State Legislature, a town would be able to use up to 10 acres in total from the land bank and a county up to 15 acres.  All projects would need to conform with permits or authorizations required by law and be vetted through public hearings.

Before the land bank is utilized for a project, the DEC would need to determine that a feasible alternative on land not owned by the State does not exist, environmental impacts are minimized and the proposed project does not adversely impact lands that have critical environmental or recreational value.

Prior to any projects being approved, New York State would acquire 750 acres for the land bank.  The Adirondack and Catskills Parks would be apportioned 500 and 250 acres for future projects, respectively.  No property from the lank bank could be used unless the state receives payment from the project sponsor – such as a town or county or public utility – in equal value to the state land being utilized.

The amendment also would authorize the burial or co-location of public utility lines within the width of town, county and state highways, which would be separate of the land bank.

The resolution to amend the State Constitution requires approval by successively elected Legislatures.  If approved this year and next year by the State Legislature, the amendment could be placed before voters for their consideration in November 2017.

“I’m very grateful for the efforts of all involved, particularly the environmental groups and local government stakeholders who made numerous trips to Albany for lengthy and thorough meetings.  That we can move forward together with a solid proposal is a testament to their commitment,” Little said.

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