The state of New York holds its wild forest land so dear that any proposal to give away even one acre must win approval in a statewide election. That is as it should be. Otherwise there would be too much of a chance that the Legislature or some other functionary might barter it away while the voters were not looking.
Tuesday, the voters will be asked to look at a measure that would allow the Adirondack town of Long Lake to acquire a single acre of the state's 2.75 million-acre forest preserve lands to rescue the drinking water supply for the tiny hamlet of Raquette Lake. In return, the state will get 12 acres of town-owned land suitable for preservation.
This measure, Proposal Number One on the ballot, is a good deal for the community, for the state and for the forest, and voters should approve it.
Technically, this only statewide question on the 2007 ballot is whether to adopt an amendment to Article 14, Section 1 of the New York Constitution, an amendment already approved unanimously, twice, by the Legislature. It would slightly change the part of the constitution that requires state-owned and designated forest preserve land to be "forever kept as wild forest lands." Unless.
Unless, as approved through the whole process of amending the state constitution, an exception is granted. A handful of such exemptions have been granted since the original forest provision was approved in 1894. They have allowed small fractions of state forest preserve to be used for reservoirs and canals and, more recently, have swapped out some state forest land for other lands, sometimes in one-to-one amounts, sometimes repaying the state 10 or 12 times over.
It may be as well to ignore the fact that the two wells and a treatment facility already have been completed, as ordered by federal officials spooked by the high level of carcinogenic compounds that attempts at chlorination left in Raquette Lake's reservoir, and as allowed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The tiny hamlet of 125 year-round residents, inside the town of less than 1,000, had no other choice, and the town is making it all worth the state's while with the offer of a net increase of 11 acres in the state's hands. Environmental groups such as the Adirondack Council and the New York League of Conservation Voters recommend adoption, because the amendment is so narrowly worded as to avoid setting an unintended precedent.
Adoption of this measure is exactly what should happen. A "yes" vote is strongly recommended.