Despite defeat of the $1.9 billion environmental bond act, things over at the state Department of Environmental Conservation aren't as bad as at some state agencies, where cuts threaten to cripple services.
At least that's the optimistic view of two key officials. The new Clean Air Act and the state's $1.2 billion toxics bond act may help the DEC to tide over the worst of the budget crisis, but solid waste, recycling and some other programs may be in trouble.
"We're not in bad shape in the Buffalo area," said DEC Regional Director John J. Spagnoli. "We made some cuts earlier, so we are in better shape than all the other regions.
"The greatest loss in this area is the money that would have come from the 21st Century Environmental Quality Bond Act to provide public access to Lake Erie, the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.
"We don't expect to lose any people, but we are cutting down on travel, copying paper, telephone calls and other material items. Every regional director has a car with a radio to maintain round-the-clock contact, but the car assigned to me has gone back into the pool."
In Albany, Deputy Commissioner Langdon Marsh said: "We're making some cuts, but only 34 percent of our budget comes from general state funds, so the impact has not been as great (as with some other agencies). We can't fill vacancies, but we don't think we'll have to lay anyone off.
"But the 1992-93 budget will be difficult and painful. We are studying various scenarios for cuts. I can't discuss them, but they will be forwarded to the governor."
One plus for DEC has been the gradual buildup of engineers and technical personnel over the past seven years to meet demands of its toxics cleanup and other programs. Marsh said, "When I returned to the department in 1983 we had about 3,300 persons, and now we have about 4,000, so even if we can't fill positions and replace those who leave, the governor and the Legislature have given us people to carry out these programs."
One of the main impacts in Buffalo will be to delay the move of DEC's regional offices from Delaware Avenue to the former Buffalo Envelope Co. office at Seneca Street and Michigan Avenue.
"We had to move some offices from 600 Delaware to the building next door and were hoping to consolidate into a single building, but the lease wasn't signed and now there is a freeze on new leases," Spagnoli said. "We have five persons working in a conference room in the second building and we need space."
DEC is cutting $2 million provided by the Legislature in lieu of raising the fees for fishing and hunting licenses, and that will mean cuts in fish and wildlife programs. Another $2.5 million is out the window through eliminating "member items," pork barrel items. It will cut several area programs -- from a $20,000 item for a Cheektowaga composting project to a $60,000 weed control program on Chautauqua Lake. Increasing parking at Dunkirk Harbor for $50,000 is gone, as is $5,000 for a Farnham village water tower restoration and a $25,000 Erie County environmental education program.
Marsh said spending for toxic waste cleanups will continue, with the only holdup being the possibility of layoffs that could cut supervision of projects and thus slow them down.
While the Air Division has been in lean times in recent years, enactment of the federal Clean Air Act will provide money to states for enforcement. It also mandates states to enact fee schedules that pay for regulatory activities. DEC's solid waste programs are another matter. The state has ordered leaking municipal landfills closed, mandated source separation and recycling to take effect in 1992, and set a goal of reducing solid waste volumes by 50 percent in 1997.
Much of this was to be funded by the bond act that was rejected by voters, including an overwhelming "no" vote in Western New York that surprised many in DEC.
State Solid Waste Director Norman H. Nosenchuck has been seeking funds and staff for two years to carry out the heavy legislative mandates under the solid waste management act, and the bond act was one of the answers.
Marsh said New York's commitment to paying its $12 million share to the Great Lakes Protection Fund "remains strong -- we won't renege, but frankly, I don't know where the money will come from." The $100 million fund will be invested and the revenue used to pay for toxic research and other pollution control programs to restore the lakes.
Another program that is likely to be salvaged is a $1 billion revolving loan fund available to local communities for upgrading sewage treatment plants to meet federal and state law. Ninety percent of the money comes from the federal government, but New York must provide a matching share.
National Audubon Vice President David J. Miller of Albany says environmental groups, legislators, government officials and citizens are already starting to explore new sources of funding for money lost in defeat of the bond act, but says it will be an uphill battle.
The fact that nearly two-thirds of DEC's yearly budget comes from federal aid, regulatory fees, licenses and similar sources tends to insulate it somewhat from deep cuts.
But the cutbacks already are showing up. For example, Michael O'Toole, a key DEC toxics official and a member of the Love Canal Technical Review Committee, didn't attend the last meeting because of travel restrictions. Marsh emphasized that DEC personnel will travel on business, but not to less essential meetings and conferences. O'Toole called reporters to stress that the commitment to Love Canal is unchanged.
Environmental notes -- Jacqueline Moody, special assistant to Commissioner Thomas C. Jorling for the Great Lakes, has been transferred from the Avon office to Albany headquarters. . . . U.S. and Canadian officials hold a workshop on the Lake Ontario Toxics Management Plan at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Monroe Community College, Rochester. . . . Niagara Mohawk has published a free book with tips on energy-saving programs, including coupons for rebates and other incentives to cut electricity use.