By Stephen J. Acquario
The renaissance of Buffalo’s waterfront is an ideal example of how important it is to preserve and adapt our natural resources if New York State is to thrive. Focused investments and resources have helped Buffalo transform from a post-industrial to an innovation hub and an emerging tourist destination.
Unfortunately, New Yorkers on the other end of the Erie Canal have not had the same opportunity to modernize their use of the natural landscape. Communities in the Adirondacks and Catskills cannot use forest preserve land to make investments that would spur tourism and economic development. In 1894, Article XIV of the state constitution put New York’s forest preserve lands under the state’s highest level of protection. These communities can’t create safer bike paths, install broadband, drill a water supply well or even straighten dangerous roads and improve critical infrastructure.
Right now, the towns of Chester and Horicon in Warren County want to relocate a bridge to improve emergency response time. Hamilton County would like to widen the shoulder of a road heavily traveled by cars, bicycles and pedestrians to improve public safety. These two easy projects, which could be done easily anywhere else in New York State, would require a constitutional amendment. For these communities, widening a road or moving a bridge onto a small portion of state forest preserve land cannot be done.
Voters can help these communities on Nov. 7. A constitutional amendment would empower these communities to make decisions to promote public health and safety without undertaking a time-consuming and costly bureaucratic process.
The proposed amendment, Ballot Proposition 3, will create a land account, or land bank, with up to 250 acres of forest preserve land eligible for use by towns, villages and counties that have no viable alternative to using forest preserve land to address specific public health and safety concerns. As a substitute for the land removed from the forest preserve, another 250 acres of land, subject to legislative approval, will be added to the forest preserve.
The proposed amendment also will allow bicycle trails and certain public utility lines to be located within the width of highways that traverse the forest preserve while minimizing removal of trees and vegetation.
Ballot Proposition 3 is supported by a wide bipartisan coalition of local governments, environmental protection organizations, business groups and recreational enthusiasts, including the Adirondack Mountain Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the North Country Chamber of Commerce and the Nature Conservancy of New York. These groups support the amendment because it is good public policy and it is rooted in common sense.
Vote “yes” to Ballot Proposal 3 to bring broadband, utilities, clean water and enhanced safety to residents and visitors of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.
Stephen J. Acquario is executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, a municipal association serving all 62 counties of New York.