Three days after his State of the State address, aspects of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s legislative agenda for 2020 are still works in progress. However, several stand out for their potential benefits to upstate and Western New York. Costs are always an issue, but these projects look worthy.
Building the North Aud Block
The infusion of state funding from the Buffalo Billion initiative continues. Cuomo in 2018 promised $10 million for planning and construction on the North Aud Block, and early this week he announced the proposal for what is expected to take shape on the site where Memorial Auditorium once stood.
Five buildings – featuring up to 200 residential units plus commercial space and above- and below-ground parking – will surround pedestrian footpaths and an open public plaza in the plans shaped by TY Lin International, an engineering firm.
The North Aud Block, along with all of the other new developments taking place along Canalside, will transform Buffalo’s waterfront into what planners have dreamed about for years as they watched cities such as Baltimore redevelop their shorelines.
Restoring Mother Nature
The proposal to borrow $3 billion for environmental causes, called the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act. With effects from climate change already evident around the world, the governor’s call for a $3 billion bond act to “restore mother nature” makes sense.
Rather than strain the current operating budget – already burdened by a projected $6.1 billion deficit – borrowing the money through a long-term bond lets future generations help pay for it, the concept of intergenerational equity. It is to future generations, as Cuomo said Wednesday, that we owe “a cleaner and greener” planet.
New York State’s natural resources must be protected and enhanced. Some of the projects the bond act would fund include:
• Guarding streams and lakes from invasive species, such as algal blooms.
• Creating a “conservation corridors program” to restore habitats for fish and wildlife.
• Stocking more fish and building more boat launches to expand sport fishing tourism and commercial fishing.
• Upgrading dams and finding “nature-based” solutions to reduce flooding, which is a particular threat along Lake Ontario;
• Restoring up to 10,000 acres of wetlands.
State lawmakers would have to approve the plan, then it would be left up to voters in November.
Reimagining the Erie Canal
Bolstering the Erie Canal is a worthy cause for upstate and its heritage. The governor proposed $300 million to do just that, funded through the New York Power Authority.
The plan apparently does not include shutting down the canal at points between Buffalo and Albany as a means to control invasive species. That had been recommended in a consultant’s report to the Reimagine the Canals Task Force in 2019. Preservation groups are pleased to see that proposal not gaining traction, though it may resurface as the task force’s proposals for the necessary work of stopping invasive species is studied further.
In the program’s first phase, a $100 million economic development fund will be created to support various projects along the canal.
Of particular interest here: A plan to establish an irrigation district in Western New York, to ensure that farmers have reliable access to water during summer drought periods.