ADK supported two proposed amendments to the New York State Constitution in the 2017 regular session. The first of these is the Forest Preserve Health and Safety Land Account (i.e., a land bank), which passed both the Senate and the Assembly in 2016. This legislation is a joint resolution of the Senate and the Assembly to amend the “Forever Wild” Article XIV of the New York State Constitution. Senator Little and Assemblymember Englebright introduced the legislation as S2414 and A8301. The legislation was passed and finalized on June 28 during the governor’s special session.
The amendment will permit public utility lines (limited to electric, telephone, broadband, and water or sewer lines) to be buried or co-located in the widths of state, county, or town highways and their legal rights-of-way in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. Bicycle paths will also be allowed to be constructed and maintained within the widths of highway rights-of-way. The constitutional amendment would authorize the creation of a 250-acre land bank shared between the two parks which would be used to eliminate bridge hazards, dangerous curves, and dangerous grades on county or town highways, and would permit new water wells when necessary for communities to meet drinking water quality standards. The land bank will only be tapped when there is no other way to do the project. Every acre used for these projects from the land bank will be paid for by payments into the state Forest Preserve Expansion Fund.
Second passage of the Forest Preserve Health and Safety Land Account was required before it could be put to a vote of New York State citizens as a ballot measure this November. It was critical that enabling legislation be passed concurrently with the second passage of this joint resolution to amend the New York State Constitution’s Article XIV, which protects the “Forever Wild” Forest Preserve.
The legislation that enacts the Forest Preserve Health and Safety Land Account constitutional amendment (i.e., enabling legislation) was introduced as S2608-B by Senator Little, and as A8300-A by Assemblymember Englebright. Senator Little pushed her version of the enabling legislation through the Senate late in the regular session. However, the Senate and Assembly did not agree on bill content until the governor’s special session. The final negotiated Forest Preserve Health and Safety Land Account enabling legislation was passed as Part L of A40001 by Assemblymember Heastie. This legislation was a compilation of various issues “deemed necessary for the state” by a “message of necessity” from the governor. If the amendment and its enabling bill had not passed the legislature during the special session, this multi-year process would have to have been restarted in January 2018.
The result is a tightly crafted constitutional amendment that will increase public safety and quality of life in the Adirondack Park and the Catskill Parks, while ensuring protection of the “Forever Wild” Forest Preserve. We hope voters will support this modest constitutional amendment, which will impact very little Forest Preserve in the Catskills and Adirondacks and will allow important community projects to go forward. New Forest Preserve will be bought with the community payments.