There is a concerted effort by a wide range of interests to get New York voters to approve Proposition Three on the November ballot two weeks from now. It would create a land bank to allow communities in the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve to accomplish small projects without the need to amend the state constitution.
Article 14 of the New York Constitution includes the Forever Wild clause protecting the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve. For communities that want to upgrade utilities, roads and other critical infrastructure that abut the forever wild lands, a constitutional amendment has been required. For example, in 1995 a constitutional amendment was passed to allow the Town of Keene to expand its cemetery.
Proposition 3 is supported by environmental, municipal, recreational, and business groups across the state. It asks voters to approve a Public Health and Safety Land Account. If approved it would amend article 14, the “Forever Wild” clause, to create a land bank to allow local communities in the forest preserve areas of the Adirondacks and Catskills to complete small municipal projects without needing amendments.
At a recent meeting, New York state Senator Betty Little asked local businesspeople to support the measure. “If you needed to drill a well or you needed to actually take a curve out of a road and you needed half an acre, two acres, you could get it from the land bank. So you would not have to go for a constitutional amendment for each and every thing that we have done in the past. And we have the total support of the environmental community.”
Proposition 3 is on the back of the ballot and Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas said a major concern is that voters will ignore it or associate it with the Constitutional Convention question. “Whether there's going to be a state constitutional convention is the first ballot measure on that back of the ballot and we know that that's controversial. There's some concern that people who don't know what the other couple of things on there are may vote no down the line without understanding what they're voting no against. So there's a Proposition Three that is good news according to everybody for the Adirondack region.”
Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe says the measure includes safeguards to continue to protect the Forest Preserve. “This proposal would amend the procedure to allow the legislature to approve these projects you know and only in conditions where there's no other alternative. It would have to be demonstrated to the state. So it would just be a streamlined procedure and avoid the very wasteful time consuming process and cost of a constitutional amendment for each individual small scale project.”
Catskill Center for Conservation and Development Executive Director Jeff Senterman hopes to see utility upgrades and enhanced broadband opportunities if the measure passes. “There are just necessary projects that many communities come up against here in the Catskills and in the Adirondacks where there is an overriding public need whether it's a road fix or a bridge repair or if a water system is failing and there's improvements that need to be made or fixes that need to happen. And we see this is as a win-win. We're adding land to the Forest Preserve in the amount of 250 acres. If there are larger projects those will not be projects that would be able to go through the land bank.”
Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages President Brian Towers says part of the challenge is getting voters to comprehend the size of the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve. “I think the real challenge for us is two sided in that there is a huge effort that wants you to just vote no across the board. The other challenge is those that lives in the I'm going to call it the inner city where we did some survey work and the responses you get from some people is ‘well the animals need to live somewhere too.’ You know they don't understand how vast the Catskill and the Adirondack parks are and I don't know how you get past that.”