For years, Warren County leaders have debated replacing an out-of-service bridge over the Schroon River with a new bridge a few miles north. But part of the land the bridge would cross is considered state “forest preserve” that can’t be used for such a project without a constitutional amendment.
Legislation introduced in the state Senate this week by Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, could help the county overcome that obstacle by creating a “land bank” of property that could essentially be traded by the county to the state in exchange for permission to pursue an infrastructure project over state land. Those projects would include bridges, utility work, bike paths, road construction and water supply work.
Separate banks would be created in the Adirondacks and the Catskills.
“This proposal provides a smart and reasonable way forward for small projects that are necessary, legally appropriate and address a pressing need,” Little said in a news release.
Little’s bills have gotten support from several Adirondack environmental groups, and Common Ground Alliance, Adirondack Council and Nature Conservancy as well as the New York State Association of Counties have sent letters of support for the two bills introduced by Little to set aside the land. Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, said the Warren County board will be asked to support it as well.
One of the bills passed the Senate 58-2 on Thursday. State Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, supports it and has helped Little in trying to find a sponsor in the Assembly.
Stec, ranking minority member of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, said he was optimistic companion legislation would be introduced next week. He pointed to a matter in Raquette Lake where the town had to go to the trouble to seek a constitutional amendment to drill a water well that involved use of state land.
“It’s an important issue. This would make the process so much simpler for municipalities,” he said.
Municipalities can get permission to cross state forest preserve if needed, but without a land trade-off, a constitutional amendment is needed in each situation, a process that can take years and requires a referendum.
Little’s proposal would set aside 500 acres for tradeoff by municipalities and counties in the Adirondack Park and 250 in the Catskills.
There are some caveats, such as the following:
No individual project could use more than 5 acres of state land.
Unless otherwise authorized by the state Legislature, a town would be able to use up to 10 acres in total from the land bank and a county up to 15 acres.
All projects would need to conform with permits or authorizations required by law and be vetted through public hearings.
Before the land bank is utilized for a project, the DEC would need to determine that a feasible alternative on land not owned by the state does not exist, environmental impacts are minimized and the proposed project does not adversely impact lands that have critical environmental or recreational value.
Little’s bill would require a statewide referendum to create the land bank, likely next year if the bills pass the Legislature and are endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Under state law, the bills would have to pass the Legislature for two consecutive years.
Dan MacEntee, a spokesman for Little, said the Schroon River bridge proposal in Horicon has been cited as an example of a project that would be helped by a land bank program.
Details of the land banks themselves were still to be determined.
“The state land that will be purchased to create the land bank has not yet been identified,” MacEntee said. “Given that the proposed amendment and enabling legislation will need to pass the Legislature again, there’s ample time to identify the land.”