The state Assembly this week took the final action needed to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot statewide in November to streamline the process of exchanging public and private land in the Adirondack Park for public benefit purposes.
State legislators, local government officials and environmental groups are all heralding it as an example of collaboration for the good of all.
“This has been a decades-long wish list item for local governments,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury.
“We are pleased to have been part of the team of stakeholders who helped reach this agreement,” said Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council.
Voters statewide will determine in November whether to set aside a 250-acre “land bank” of state-owned land in the Adirondack and Catskill parks that could be swapped on a case-by-case basis with private land for “health and safety” projects, such as installing water, sewer and broad band infrastructure or adding bicycle lanes to highways, with approval of the state Legislature.
Often in the Adirondack Park, roads abut directly with state Forest Preserve land, and a sliver of land is needed next to the road in order to install infrastructure, Stec said.
Now, a separate constitutional amendment is required for each individual land swap, which can be a cumbersome process and take several years to achieve.
The Legislature must pass the amendment, with exactly the same language, in two consecutive two-year legislative sessions and then voters must approve it.
In the case of the land bank amendment, the state Senate passed it for a second time in April, but the Assembly had not passed it before taking its summer and fall recess.
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State Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, speaking at the EDC Warren County annual lunch and membership meeting on Tuesday, said she hoped the Assembly would pass the legislation in time to put it on the ballot in November.
“If they don’t, we have to start (the process) all over again,” she said.
The Assembly passed the legislation on Wednesday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the Legislature back into session.
Also, the Assembly and Senate each passed related legislation, establishing procedures and parameters for the land swap program as part of a package of legislation both houses approved during the extraordinary session.
Assembly leaders wanted the related legislation in place before the referendum, Stec said.
The Adirondack Council and other environmental organizations felt having the related legislation in place would avoid confusion with voters in November, Janeway said.
“Having all the details available before Election Day should improve voter confidence,” he said.
Stec thanked Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Steve Englebright, D-Long Island, for working with him, Little and Assemblyman Billy Jones, R-Plattsburgh, to pass the legislation.
“We landed on a good spot,” Stec said.