The Adirondacks were given plenty of ink in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2015-2016 budget, including seed money for an “invasive strategy” for the entire Adirondack Park.
The budget calls for a $10 million boost to the Environmental Protection Fund — to $172 million — and for using $5.7 million of that for invasive species control. That is $1 million higher than the amount included in the 2014-15 budget.
“To protect the Adirondacks from invasive species, the DEC will work in partnership with local governments, environmental groups, lake associations, and community organizations to develop an Adirondacks invasive strategy, using seed money” from the proposed increase, according to Cuomo’s plan.
The state Invasive Species Council recommended working toward a $10 million annual investment statewide.
The boost to the Environmental Protection Fund would be dispersed among 14 categories, including land conservation, stewardship, invasive species control and prevention, and grants to groups that support state parks.
Lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly are working to complete a budget before April. If this increase passes, the protection fund will have gone up 28 percent since Cuomo took office. The Adirondack Council is asking the Legislature to increase the fund to $200 million, with the goal of restoring it eventually to the $300 million level it once had.
The fund was created in 1993 and serves as the state’s dedicated funding for a variety of environmental programs, including open space and farmland protection, water quality, recycling, park development, historic preservation, zoos and botanical gardens, regional planning and waterfront revitalization.
“I think it’s likely that you’ll see the EPF go up. Will we land on what the governor proposed? Will it be slightly more or less? That’s a guess. We won’t know for a few more weeks. I’d be surprised if it did not go up. How much of that will go into the Adirondack Park invasive species plan? Who knows?” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, who sits on the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee.
According to Cuomo’s deputies, details aren’t done yet, but they are working with advocates who want a parkwide plan to fight invasive plants and animals.
In total, Cuomo’s budget proposes an increase for the DEC of $11 million, to $898 million. According to an analysis by Adirondack Council’s Legislative Director Kevin Chlad, some of that increase would restore DEC staffing in wildlife habitat and in the forest ranger ranks.
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DEC spokesman Tom Mailey did not return a call Tuesday.
Stec said he did not have details on how the invasive species funding would be broken down.
“I just think it makes sense that, since it is a parkwide or statewide problem, addressing it on a broader geographic area is going to be probably more cost-effective in the long run and more successful. It’s a logical extension to say Lake George has done some cutting-edge stuff here as far as the effort put in. Going forward we need to take the next step,” Stec said.
Cuomo’s budget also mentions a need for infrastructure spending on roads and bridges and water and sewer. Several water line breaks have taken place in the local area this winter.
Stec said funding to improve broadband Internet access with a $1 billion New NY Broadband Program in the Adirondacks is “critically important.” In New York, about 500,000 households lack access to state-defined minimum broadband speeds.
Fund for Lake George Executive Director Eric Siy said the governor’s budget is “a huge step in the right direction.”
“Considering how vulnerable and valuable the waters of the Adirondacks are, the time is now. The time was yesterday for such a program. We delay any longer at our peril, given the species coming our way and the destruction they will have on these fragile resources,” Siy said. “I think people are very enthusiastic over the fact that the governor has recognized the need and is ready to step up to the plate and show leadership that is required. We know it’s going to take leadership from Albany for this to happen on a fast track.”
Siy and Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, have been advocating for a parkwide invasive species plan, working with state officials and about 50 groups that support such a plan, including lake associations, sportsmen and women, municipalities and environmental groups.
A memorandum of understanding will be circulated and put up for adoption around the park that calls for the formation of such a strategy, a move out of the same playbook that formed the Save Lake George Partnership that helped front half the money for Lake George’s mandatory inspection and boat-washing program.
“It’s not completely clear right at this time because there weren’t any details. It was just a number in the budget,” Monroe said of the $1 million proposal.
The memorandum was crafted with input from numerous groups and is not binding, but shows support for the creation of a parkwide program that would include 30 boat-decontamiantion stations — in addition to the six on Lake George and Loon Lake — at a cost of $750,000. Annual operating expenses are estimated at $1.5 million.
Follow Amanda May Metzger on Twitter @AmandaWhistle or read her blog at www.poststar.com.