LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – During Tuesday’s midterm election, one item on the New York agenda sought to empower the state with a stronger set of tools for tackling climate change, pollution and a greener future. Voters approved the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, marking $4.2 billion in state funds to go to environmental projects.
The bond act frees up money for use in places such as wetland and stream restoration; flood risk reduction; water quality infrastructure; land conservation; and climate change mitigation, with a focus on green building projects. Now that the act has been approved – at around 68% approval as of election night tallies – communities across the state are interested.
The Adirondack Park is more than a single one of those communities, but even at 6 million acres, the North Country region is unified in its interest in state aid. As of early Wednesday, multiple Adirondack preservation and stewardship organizations were already singing the praises of things to come.
“Wow! That was a great outcome,” wrote William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council preservation group. “We are thrilled to see that it passed so easily statewide, but we didn’t take for granted that it would pass in the Adirondacks too. We did a lot of voter education work prior to Election Day, so we are very pleased with all the support.”
The Adirondack Council follows a mission of research and public education regarding ecological threats to the Adirondacks, both natural and manmade. The Council’s hopes for the bond funding include the reduction of air pollution in Adirondack schools, targeting gas- and diesel-power school buses for replacement with electric ones. The organization has also identified over $200 million in clean drinking water and wastewater treatment projects that will have to be paid for by communities, and which could face insurmountable challenges without the help.
Another topic the Council is eyeing regards some land that has come under scrutiny by Adirondack groups. The 33,000-acre Whitney Estate, an area of Long Lake property formerly owned by Saratoga Racecourse icon Marylou Whitney, is in need of protection.
“We expect that it will take both public and private parties working together to produce a plan that protects the tract’s forests, while also respecting some of the historic structures and recreational opportunities that aren’t compatible with wilderness protection,” said Janeway. “Right now, there is a subdivision plan on the property. We’d like to prevent that and protect as much of it intact as possible.”
The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), a group specializing in outdoor recreation and education around the park’s mountains and trails, has its own hopes for the bond act. The organization said that some of that money will go to the safeguarding of clean drinking water, including the replacement of lead pipes and upgrading of stream crossings. Expansions for parks, campgrounds and nature centers will also be on that list – as will work to improve the park’s climate resiliency.
“With the passage of the Bond Act, New Yorkers have taken an important step toward building resilient communities for an increasingly unpredictable climate,” said Cathy Pedler, Adirondack Mountain Club Director of Advocacy. “We look forward to seeing this funding at work in the Adirondacks and Catskills, and in supporting sustainable recreation infrastructure that will help regional economies thrive.”
Meanwhile, Lake George has its own protectors. The Lake George Association works in invasive species management, pollution issues and whatever else it takes to keep the lake clean.
“With $650 million allocated for water quality projects, we can envision a multitude of ways in which these funds can address our Lake’s greatest water quality threats, including harmful algal blooms, stormwater pollution, and aging and failing septic systems,” said Lake George Association Eric Siy. “Lake George is a priceless resource for all New Yorkers, and the investment of Bond Act dollars can help ensure its sustained protection.”
Who said yes, who said no
There are 12 New York counties that can be counted as part of the Adirondack Park. The region reaches as far south as parts of Saratoga and Fulton counties, and all the way north to Clinton, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.
On Tuesday, 10 of those 12 counties said yes to the bond act. According to the New York State Board of Elections, the two that voted no were Hamilton County and Lewis County. Those two counties are ranked as the least populated in the Adirondacks. As of the 2020 census, Hamilton County ranked as the least populated New York county at 5,107 people, with Lewis County coming in as fourth-lowest at 26,582.
Of the remaining 10 Adirondack counties, all said OK by a double-digit margin. Warren County provided the largest swath of votes in favor, at 69% compared to 28% against.
When looking towards the future, it’s worth noting that not all of the Adirondack Park’s 9,300 square miles are protected from certain types of activity. As of 2022, just under half is protected from logging and exploitative practices by the constitution. Now, the groups working to keep that protection alive see the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act as a new tool in their arsenal.
“Yesterday, New York could not really participate. Yesterday, New York could not really participate. Now it can, if a fair market price can be agreed to,” Janeway said.