Imagine if every time you wanted to make a tiny improvement or repair on your property you had to get two approvals from your local government board over two years and then a majority vote of everyone in your community.
That, pretty much, has been the situation with towns and villages wanting to make changes to land protected by Article 14 of the New York State Constitution, well-known in this area as the “forever wild” provision. It regulates actions in the combined 3 million acres of Forest Preserve in the Adirondack Park and Catskill Park.
As it stands now, land changes in the Forest Preserve require passage by two separate sessions of the New York State Legislature and then a statewide public vote approving the constitutional amendment — by no means an easy task.
Proposal 3, on election ballots statewide this year, won't change anything as far as substantial land use is concerned, but it would help towns and villages ease through small-scale projects.
Right now, it is difficult for a community to expand utilities (like broadband or phone), reroute power lines, build bike paths, replace a culvert, run natural-gas lines or straighten out a dangerous curve on a road.
Proposal 3 would establish a new 250-acre "land bank." If communities in the Adirondack and Catskill parks need to make small changes in the Forest Preserve, use of that property would be offset by the land bank. The projects to be covered could disturb only small pieces of preserve land.
"We have places where the curves in the roads are ridiculous; but it's Forest Preserve, so you can't take down a tree when you need to straighten out," State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said, as an example.
Little promises the change would include strong safeguards, with all projects monitored by the State Department of Environmental Conservation or the State Department of Transportation.
She led an effort to gain broad support for the proposal, earning endorsements from a wide range of environmental, business and government groups.
The Adirondack Council, the State Conservative Party and the New York State Association of Counties are among the sometimes adversaries who see the sense in approving this constitutional change.
The Association of Counties noted that local governments have had to give up on simple public-safety projects because of the current restrictions.
John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council said the measure "will make it easier for communities to remain modern and be sustainable. It will also help people avoid becoming too frustrated with the constraints of the forest preserve."
He pointed out that for projects that impact more than a mile of road in the Forest Preserve, governments will still need to go to the State Legislature and the public for constitutional amendments. This is solely for small changes.
As precious as our environment is, people in the parks still need to be able to live safely, experience progress and enjoy the outdoors.
Proposal 3 is on the back of the ballot, so be sure to flip it over to give your support to this sensible solution, which could boost broadband and eliminate hazards while still protecting our beautiful Adirondacks.