Though North Country lawmakers have been frustrated with a 2017-18 state budget process that was nearly a week late and not finished as of Thursday morning, several major Adirondack projects have been officially given the green light thanks to the passage of a $40 billion budget extender.
The $32 million "Gateway to the Adirondacks" at the former Frontier Town theme park in North Hudson is officially a go. The state's plan is to transform 300 acres at Exit 29 of the Adirondack Northway (Interstate 87) into a tourism hub that features a visitor information center, a state Department of Environmental Conservation campground and day-use area along the Schroon River, an equestrian center, an event center with tourist accommodations and facilities for hosting shows and festivals.
Areas designated for commercial business development and historic interactive exhibits about the Adirondack Park are also planned as the project is moving along at a brisk pace.
The main lodge at the former Frontier Town is seen in January as plans were announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to create a “gateway to the Adirondacks” on this site.
(News photo —?Justin Levine)
The budget extender agreed upon on Monday also includes the $28 million for state-owned ski facilities such as Whiteface Mountain. The monies will help to bring new kinds of tourist attractions to the area, such as a "mountain coaster" to Mount Van Hoevenberg and a zip line to Whiteface Mountain while also providing for lodging and retail improvements.
The $38 million to overhaul Plattsburgh International Airport also were given the go-ahead.
In an email statement issued through her spokesman Dan MacEntee, North Country state Sen. Betty Little described needing to pass the budget extender as a disappointment though it officially provides the Adirondack-area with millions in funding.
"That will benefit the North Country economy in the years ahead," she said, "including funding for Whiteface and Gore, our Olympic facilities and the tourism and economic development project at the former Frontiertown."
Little also highlighted the $300 million that the state Senate, Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to provide the Environmental Protection Fund, which supports projects and programs in the North Country such as fighting against invasive species.
Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway said the funding will support land acquisition, farmland protection, state land stewardship, local community Smart Growth grants, Climate Smart Communities initiatives, parks and clean water projects.
Adirondack Park Agency Chairman Sherman Craig applauded the state government for the funding for the EPF, the highest level in the history of the state.
"(It) includes $70 million in capital funding to improve access to State lands, rehabilitate campgrounds and update DEC facilities, and makes available $725 million for local government to address clean water needs," Craig said of the budget extender bill in a statement.
Little, however, expressed that she still has outlying concerns regarding funding for education, farming and other issues.
"The extender doesn't cover things like school aid," she said. "It doesn't cover some of our agricultural programs or funding for some of the not-for-profits that provide critical services. We're negotiating, hoping to reach a resolution very soon to complete this budget. It isn't for lack of will. There are very different priorities across this diverse state and everyone is fighting for what they believe is needed."
The state's budget extender bill did also authorize $2.5 billion in new funding for major clean water projects statewide, something the Adirondack Council was pleased with.
"The additional $2.5 billion in Clean Water funding - over perhaps five years - will provide a huge boost in available grants to communities for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, and will help address impacts of road salt," Janeway said in a statement.
Janeway also noted that the individual categories of eligible projects for the EPF and the clean water grants are expected to be subject to further negotiations.
He said the EPF passed this week by both houses was the Governor's proposal from January and didn't reflect either house's negotiations since that time. The Governor, Senate and Assembly's EPF proposals all contained $300 million, but all three had different spending priorities, he claimed.
As for the clean water funding, the Adirondack Council identified the following as highlights: $245 million for Water Quality Improvement Projects that reduce polluted runoff, improve water quality and restore habitat in New York's waterbodies; $25 million for road salt management projects; $110 million for source water protection projects such as the purchase of lands and waters; and $75 million for septic system and cesspool upgrades and replacements.
The Adirondack Council did express concern, however, that the extender bill didn't include funding for staffing at state agencies. The Council wrote how staffing to manage the Adirondack Park's public lands and waters are down 25 percent, and many advocates are calling for targeted restorations.
The council also feels an update is needed for the timberland tax-abatement program to provide greater incentives for sustainable, private forestry practices.