New York’s parks are aging.
Many state campgrounds and park buildings are causing water pollution in nearby lakes and rivers, and a number of buildings are inaccessible to people with disabilities, according to the Adirondack Council.
The group praised Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal, made last week in his State of the State address, to invest $100 million in the state’s aging park systems. The money would be used to upgrade park infrastructure, including buildings and wastewater treatment/sanitary facilities, and to make existing and new buildings accessible to people with disabilities.
“Handicapped accessibility is a big problem,” said John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council. “There needs to be access to bathrooms, hiking trails, boat launches.”
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, echoed Sheehan’s comments.
“More than 55 million people visit state parks each year, so viable parks with attractive and up-to-date facilities are vital to New York’s economy, particularly upstate,” he said.
Spitzer’s State of the State address contained two other major environmental proposals: smart metering, which would change the way power companies bill their customers by allowing consumers to take advantage of off-peak power rates when running appliances such as dishwashers and irrigation pumps, and net metering, which would require power companies to buy back excess power generated by clean power generating equipment such as solar panels and small wind turbines. Right now, residents who use clean energy receive compensation for excess energy, but that option isn’t available to businesses.
“We’re extremely happy [Spitzer] flagged energy issues,” said Marcia Bystryn, executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “Energy policy is one of the most important issues confronting the state.”
Sheehan said that several owners of large Adirondack camps and resort compounds have said they would invest in clean energy if they could sell their power back to the grid.
“If they’re open for a few months of the year and they’re generating electricity for 12 months, that could cover their entire bill,” he said.
Net metering, said Jason Babbie, the senior environmental policy analyst for the New York Public Interest Research Group, “is one of those issues that’s kind of wonky but sort of important.”
With smart metering, customers can be billed based on their actual use of electricity in hourly or daily intervals. The idea is that the customer can then determine when to use electricity, based on price. Energy prices often spike during periods of peak demand; if enough customers reduced their energy consumption during peak demand, they could lower energy prices for all customers.
Already, the Public Service Commission has directed electric utilities to file comprehensive plans for the development and deployment of advanced metering systems. Four of the six investor-owned utilities filed smart metering proposals calling for replacing 6.67 million meters at an average installed cost of $158 per meter. The PSC has directed certain utilities to develop pilot programs and in the next several months will decide whether other utilities should fully deploy smart meters.
Meanwhile, environmentalists were also enthusiastic about a proposal to transform the dormant Poughkeepsie Rail Bridge into a historic park with a walkway and bikeway that “will create a unique public space with breathtaking views of the Hudson,” according to Spitzer.
Bystryn said she would have liked to hear Spitzer mention the need to clean up polluted brownfields. It’s also time, she said, for the state to develop an energy plan that projects what energy demand will be in the future and how the state will meet it.
Babbie said he would have liked to hear Spitzer talk more about the state’s efforts to fight global warming. Last year, the state created a new Climate Change Office that, among other things, will oversee New York’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states.
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