The Adirondacks are full of little communities that don’t need even one traffic light and maybe never will, but they definitely need better water and sewer systems.
They just can’t afford them.
State officials are now stepping in to help, offering to pay up to 60 percent of the costs. The new state budget includes $50 million for this year and a promise of $150 million more in the next two years, with the money to go toward paying for infrastructure that’s needed to keep drinking water clean, toilets flushing and lakes that so many North Country hamlets border unpolluted, or at least reasonably unpolluted.
It was a conservation group, the Adirondack Council, that really pushed Albany for the funding, but elected officials quickly signed on, sending a letter whose signers included state Sens. Betty Little, Kathy Marchione and Hugh Farley.
“This will help the small communities where these kinds of projects are cost-prohibitive,” said Dan Entee, a spokesman for Little, who represents most of the Adirondack Park, her district bigger than some states.
It’s seen as an economic development issue: Tourism-reliant communities from Long Lake to Inlet need better water and sewer infrastructure to handle visitors, whether they’re on a day trip or spending a night. Not infrequently, in my experience, it’s basic biology that forces the need to stop in the first place; any Stewart’s in the Adirondacks can attest to the restroom queues.
“We have world-class scenery and recreational opportunities in the Adirondacks, but we don’t yet have the world-class drinking water and wastewater treatment systems we need to protect the environment and public health,” said William C. Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council.
The budget boosts the Environmental Protection Fund by $15 million, bringing it to $177 million and closer to the day when a few more world-class sceneries will be open to the public.
The open space portion of the EPF will be getting $26.5 million, up by $4.9 million from this year. There is also $1 million for invasive species control across the Adirondacks, and $450,000 for the second year of the mandatory boat inspection program at Lake George is also included.
The state is in the process of acquiring 69,000 acres of former Finch Pruyn land in the Adirondacks from The Nature Conservancy. The $49.8 million deal struck in 2012 is being spread over five years, but the state has already bought the Essex Chain of Lakes, the Indian River and OK Slips Falls tracts, opening them to hikers and other users.
The two big parcels yet to be transferred are the 6,200-acre McIntyre East property between the High Peaks and
Tahawus, which includes the confluence of the newborn Hudson and the Opalescent River, and the 20,500-acre Boreas Ponds property, with up-close views of the High Peaks.
The Nature Conservancy is glad there’s EPF money, but isn’t going out on any limbs.
“We’re working with New York state to make these contracts happen. The timing, I can’t say,” Adirondack Nature Conservancy spokeswoman Connie Prickett told me. “We’re holding some really special lands we think will make fabulous additions to the Forest Preserve.”
For those worried about the potential risks of long oil trains rolling through the Capital Region, Mohawk Valley and Adirondacks, the $25 million oil spill response fund has been increased to $40 million. For the first time, some money was set aside for emergency response training. Up to $2.1 million will be available to train local and state first-responders in how to handle what could be a potentially explosive derailment.
The northbound rest area on the Northway in Queensbury will be getting a $1 million makeover.
Recognizing why that rest area is really important, most of the money is going to be used for bathroom upgrades and replacing the septic system. But any cash left over will go toward putting a new roof between the bathrooms and the welcome center, and maybe to pay for new welcome signs.
“First impressions are lasting ones,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury. “The renovation of this rest area is much needed and will have a positive impact on area tourism.”