Land Banks: Balancing Land Conservation and Economic Development

Earlier this year Governor Cuomo announced the acquisition of 70,000 acres in the heart of the Adirondacks. A certain parcel of that land, the Boreas Pond Tract, is extremely ecologically sensitive and many groups have called for the Governor to declare the land as “Forever Wild”, a designation that would strictly limit human activity within it.

There are many benefits to acquiring land for the State Forest Preserve, but it can often make life difficult for residents who live in and around the acquired area because of the limits to new development. A recently passed bill seeks to ease this burden. The bill will amend the New York State Constitution to designate a certain amount of lands in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks for the installation of basic amenities, so that surrounding residents can have the access they need to these amenities. Because of the success of this bill, it is more reasonable for the Governor to declare the State’s recently acquired Boreas Ponds Tract as “Forever Wild”.

While the Adirondack Forest Preserve is excellent from a conservation standpoint, occasionally in the past these lands have made life difficult for residents who live in or around the area. Formerly, an individual constitutional amendment decided by a voter referendum was required for each proposed project on preserved land. This time-consuming and expensive process to install basic amenities such as broadband or a water well put significant restraints on small local economies. Fortunately, a bill was passed this legislative session to amend part of the New York State Constitution and create a land bank for certain public projects, removing the need for an amendment in each instance.

This constitutional amendment created a 750-acre land bank for the Adirondack and Catskill Parks for the use of installing utility lines, bicycles paths, and other limited public projects when no feasible alternative exists. The Amendment and implementing legislation impose careful restrictions on the projects and require that acreage taken from the Forest Preserve be replaced with an equal amount. If the Catskill and Adirondack Parks are to remain sustainable for future generations, current communities must be able to exist effectively alongside the preserves.

The passage of this bill makes it more viable for Governor Cuomo to declare the Boreas Pond Tract as “Forever Wild”, protecting the New York’s valuable resources while ensuring liveability for local residents.