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Constitutional Convention (ADK OPPOSES )

Every 20 years there's a popular vote on proposing to amend the state constitution. Article 14 is unique to the New York State Constitution in that the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves are the only constitutional protected forest lands in the world. This November voters will get to decide if there should be a constitutional convention. If voters turn it down, nothing happens for 20 years. If approved, then in November, 2018 delegates to the convention will be approved by the voters. Three delegates are chosen for each Senate District. Fifteen are selected at large. The Governor and legislature are quite involved on the delegates who are selected. Between April 1st and Sept 2019, the constitutional convention will meet in Albany and work on changes to constitution, which could include drastic revisions or eliminating Article 14. Delegates (1) can propose all the changes as one package or (2) separate each change to be voted on separately by the voters. Amendments adopted by a majority of the delegates will be submitted to the voters for approval or rejection in a statewide referendum, at an election held at least six weeks after the Convention adjourns. Any amendments that the voters approve will go into effect on the January 1 following their approval.

ADK has expressed concerns. The idea of privately operated huts and campgrounds in the interior is being proposed. Towns are pushing for a constitutional convention because they see an end to snowmobiling as a result of climate change, so they want the constitution changed to allow ATV use in the Forest Preserve. Good Government groups support a constitutional convention. Other groups such as the Adirondack Council and unions are opposed. Teachers and retired government workers are opposed since the current state constitution (Article 5) protects tenure and life time retirement benefits.

Land Bank Amendments (ADK SUPPORTS)

Since New York State has highways in Adirondack and Catskill Parks which cross stretches of forest preserve a land bank amendment was created in the 1950's so that every time a road needed to change for safety reasons, it would not require a constitutional amendment. Consequently, a 400 acre landbank was created to withdraw acreage as needed from the land bank. DOT has used it very sparingly. There is still 140 acres left. However, this land bank only benefited state highways. Local officials in Adirondack and Catskills have express similar needs for town and county roads and would like a similar land bank. New York State's Constitution protects the State's forest preserve as wild forest land and generally prohibits the lease, sale, exchange, or taking of any forest preserve land. The proposed amendment will create two exceptions to this broad protection of the forest preserve to make it easier for municipalities to undertake certain health and safety projects.

First, if passed, the proposed amendment will create a land account of up to 250 acres of forest preserve land. A town, village, or county can apply to the land account if it has no viable alternative to using forest preserve land for certain limited health and safety purposes. Those purposes are (1) to address bridge hazards or safety on county highways and certain town highways; (2) to eliminate the hazards of dangerous curves and grades on county highways and certain town highways; (3) to relocate, reconstruct, and maintain county highways and certain town highways; and (4) for water wells and necessary related accessories located within 530 feet of a state highway, county highway, or certain town highway, where needed to meet drinking water quality standards. The State will acquire 250 acres, subject to approval by the Legislature, to incorporate into the forest preserve to replace the land placed in the health and safety land account.

Second, if passed, the proposed amendment will allow bicycle paths and specified types of public utility lines to be located within the widths of state, county, and certain town highways that traverse forest preserve land. The work on the bicycle paths and utility lines must minimize the removal of trees and vegetation. And, if passed, the proposed amendment will allow a stabilization device (such as a guy wire) for an existing utility pole to be located near the width of a highway when necessary to ensure public health and safety and when no other viable option exists. The proposed amendment expressly will not permit the construction of a new intrastate gas or oil pipeline that did not receive necessary state and local permits and approvals by June 1, 2016.

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If you have questions or want to know more about conservation issues, please contact David Pisaneschi at: dapadk@gmail.com or 459-5969.

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