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NYSNYS NEWS: Conservation groups want Cuomo to increase Environmental Protection Fund program to $200 million.
NYSNYS News
NYSNYS NEWS: Conservation groups want Cuomo to increase Environmental Protection Fund program to $200 million.



By Kyle Hughes

NYSNYS News




ALBANY, N.Y. (January 13) – Conservation groups called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday to provide more money for the state's Environmental Protection Fund, which was raided to close budget gaps in the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown.



The fund hit a high of $255 million, but was reduced to $134 million under former Gov. David Paterson. It has since risen to a current level of $162 million. With the state's revenue prospects brightening, the groups want the funding to be restored to at least $200 million.



The money is used for open space projects and parks, recreation and historic preservation programs. It is raised by setting aside a portion of real estate transfer tax collections into a trust fund that was created in 1993.



"We're hopeful that given there is a surplus this year we will see further restorations in the fund," Jessica Ottney, the Nature Conservancy's Albany lobbyist, said.



Her group signed on to a report issued Tuesday by Scenic Hudson that detailed how prior open-space projects funded with EPF money proved to be beneficial to New York.



Past projects include:



• $340,651 for Homestead Farms in Brunswick. "EPF funding is supporting the acquisition of a conservation easement on this 165- acre farm located five miles from the City of Troy," the report says. "Current farmers Rich and Linda Bulson—just the third family to own this land, continuously farmed since the late 1700s—are ready to retire and transfer the operations. The easement will enable Zack and Ann Metzger, young farmers who have transitioned from being the Bulsons’ employees to leasing portions of the land, to acquire the property at an affordable price, fulfilling the Bulsons’ long-held commitment to secure its permanent use as a farm. Homestead Farms offers more than 150 varieties of vegetables and flowers, as well as chickens, beef, pork and turkey, through a Community Supported Agriculture operation and at the Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market."



• Flood control and protection on the Hudson River waterfronts in Kingston, Catskill and Piermont. "When Tropical Storms Irene and Lee and Superstorm Sandy hit Hudson Riverfront communities in 2011 and 2012, they experienced unprecedented flooding that damaged homes, businesses and municipal infrastructure," the report says. "State/federal funding supported the convening of task forces in Catskill, Kingston and Piermont to prepare for sea-level rise and future catastrophic weather events. Additional EPF funding would allow these communities to achieve more flood-resilient coastlines through the protection of coastal tidal wetlands and other open space along their shores. These critical buffer zones will reduce flooding impacts and sustain river-based economic development."



• $1.2 million for the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Connectivity Project in New Paltz. "This multi-year initiative includes acquiring and making park improvements on 857 acres of open space between the Village of New Paltz and Mohonk Preserve, permanently protecting iconic views of Sky Top and Bonticou Crag while facilitating public access by car or bicycle via new, off-road trailheads," the report says. "In addition, the initiative will connect the preserve’s multi-use recreational carriage roads to the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail—whose length was recently doubled through a separate acquisition by the Open Space Institute and the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (an independent transaction also supported by EPF funds). Further, the project will provide an important link in the strategic plan to establish a “river-to-ridge” trail network with Walkway Over the Hudson, the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, and the envisioned Kingston Greenline and Ashokan Rail Trail."



• $6.7 million for the Finch Lands property in the Adirondacks. "In April 2013, New York State acquired 9,885 acres from The Nature Conservancy in the Adirondacks," the report says. "These properties, once owned by paper manufacturer Finch, Pruyn & Co., include the Indian River and OK Slip Falls-Blue Ledge tracts. One phase of a larger, multi-year EPF-funded conservation project, the transaction ensures the permanent protection of a combined four-plus miles of undeveloped shoreline along the Hudson River and the state’s most popular whitewater paddling route."



While New York has a huge inventory of protected land, Andy Bicking of Scenic Hudson, which produced the report, said that adding more is always good.



"Protecting land through various strategies helps protect water quality, it helps ensure that we have fresh local food though the farmland protection initiative and its really helps ensure that the landscapes and scenery that does so much to drive New York's tourism economy will be there in the future," Bicking said.



Cuomo is releasing his budget proposal on January 21. Ottney credited Cuomo for trying to rebuild the fund. "Since taking office the governor has committed to not sweeping funding from the EPF and not making further reductions which is fabulous," she said.



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