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Budget allocation may allow state to purchase more lands for environmental preservation

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POTSDAM - The 2014-15 state budget agreement includes a $9 million increase for the Environmental Protection Fund, which could allow the state to purchase more lands for preservation.

A spokesman for the Adirondack Council said Monday he hopes any land the state considers purchasing includes parcels in the northern Adirondack Park.

Last year, the EPF was increased from $134 million to $153 million. The agreed-upon funding level for 2014-15 is $162 million.

“We’re hoping to work toward increasing restoration in the near future, but we’re thankful for the additional $9 million this year,” Adirondack Council spokesman John F. Sheehan said.

Mr. Sheehan said the increase will mean more money available to conserve farmland near Fort Drum and possibly purchase more land for preservation in the Adirondack Park.

He said $1 million of the additional $9 million will go toward a partnership between the U.S. Department of Defense and the state Department of Environmental Conservation through the EPF to purchase developing rights on farmland around Fort Drum.

Mr. Sheehan said the initiative aims to conserve farmland and also protect the post from the proximity of suburban sprawl.

Mr. Sheehan said $21.65 million of the EPF’s $162 million will go toward increasing the number of state-owned lands held for preservation, and he hopes the Adirondacks will see some of that money.

He said the state already has committed to buying more Adirondack lands in the next few years, and he hopes amng state acquisitions this coming year are lands in the towns of North Hudson and Newcomb in Essex County that are currently owned by the Nature Conservancy.

Other environmental advocates did not share Mr. Sheehan’s enthusiasm about funding for environmental initiatives.

Members of the Environmental Advocates of New York were not happy that lawmakers could not reach agreement on long-term funding for the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Brownfield Cleanup Program and the State Superfund.

Travis Proulx, communications director for the Environmental Advocates, said the Superfund is a cleanup program for the 80 most polluted sites in the state, four of which are in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. The list includes the Black River, Crown Cleaners of Watertown Inc., Carthage, General Motors Central Foundry Division in Massena and the Sealand Restoration Inc. site in Lisbon.

Katherine R. Nadeau, policy director for the Environmental Advocates, said funding for the Superfund was tabled this year because it would have exceeded the state’s debt limit.

She said in 2003 a $1.2 billion, 10-year budget was finalized for the Superfund. Although $180 million remains in the fund, it will only last for about two more years, as the program uses about $90 million a year.

“It’s unfinished business in the budget,” said Laura A. Haight, senior environmental associate for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “This could create huge slowdowns in the cleanup process.”

The executive proposed budget included a $90 million for the Superfund this year, but legislators said they don’t want “a one-year fix because it needs to be a multi-year solution,” Ms. Nadeau said.

She said each contaminated site requires at least five years to clean up, and if the money is not secured in the budget, many projects won’t get finished and others cannot begin.

“It needs to be dealt with,” she said.

Funding for the Brownfield Cleanup Program, created in 2003, will expire in 2015, according to Ms. Haight, but the program didn’t receive a budget update either.

“Legislators decided that to reform the program is a bigger issue, and they need more time outside of the budget for it,” Ms. Nadeau said.

She said the Brownfield Cleanup Program provided tax incentives for developers to clean up contaminated sites, but, so far, the state has spent over $1 billion in tax credits and only 150 sites have been cleaned up.

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