This year New York voters will be asked to consider three ballot questions on Election Day (November 7). Two of the three should be very important to anyone who cares about the Catskill Park. We urge our members to learn more about these ballot questions.
Proposal One will ask whether voters wish to hold a constitutional convention. The NYS Constitution provides that this question must be asked every 20 years. A convention threatens the Forest Preserve’s “Forever Wild” clause protections, Under Article XIV, Section 1, adopted in 1894
The Catskill Center is concerned that a convention unnecessarily risks weakening or eliminating the Forever Wild clause. It remains strong because it cannot be repealed or weakened by government. Only voters may alter it.
Forever Wild protects New York City drinking water and more than three-million acres of Catskill and Adirondack Forest Preserve from logging, lease, sale, development and destruction. It safeguards nearly all of the motor-free wilderness and never-logged ancient forest remaining in the Northeast.
In the last convention, the vast majority of delegates were state legislators, their families, staff and/or friends. Delegates are elected by the NYS Senate districts. Special interests that support weakening Forever Wild and other constitutionally guaranteed protections will likely control the convention.
In addition, campaign finance laws and the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United ensures that corporations and limited liability companies can make virtually unlimited contributions. Out-of-state corporations can exert enormous influence over a convention with unintended consequences.
Reforms can and have been achieved without a convention. The Catskill Center opposes a Constitutional Convention – a process that will open Article XIV to weakening.
Proposal Three is a Constitutional Amendment that would create a modest land bank for Catskill (and Adirondack) community health and safety projects involving roads crossing the Forest Preserve.
Health and Safety Amendment
The Catskill and Adirondack Parks are special. Both contain a mix of public and private lands, arranged in a patchwork/checkerboard pattern.
Private lands in both Parks contain communities, homes and businesses. Public Forest Preserve lands are protected by the NYS Constitution and must remain Forever Wild.
Periodically, a small section of Forest Preserve can prevent the completion of a roadside municipal project. This amendment would create a small land bank (250 acres) to assist Catskill and Adirondack communities, when no alternatives exist.
Communities could remove dangerous curves, replace bridges, install utility lines (electricity, water and telecommunications), drinking water wells or bike lanes across short segments of local roads that cross Forest Preserve. Currently, even the smallest of such projects would require an individual Constitutional Amendment, which is a long and expensive process for a community.
To qualify, projects must be limited to one mile or less in length along the road’s edge. Lands removed from the Forest Preserve would be replaced. Larger, more complicated land swaps would still require an individual Constitutional Amendment with approval by voters. This amendment doesn’t authorize installation of new gas or oil pipelines.
The Catskill Center supports this amendment.