Forever Wild Ballot Measure

A sign marks state Forest Preserve land near a road where local officials want to put a bike lane in Piseco Lake, N.Y.

Associated Press

As the results began trickling in Tuesday evening, it was clear that the constitutional convention proposal would be rejected by voters and the pension forfeiture amendment would be approved.

The fate of the forest preserve land bank amendment, however, was less certain.

"Initially we were all biting our nails," said Jessica Ottney Mahar, policy director for The Nature Conservancy in New York. 

There was good reason for concern. With 1 percent reporting, voters opposed the land bank amendment by a 44 to 36 percent margin. With 14 percent of the votes counted, the margin expanded to 10 points, 47 to 37 percent. 

It wasn't long before the trend started to shift. With 33 percent of districts reporting, the "no" position was up 45 to 40 percent. When nearly half of New York's election districts reported results, the lead narrowed even more. By then, no was up 43.81 to 43.56 percent — a margin of 3,621 votes. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, with nearly 99 percent of precincts reporting, the amendment was approved with 46.49 percent of the vote

NY Forest Preserve Land Bank Results (99% in)
YES46.49%1,643,289 votes
NO42.83%1,513,700 votes

There were 10 counties, mostly from downstate, that voted against the proposal. In Richmond County (Staten Island), 58 percent voted no. There was at least a plurality against the proposition in three other New York City boroughs. 

The 10 counties that voted against the NY Forest Preserve Land Bank (99% in)

Supporters of the proposal said the complexities of forest preserve issues were likely a factor in the vote. Some voters didn't understand the question asked on the ballot. A portion of them left it blank. 

The Adirondack and Catskills forest preserves are protected by the state constitution. This can make it difficult for municipalities that need to make infrastructure repairs, such as repaving a road, repairing a bridge or installing new water lines. 

What the amendment does is create a 250-acre land bank to help local governments complete projects if there is "no viable alternative to using forest preserve land to address specific public health and safety concerns." To make up for any land lost to infrastructure projects, the state will add up to 250 acres to the forest preserve. 

It would also help municipalities address infrastructure needs much quicker. Until this proposal was approved, communities needed an amendment to the constitution to advance various projects. An amendment requires approval by two successive state Legislatures and the voters of New York. It's a process that can take years. 

William Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, supported the proposal. He mentioned two projects — a water system upgrade in the town of Fine, St. Lawrence County, and bridge repairs in Warren County — that would benefit from the amendment. 

In Fine, the town couldn't replace a section of water line because the pipes passed through the forest preserve. The Middleton Bridge in Warren County crosses over forest preserve land. 

"They're complicated issues. People typically think of park land or forest preserve as the back country, the wilderness, all those things," Farber said.

"And so unless you've been down in the weeds experiencing it, it can be real difficult to explain that you can literally have a road right-of-way that crosses the forest preserve, that connects private property that provides the access in many instances to parking areas or campsites for people to enjoy the forest preserve and those road right-of-way areas have some of the overarching issues that this amendment sought to resolve." 

Ottney Mahar echoed Farber's comments. She noted that another challenge is it affects a limited portion of the state. The state forest preserves consist of 2.6 million acres within the Adirondack Park in northern New York and 286,000 acres within the Catskill Park in the Hudson Valley. 

But that challenge is why she felt the amendment was needed. 

"Think about how hard it would be to pull off a vote like this on something like needing a few feet of land to rebuild a bridge that was blown out during a storm," Ottney Mahar said. "A local community can't afford to wait years and go through this kind of process to wonder if they can make their roads safe or their water safe to drink or their bridge fixed. This is exactly the reason we needed this amendment and I'm excited that we pulled it off."