Supporters call it a win-win, but it first needs approval from New York voters.
A proposal on the Nov. 7 election ballot would balance protections for the state forest preserve and the need to make local infrastructure repairs.
It's one of three questions voters will be asked on Election Day. The most notable of these proposals is the constitutional convention question, which is asked every 20 years.
What is Proposal 3?
The amendment, if approved by voters, would create a 250-acre land bank that municipalities within Adirondack and Catskill parks could utilize if there is "no viable alternative to using forest preserve land to address specific public health and safety concerns." The land bank would be offset by the addition of 250 acres to the forest preserve. The amendment would allow municipalities to install bicycle trails and utility lines near highways that pass through the forest preserve as long as the projects minimize the removal of trees and other vegetation.
Why is it needed?
The state constitution contains a "Forever Wild" clause which has stringent protections in place for the forest preserve. Because of the provision, municipalities are required to seek state approval — an amendment to the constitution — for infrastructure projects within the forest preserve. This is usually a lengthy process.
Before an amendment is considered by voters, it must be approved by two successive state Legislatures. This requires municipalities to wait years before they're allowed to proceed with certain infrastructure projects.
Proposal 3 would help municipalities address infrastructure needs while ensuring the forest preserve is maintained.
William Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, recalled what happened in the town of Fine, St. Lawrence County, when the municipality advanced a water system project. Because part of the water system ran through the forest preserve, they were unable to replace that section of piping.
"This is just what happens when there's a forest preserve overlay that overlays the road," he said.
Another example Farber highlighted is the Middleton Bridge in Warren County. The bridge is closed because it's in need of repairs. The project is delayed because the bridge crosses land in the forest preserve.
The bridge is a "significant safety hazard," Farber noted. But the construction work can't advance until Proposal 3 is approved.
The amendment is important, Farber said, because of extreme weather events that can damage bridges, culverts and roads. Any damage to critical infrastructure would require emergency repairs. These are situations when the local municipalities can't wait for the state Legislature to change the constitution.
Who supports it?
There are several organizations that support a "yes" vote on Proposal 3. Many environmental groups have endorsed the amendment. The New York State Association of Counties and the North Country Chamber of Commerce are among the supporters.
Jessica Ottney Mahar, policy director for The Nature Conservancy, called the ballot proposal a "triple win" for the communities within the forest preserve and the state.
Not only will it maintain the forest preserve, but it will not require any new taxes or fees.
"What this proposal will do is really make it much more cost effective for the state of New York and these communities to deal with issues when there's no alternative," Ottney Mahar said.
She added, "It will make sure that our Adirondacks and Catskills parks are places that are sustainable both for the environment and for people into the future."
The New York League of Conservation Voters is one of the environmental groups that are urging voters to support the proposal.
Jordan Levine, communications director for the New York League of Conservation Voters, lauded the amendment as a way of balancing the infrastructure needs of communities and protecting the forest preserve.
"This would be a great way to protect the park in the long term," he said.
Who opposes it?
The only indication of any opposition to Proposal 3 can be found in a Siena College poll released Wednesday.
According to the poll, 46 percent of likely voters surveyed said they will support the proposal. More than one-third of respondents (35 percent) said they would vote "no."
Another 18 percent of voters said they don't know or have no opinion on the proposed amendment.
Farber isn't aware of any organized campaign against the proposal. He has met individuals in person or online who were hesitant to support the amendment. But after explaining to them what it would do and how it would impact the forest preserve, they usually express their support for the proposal.
One concern: the 'ConCon'
Farber and others that voters who oppose the constitutional convention will vote no on Proposal 3. There is concern that voters will mistakenly vote no on the two other ballot questions because of the anti-constitutional convention's movement successful "Vote No" campaign.
The concern is legitimate. The Siena poll released this week found 57 percent of voters oppose a constitutional convention.
"One of our real challenges is sort of breaking out from under the cloud of the 'ConCon' and really making voters aware of the fact that there are three separate, distinct ballot proposals," Farber said.
In addition to the constitutional convention and Proposal 3, voters will be asked whether state officials convicted of public corruption should forfeit their pensions. (There is strong support for that amendment, according to the Siena poll.)
Farber views Proposal 3 as an example of how the state constitution can be amended without needing to hold a convention. It's for that reason he hopes those who vote "no" on the constitutional convention question will cast a "yes" vote for the forest preserve amendment.
"We really think we've got a winning proposal here if we are successful in getting the word out," he said.
How to vote
Like the constitutional convention, Proposal 3 will appear on the back of the ballot. When you go to your polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 7, you will need to flip the ballot over and bubble in "yes" or "no."