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Jeremy Houghtaling, The Citizen 

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What you should know about NY Proposal 3 to create forest preserve 'land bank'

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." 

City residents express concerns about proposed zoning code to Auburn City Council

AUBURN — Auburn residents raised concerns Thursday with the city's 75-percent draft of the updated zoning code. 

Around half a dozen people addressed the Auburn City Council during a formal public hearing. Issues with the code ranged from unclear definitions and typos to concerns about billboards and storage of large construction equipment and motor homes.   

Trista O'Hara, a Chapel House board member, said staff from the homeless shelter spoke with the city council in February about a tiny house project they had planned. O'Hara said the city was provided with project blueprints that listed the dimensions of the houses they wanted to build. Now, O'Hara said, the minimum square footage regulations in the proposed zoning code are larger than the tiny homes Chapel House planned to build. 

Construction on the first tiny house is supposed to start this year. The first house will go to a local homeless veteran, O'Hara said. She requested for the city to either update the draft to include Chapel House's project or allow the project to be grandfathered in, since city officials previously voiced support for the project. 

"We were pretty shocked to see that although we had been before the council to talk about our project, a lot of the things that are now being discussed wouldn't work with what we had previously brought forward to the council," O'Hara said. 

Two residents who were impacted by a cellphone tower proposed on Allen Street requested the code include a uniform policy for alerting neighboring property owners of new construction projects going on in their area. Karen Walter said she would like residents to be notified five days in advance of such proposals being introduced at the city planning board meeting. Alisa Lawton said she is unhappy that the proposed code decreases the radius for notifying neighboring property owners from those who live withing a 400-square-foot radius down to a 200 square-foot radius. 

Keeping with the rules of a public hearing, council members were not allowed to directly respond with residents' concerns, but Mayor Michael Quill said all concerns will be addressed by city staff.   

"Keep in mind that this document is 75-percent complete," Quill said. "What our intentions are, is that everything brought up this evening or everything we've received through other communications will be factored into the final product." 

Another public hearing, which will address the 100-percent completed draft, will take place during the Nov. 30 Auburn City Council meeting. 

In other news 

• Members of the council and city staff recognized the city's water filtration plant employees for "all the time, effort and expertise" they put into dealing with Owasco Lake's blue-green algae issue, City Manager Jeff Dygert said. 

Eight employees were honored and given certificates from the mayor. 

"We appreciate all the work you guys do," Councilor Jimmy Giannettino said. "I'm proud to call you my coworkers."

• Council members unanimously voted to move the council meeting scheduled for Nov. 23 — Thanksgiving Day — to Tuesday, Nov. 21. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. 

Auburn releases sewage into Northbook Creek, Owasco Lake levels high after rains

The city of Auburn discharged partially treated sewage into Northbook Creek at John Walsh Boulevard Thursday around 6 a.m. and it's expected to continue, according to a NY-Alert report.

Seth Jensen, director of municipal utilities for the city, said heavy rains caused the sewer system to max out, but the discharge occurred within the city's operating permit. He notified the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and according to the NY-Alert, about 594,000 gallons of sewage, partially treated without disinfection, were released. It is unknown whether public areas were impacted.

"Storm events happen," Jensen said. "Last night was a lot more than what was predicted."

Jensen said he had expected the city to get about 1/4 inch of rain. Instead, it got about 1 1/4 inches. The storms, too, have affected Owasco Lake's levels, making it about 1 1/4 feet higher than normal.

Whether people are upstream or downstream, Jensen said residents may seem some flooding. He's working with the Owasco Watershed Lake Association to keep residents up to date.

The city is incrementally increasing its flow in the Owasco River, Jensen said, but it is more constrained by what flow it can implement due to an environmental project in the river on McMaster Street. Jensen said he hopes by the end of Thursday that the city will have its full range of flow control. Meanwhile the hydro electric facilities on North Division Street and and Mill Street are handling the flow and levels. 

"We've been working collectively with folks in the river to keep everything safe," Jensen said. "We're just dealing with Mother Nature and the constraints of the projects that are in the river. We do our best."

Owasco Watershed Lake Association leader steps down

SENNETT — Bob Brower has resigned from his position as president of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association due to an illness.

President Elect Ken Kudla is taking over as president, and OWLA member Dana Hall will be the acting manager of the $600,000 state grant Brower had been in charge of for work and research in the Owasco Lake watershed.

Rick Nelson, one of the board of directors for the lake association, provided the leadership update to the Cayuga County Water Quality Management Agency Thursday morning, telling the group that Brower needs to take care of himself right now.

In a phone interview with The Citizen after the meeting, Brower said he believes OWLA is in good hands. He resigned last week, he said, causing Kudla to move up into his post. Brower feels the new group is full of "highly intelligent" people with different backgrounds.

"It's just a range of skills that really strengthen (the organization) and science, a deep understanding of science on many levels, so it's a very special time in OWLA's organizational development," Brower said.

Brower has a long career working on Owasco Lake and in the Finger Lakes. He was an environmental planner for decades before retiring and starting up the Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technology. He resigned as president and CEO of that organization earlier this year. He's disappointed that he is not able to serve in a past president post at OWLA for now, but he said he's working to get better. Reflecting on what he's done so far, however, he said his life's work has been a privilege. 

"I love the Finger Lakes," he said. "I've considered it a great stroke of good luck to be able to work and earn a living as an environmental planner for several decades.

"I'm the lucky one," he added.

In other news:

• Scott Cook, research scientist and supervisor of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Finger Lakes Water Hub, told WQMA members Thursday that he will be participating in the revision process of the Owasco Lake watershed rules and regulations. Cook said after getting permissions from the state agency, he will join the table not only as a hub representative, but as a person with background on non-point source management. 

Non-point source pollution typically refers to pollution that comes from many different sources and is often caused by weather events.

The Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council is spearheading the update through a steering committee. So far there have been two public meetings on the current rules and regulations and two stakeholder group meetings.