An amendment to establish a land bank that would help local municipalities complete health and safety projects within the state forest preserve was narrowly approved by voters Tuesday.
The proposal — one of three questions on the reverse side of the ballot — passed by more than three percentage points, 46.38 to 42.89 percent. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, there were 1,619,228 votes for the amendment and 1,497,501 against it, according to the state Board of Elections.
Numerous environmental organizations supported Proposal 3, including The Nature Conservancy in New York and the New York League of Conservation Voters.
The purpose of the amendment was to assist municipalities that need to advance infrastructure projects, but face limitations due to the constitutional protections in place for the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves.
Under the proposal, exceptions would be created to allow municipalities to complete projects, such as improvements to make bridges and roads safer. A land bank of up to 250 acres will be established for counties, towns and villages to use for these purposes. As part of the amendment, the state will acquire 250 acres to replace the land taken from the forest preserve.
The amendment will also bicycle paths and the installation of utility lines "within the widths of specified highways that cross forest preserve land."
Because of the constitution's "Forever Wild" provision, municipalities needed amendments to complete similar projects in the past. The process for amending the constitution can take years because it requires passage by two successive sessions of the state Legislature.
Peg Olsen, director of The Nature Conservancy in New York's Adirondack chapter, touted Proposal 3 as a way to streamline government and improve security for forest preserve communities.
"The land bank created by Proposal 3 will provide an efficient way for communities to make needed health and safety improvements — such as fixing road hazards and improving wells for drinking water — while ensuring a net benefit to the forest preserves," she said.
In an interview with The Citizen, William Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, highlighted examples of projects that could move forward if the amendment was approved. One was the Middleton Bridge in Warren County, which is closed and must be repaired before it's reopened. The work has been delayed because the bridge crosses land in the forest preserve.
A water system project in the town of Fine, St. Lawrence County, was impacted by the forest preserve protections. Part of the water line ran through the forest preserve. New pipes were installed for most of the system, but the section that is in the forest preserve couldn't be replaced.
"This is just what happens when there's a forest preserve overlay that overlays the road," Farber said last week.
There wasn't an organized campaign against the amendment, but supporters feared that it could fail due to the strong opposition against another question on the ballot Tuesday asking voters if the state should hold a constitutional convention.
Unlike Proposal 3, there was an organized effort against the constitutional convention. And it was successful. More than three-quarters of voters opposed the convention.
Early results Tuesday night suggested Proposal 3 was in trouble. There were more no votes from the Bronx, Staten Island and other highly populated downstate counties.
But there was enough support from upstate counties to overcome the deficit. With nearly all precincts reporting, there are 121,727 more yes votes.