Op Ed: N.Y. Needs to Invest in Protecting Finger Lakes

With greater funding, our region can develop the “green infrastructure” we need to sustain our agricultural and tourism industries...

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By Andrew Zepp and W. Stuart Schweizer, via the Ithaca Journal, 03/18/14

New York’s Environmental Protection Fund plays a key role in protecting our air and water, managing our solid waste, conserving open space, and ensuring the future of our family farms. Within the Finger Lakes Region, the EPF supports water quality programs that help keep our lakes clean. Allocations from the fund have also supported the protection of undeveloped shoreline and the acquisition of lands that provide enhanced access for sportsmen and hikers alike.

At the close of 2013, a grant from the EPF allowed Schuyler County and the Finger Lakes Land Trust to work together with the Argetsinger family to secure a scenic vineyard overlooking Seneca Lake. In the family for more than 100 years, this farm produces award-winning grapes and also helps to create those memorable vistas for which our region is so well known.

Before the recession, the state allocated as much as $250 million annually toward these efforts. In the context of a projected surplus of $2 billion, however, the governor proposes a $137 billion budget but only $157 million for the Environmental Protection Fund.

Many of the state’s leading conservationists are advocating for an increase of the EPF to $200 million. Funds to achieve this level are available through the state’s real estate transfer tax and the bottle-recycling law. With greater funding, our region can develop the “green infrastructure” we need to sustain our agricultural and tourism industries.

Most of the shoreline of our Finger Lakes is already developed, but we still have an opportunity to secure remaining parcels to accommodate access to the water for residents and visitors alike. We can also link our existing public lands and secure popular recreational resources such as the Finger Lakes Trail. The protection of additional farmland will not only secure our scenic landscapes but will also provide farmers with capital that they can re-invest in their operations.

Without additional funding for the EPF, achieving these goals will be far more difficult. We will instead look back at lost opportunities that will not only diminish our children’s quality of life but will also prevent us from growing our tourism-based economy to its true potential.

Both for our region and for the state as a whole, this is a sound investment that we have to make.

Zepp is the executive director of the Finger Lakes Land Trust; Schweizer is the president.

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