A great unanswered environmental acquisition
mystery of the Capital District is the long failed Albany County
Historic and Nature Preserve
and Historic and Nature Preserve Trust Law of 1976. This law was
never implemented. About the only thing ever done with this well
designed and well intended law was to place the Ann Lee Pond and
one or two other properties, already owned by the county, in the
projected preserve system.
This law, however, specifically authorizes acquisition of
select natural areas around the County for the purpose of creating
owned and managed Preserve system. The separate Trust Law,
dovetailed into the Preserve Law, calls for Albany County to
create a County
Preserve acquisition and management funding mechanism on a
permanent basis, in the form of a special trust. To my knowledge,
County Nature Preserve Trust, has never been set up.
Because of it’s relevance to the Pine Bush and every other
desirable natural area in the County, Save the Pine Bush approached
the County Executive, and a few other county officials about implementing
this 1976 law. None of these officials wasted any time. They immediately
preceded to do nothing about our request. The one notable exception
was Guilderland County Legislator Bill Aylward. He met with us,
took copies of the 1976 County Preserve, and Trust Laws. After
carefully studying these documents, Bill Aylward arranged a meeting
about the issue between himself, the County Attorney, and me. We
had the meeting but, then, met with the same speedy action as before.
There appears to be a desire to duck this County Preserve and Trust
issue, and Bill Aylward probably feels as frustrated as we do.
It’s too bad, because if the Albany County Preserve and Trust
had fully materialized, when directed by the 1976 law, most of
the natural areas in Albany County, worthy of preservation, could
have been preserved, including High Point and it’s environs
and much more of the Pine Bush. Serious inroads could have been
made into stopping sprawl.
The potential for a County Preserve Trust was made more apparent
recently when Jeff Jones, of Environmental Advocates, spoke
at our April Earth Week Dinner. Jeff explained a major method
funding a public Land Trust or Fund (sometimes called a “Land Bank”).
He pointed out that Suffolk County on Long Island in 1998 secured
State legislation that established a local land bank for preserving
the famous Pine Barrens, wetlands, beaches, coastal dunes, and
farmlands of the eastern part of the county. This bank is funded
at an astounding $10 million annually. It is said to have helped
preserve 58,000 acres of Long Island Pine Barrens, which is the
estimated original size of the Albany-Schenectady Pine Bush. Where
does this money come from? Well! The money’s all out there
in the form of dedicated revenue sources, most of which are, as
yet, untapped, in New York State, and none in the Capital District.
As for Suffolk County, the funding is specifically achieved by
a 3% tax on land transfers (Please note, an exemption on the tax
is made for land sold to farmers who intend to keep farming. I
would suggest also making an exemption for “real” city
properties — anything east of Allen Street — when
this kind of plan finally arrives in Albany County.)
Jeff Jones said that there are plans in the State Legislature
for a bill relative to making the Suffolk County type land
method available state-wide. We should all support this move
and suggest any useful improvements. Individual citizens
groups need to constantly publicize their environmental concerns.
We need to keep on the case of local, county and state governmental
leaders to get that money and protect the land. This can
help counterbalance the combined anti-environmental sprawl
from the real estate,
and construction industries. Could this kind of pressure
have been what quietly swept the Albany County Preserve, and
laws under the rug? Or was it simply inexplicable ineptitude?