Bond act includes voluntary buyouts, green buildings and water infrastructure

Politico: An agreement between lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo on a $3 billion bond act includes some broad categories for the use of the funding, including voluntary buyouts of properties threatened by rising seas.

These details for the "Restore Mother Nature" bond act were included in the Capital Projects bill released after midnight Wednesday. Another bill will include language needed to send the bond to voters for approval in November, detailed program wording and a potential fail safe plan if the state’s economic situation worsens.

Lawmakers have been insistent about including more detail than Cuomo's original proposal, and negotiations had picked up over the last few weeks with the looming budget deadline that passed at midnight on Tuesday.

“This is really a down payment of what the state needs to do in order to become more resilient, but it’s a really good down payment,” said Amy Chester, managing director of Rebuild by Design. “We’re going to have to change the way we infrastructure to make sure everything we’re building or repairing is resilient."

Chester said about $1.5 billion is available for resilient infrastructure as part of the bond act.

There’s $1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction, which includes a maximum of $250 million for a buyout program, and a minimum of $100 million each for shoreline protection and inland flooding or waterfront projects. For water quality improvements and “resilient infrastructure,” $550 million is set aside, including a minimum of $200 million for water infrastructure projects and $100 million for stormwater grants to municipalities.

The buyout programs were a major priority for several groups, including Chester’s and The Nature Conservancy.

“There are places where communities are looking at properties that aren’t safe anymore,” said Jessica Ottney Mahar with the Nature Conservancy. “Across the state we’re seeing flooding for different reasons, sometimes it's sea level rise and sometimes it's inland flooding… Where people want to move out of harm’s way, we want to facilitate that.”

The Environmental Protection Fund would get $300 million again this year, and lawmakers rejected Cuomo’s push to tap the capital fund to pay staff to administer it. That’s a major victory for environmental advocates who were concerned about the staff “raid” on the fund.

Also in the bond act is $700 million for “climate change mitigation,” which appears to be close to what Assembly lawmakers have been advocating. Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Suffolk), chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee, has been adamant about needing to include some money to combat climate change along with traditional open space preservation and other environmental bond act priorities.

A minimum of $350 million of that amount would have to be used for “green buildings.”

“It makes a lot of sense at this moment in time to put funds toward mitigating emissions related to climate change,” said Environmental Advocates of New York’s Peter Iwanowicz. “It’ll put people to work and will help cut energy bills that are becoming more energy efficient or weatherized.”

Outside of the bond act, the capital projects bill maintains $500 million for water infrastructure grants to local governments.

Besides restoration and flooding, water infrastructure and climate change mitigation, the bond act also includes $550 million for open space conservation and recreation. Included in that is a maximum of $75 million for fish hatcheries, at least $200 million for open space and $100 million for farmland protection.

The broad allocations leave about $200 million for other projects.

Ottney Mahar said more details could be included in the Transportation, Environment and Economic Development bill anticipated later on Wednesday. That could also shed light on what authority Cuomo will have to curtail borrowing or spending on various capital funds given the state's financial situation.

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