In his 2020 State of the State speech, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo led with a proposal to issue a $3 Billion ‘Restore Mother Nature Environmental’ Bond Act. The administration is calling it the nation’s most aggressive habitat restoration and flood reduction program. Additionally, the program appears to contemplate funding beyond the $3 billion, noting that the program will be funded “in part” by the bond issuance. In New York, such a bond, if authorized by the legislature, would have to be approved by the voters this November.
The proposed program appears focused on shoreline restoration and protection of water, wetland, and forest resources through state spending on natural shoreline treatments, wetland and floodplain restoration, and open space and forest conservation, presumably through state and local land acquisition. The proposed program will address reducing flood risk and revitalizing “critical fish and wildlife habitats by connecting streams and waterways, right-sizing culverts and dams, restoring both freshwater and tidal wetlands.” The proposal includes the creation of a “Conservation Corridors Program” focused on floodplain and wetland restoration, which areas often provide critical habitats for fish and wildlife. Other spending proposals for the bonded capital include upgrading dams and culverts to prevent flooding, moving residences out of dangerous flood plains, investing in fish hatcheries and fishing access sites, responding to harmful algal blooms, upgrading wastewater treatment plants near Lake George, expanding artificial reefs off the coast of Long Island by 2022, and doubling the size of the current Long Island Shellfish Restoration Initiative to plant an additional 200 million shellfish off the Long Island coast.
The proposed $3 billion investment focused on natural flood protection and habitat restoration appears to be the largest state investment of its kind. The governor’s policy proposal will need to be fleshed out in the coming weeks, as the executive branch proposes bill language for the bond act in its fiscal year 2021 budget, and engages with the New York legislature on the amount and parameters of the spending over the coming months, culminating in the state budget, expected to be passed by April 1, 2020. The details of the $3 Billion Restore Mother Nature Environmental Bond Act could have significant implications for resource protection, municipal planning and infrastructure improvement, and state-land preservation efforts. More details will follow as the budget process plays out over the next several months in Albany. If passed, the bond act would go to voters in November 2020.