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DEC money wisely spent

The Millerton News Editorial

It’s not always that the state is praised for spending taxpayers’ hard-to-earn and harder-to-save money. In the case of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) decision to conduct two $50,000 studies, with funding coming from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), we consider it money well spent.

Thanks to the EPF’s financial support, with funds awarded to both Columbia and Putnam Counties through a competitive grant process, the DEC was able to commission the 2021-2025 Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda (HREAA). (For more, read front page.)

As explained in the document’s introduction, “the Estuary Program helps people enjoy, protect, and revitalize the Hudson River estuary and its valley… through 2025.”

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos explained in the HREAA why the Hudson River, its waterways and estuaries are so essential to the state.

The Hudson River, he said, is “both a resource and an influence in our economy, and continues to support local communities, key industries, and millions of people.”

Seggos called the protection and restoration of the Hudson and its environs  “vital… to ensure these natural resources remain vibrant and beneficial for residents, visitors, and businesses.”

Considering the dire circumstances we find so many of our critical environmental areas (CEA) in these days, not only in our home state of New York but throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world, we agree. We applaud the state and the DEC for initiating such steps.

Our focus is understandably on the actions taken by and for Columbia County, part of which The Millerton News considers its home turf. We would therefore like to call attention to the towns of Copake, Hillsdale and Taghkanic. Local volunteers from these towns stepped forward to ensure their communities will have strategic plans to protect their unique and delicate environmental treasure troves into the future, through the Taghkanic Headwaters Conservation Plan (THCP).

In its vision statement, the THCP addresses the Taghkanic Headwaters and its surroundings, which “support clean water for people, plants, and animals, and provide vital wildlife habitat connections between New York and New England.”

The plan’s vision speaks to “a future Taghkanic watershed that is cared for by local communities and landowners to protect clean water and the ability of fish and wildlife to move across the landscape.”

It seems like a simple concept: We all want to be able to live with clean air and fresh water, among wildlife that can likewise roam freely. But without critical funding — like the cumulative $100,000 put forth by the EPF in this case — local municipalities would struggle to protect that which makes Columbia County — and the entire Harlem Valley — so alluring.

People are drawn to our region for its scenic beauty; many make part-time and permanent moves here specifically to be surrounded by nature and all its glory.

It’s the age-old dilemma of wanting to protect what you have, but in doing so making what you have more desirable. Often times the result is that greater populations are drawn to regions that were once open and wild, oftentimes destroying that which was supposed to be protected in the first place.

Every time our lovely, off-the-beaten-path Harlem Valley Eden seems to be “discovered” by the outside world, many rejoice at the prospect of heightened economic development and the improvements that could mean for local residents and business owners. Rightly so, as the reality is that without tax dollars spent and investments made in our region, it won’t survive — and it certainly won’t thrive.

Yet, development comes at a cost.

To ensure our natural habitats remain intact and protected — because once gone, they can never be reclaimed — plans like the THCP in our area and the Green Corridors Plan for the Eastern New York Highlands in Putnam County are essential. The state gets high marks for having the foresight to recognize these two counties as priorities and for coordinating conservation efforts.

Of note in the HREAA, the DEC’s mention of “two cross-cutting issues that will affect every aspect of our work — climate change and environmental justice.”

So stated Seggos in the plan’s introductory letter, noting New York and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s efforts to build climate resilience and address the causes of climate change. He stressed the state’s “commitment to the work of creating a more fair and just society.”

The DEC, explained Seggos, “is working to better address long-standing systemic inequities and build a more climate-resilient environment.”

We laud the DEC for thinking outside the box and using the HREAA to address social injustices simultaneously, and highly recommend taking a read — it’s fascinating. Also recommended, check out the final results of those volunteers who helped create the THCP.

To view the THCP, go to www.taghkanicheadwaters.org; to view the Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda 2021–2025, go to www.dec.ny.gov.

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