Advocacy

Beat the Heat – with a Ballot Initiative!
Preserving Woodlands and Wetlands with help from the November 2022 Environmental Bond Measure.

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On November 8, 2022, residents of New York State have the opportunity to vote to approve the Environment and Climate Change Projects Bond Measure. Upon passage, this ballot initiative can accomplish a wide range of goals including the preservation of natural resources such as woodlands, wetlands, and Bluebelts, in communities such as Staten Island. It can also help to minimize damage from future storms that ravage coastal areas as Hurricanes Sandy and Ida did in recent years.

A “yes” vote on this ballot measure supports issuing $4.2 billion in general obligation bonds for projects related to the environment, natural resources, water infrastructure, and climate change mitigation. A “no” vote opposes this. A simple majority vote is needed for passage

The last successful statewide environmental bond issue in New York State was passed 26 years ago – for $1.75 billion in 1996. Governor George Pataki had proposed this Clean Water/ Clean Air Bond Act and shepherded it through the State Legislature. Residents of New York City and its suburbs gave this ballot initiative overwhelming support.

The upcoming November 2022 ballot measure requires that bond issue revenue be distributed as follows:

  • up to $1.50 billion for air and water pollution reduction projects; wetland protections to address sea-level rise, storm surge, and flooding; relocating or retrofitting facilities; green building projects; solar arrays, heat pumps, and wind turbines; zero-emission school buses; street trees and urban forest programs; green roofs and reflective roofs; and carbon sequestration on natural and working lands.

  • at least $1.10 billion for flood-risk reduction, coastal and shoreline restoration, relocating and repairing flood-prone infrastructure and roadways, and ecological restoration projects.

  • up to $650 million for land conservation & recreation plans, programs, & projects, as well as fish hatcheries; and

  • at least $650 million for projects related to wastewater, sewage, and septic infrastructure; lead service line replacement; riparian buffers; stormwater runoff reduction; agricultural nutrient runoff reduction; and addressing harmful algal blooms.

The current bond measure was proposed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State Address on January 8, 2020, and was referred to as the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act. Due to financial uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, this bond issue was withdrawn.

In September 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul asked legislative leaders to amend the bond issue to increase the bond amount from $3.0 billion to $4.2 billion. This was passed by the State Legislature in April 2022, and the measure was renamed the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act. The State Senate voted 48 to 15 to approve the measure and the State Assembly voted 113 to 35 to approve the bill. The bill was then signed by Governor Hochul, sending the issue to the ballot for November 8, 2022.

The ballot measure includes funds for disadvantaged communities that are especially vulnerable to pollution, environmental hazards, flooding, storm surge and urban heat island effects. Urban heat islands occur when neighborhoods in cities like New York are underparked. Due to the scarcity of trees, shrubs, and other natural resources, the temperature in these urban heat islands can be up to 18 degrees hotter than in areas with abundant woodlands and wetlands. So, the neighborhoods around Staten Island’s Greenbelt and Bluebelts are among the coolest areas in all of New York City. Preservation of the remaining unprotected woodlands and wetlands on Staten Island and beyond, is a key to fighting climbing temperatures and humidity.

 

All neighborhoods in Staten Island are eligible for funds from this bond initiative. While Staten Island overall is a highly advantaged community, all or parts of a few Staten Island communities are considered disadvantaged – especially in the northern portions of Staten Island. Neighborhoods such as Graniteville, Mariners Harbor, Elm Park, Port Richmond, St. George, Tompkinsville, Stapleton, Clifton, Rosebank, Fort Wadsworth, Concord, Grasmere, as well as parts Oakwood and Midland Beach, are especially well positioned to receive funds for land conservation, wetlands protection, storm surge mitigation, new street trees, urban forest programs, coastal and shoreland restoration, flooding risk reduction, river and creek buffer zones, stormwater runoff reduction, algae bloom remediation, and water pollution reduction projects.

Research now shows that temperatures in urban areas all over the world are skyrocketing and that heatwaves are expected to become more frequent. Energy spent on air conditioning will triple by 2050. But we can take some actions to minimize the increasing temperatures. Of the many positive outcomes expected from this bond initiative, three are highlighted below.

Cooling from the Rooftops

The biggest cause of the urban heat island effect – which can make cities up to 18 degrees warmer than neighboring rural areas – is the stuff they are made of: hard, dark, dense materials like concrete, brick, tarmac and asphalt, which absorb the sun’s heat during the day, and re-radiate it at night. It sounds too simple a solution, but some argue that one of the most effective measures to cool cities down is to make their surfaces reflect light, rather than absorb it – particularly where you might not think to look: up on the roof.

Researchers at the University of Oxford found that making the rooftops of buildings a lighter, more reflective color could reduce daytime temperatures by over five degrees during a heatwave. This could, in turn, reduce heatwave-related deaths by up to a quarter.

In the US, the roof-lightening crusade is already under way. Research by NASA has shown that a white roof in New York City can be 40 degrees cooler than a typical black asphalt roof on the hottest day of the summer – hence, the City has launched a Cool Roofs campaign.

Cooling By Planting Trees

Likewise, scientists have shown that planting trees is one of the best ways to cool cities down – without the danger of reflecting sunlight where it isn’t wanted. Beyond biodiversity benefits, flood mitigation and pollution-scrubbing abilities, trees’ cooling powers come from both shade and transpiration, when the water within the tree is released as vapor through its leaves.

One study in Manchester England found that street trees reduced surface temperatures by an average of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and that concrete surfaces shaded permanently by a bank of trees were cooled by up to 35F in the summer. A recent Swiss study of almost 300 cities across Europe came to similar conclusions, but it also found that green spaces without trees (such as cemeteries and ball fields) had a negligible cooling effect. In some instances treeless green spaces were actually even warmer than the surrounding urban areas, due to the lack of shade.

Cooling by Preserving Bluebelts and Wetlands

Bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, wetlands, inlets, rivers, and Bluebelts also have a powerful cooling effect on cities, through evaporation and by channeling air currents. A study of the River Don, which flows through Sheffield England revealed that the cooling impact of this small river extended into surrounding areas, especially in green spaces or streets that opened to the river. In Seoul South Korea’s Cheonggyecheon River, it was found that the temperatures along the waterway are up to ten degrees cooler than on roads a few blocks away.

Given the ever-increasing development pressures on Staten Island, this ballot initiative might be Staten Island’s best chance to preserve a few of its important woodlands and wetlands from Tennyson Drive to Serpentine Ridge, Outerbridge Ponds, Tappan Creek, and areas near Arden Heights Woods.

If the funds from this upcoming State Bond Initiative are used wisely, problems we have seen during extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Ida (like storm surge, coastal shoreline erosion, flooding, and stormwater runoff), can be mitigated to a significant extent. Likewise rising temperatures can be mitigated throughout the City, but especially on Staten Island, due to the numerous woodlands and wetlands that can still be set aside for conservation, in perpetuity.

It sounds like we need to support the City and the State through this ballot initiative, so that we can preserve more woodlands, wetlands, and Bluebelts on Staten Island; cool more roofs, plant more trees; and mitigate more extreme weather events. Let’s all turn out on November 8th to vote for the Environment and Climate Change Projects ballot initiative.

Mark Latour

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Sources for this article include Ballotpedia, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and Oliver Wainwright (from his article in The Guardian titled “Urban Meltdown: The Urgent Steps we need to take to Cool our Sweltering Cities.”)