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May 30, 2007

The Journal News

State officials hope bigger bottle bill means better parks

An expanded bottle bill may help enhance state parks that have been in need of improvements for years, officials said.

Currently, distributing companies receive the 5-cent bottle deposit a customer pays at the cash register but does not redeem, an amount that adds up to about $85 million to $135 million a year, officials said.

Under the proposed "Bigger, Better Bottle Bill," those unclaimed nickels would instead be transferred to a state environmental protection fund.

Also, under the existing law, only soda and beer cans and bottles may be redeemed. The proposed legislation would expand returnable containers to include noncarbonated beverages such as water or sports drinks.

"The goal is twofold," said New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Carol Ash. "One, to reduce the trash in the parks and throughout the community and also to use the unclaimed money for environmental projects."

She said there would be an estimated $100 million to $185 million a year in unclaimed nickels that would be transferred to the fund and that some of that money could be used toward a list of park-improvement projects.

The list includes a $4 million reconstruction of the Lake Sebago dam, a $10 million replacement and upgrade of the sewer system at Harriman State Park, $6 million to upgrade the electric service at Harriman State Park, a $1.3 million renovation of the bathhouses and pools at Rockland Lake State Park, a $2 million water system rehabilitation at Bear Mountain State Park and a $300,000 rehabilitation of the bathhouse at Tallman Mountain State Park.

Ash said the sewer system at Harriman State Park and the reconstruction of the Lake Sebago dam were top priority and that the dam was on the state Department of Environmental Conservation's high-hazards list.

"We have to make sure that there's a future for these projects," Ash said. "That's why we are really urging that the legislature pay attention to the expanded Bigger, Better Bottle Bill."

Eileen Kelly of New City said one of the bathhouses at Rockland Lake State Park could use a few improvements.

"It's not in the best of shape," she said.

She also said she would like to see the pool used for community programs, such as swimming lessons.

However, New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform, a coalition of state grocers and other businesses oppose the proposed bill.

"We call it the bigger bottle tax," said Jon Pierce, a spokesman for the group.

He said distributing companies rely on the unclaimed nickels to help with costs and that without those funds, consumers may see higher beverage prices, ranging from about 10 to 15 cents per container.

"It's not a free system," Pierce said. "It costs money to haul this stuff, to load it and crush it."

Pierce said only three percent of waste comes from bottles and cans and that state officials should instead focus on making recycling more convenient.

"We think the bottle law is an outdated system," he said. "We don't think it should come on the backs of the beverage industry."

Reach Amisha Padnani at apadnani@lohud.com or 845-578-2484.


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