Written by Rachel Shapiro Friday, 26 February 2010 00:00
Governor David A. Paterson’s proposed 2010-11 executive budget calls for several state parks on Long Island to close and others to cut their hours and services due to a state budget shortfall.
The state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recently created a list of recommended park closures and cuts in an effort to operate on a smaller budget as the governor tries to close the budget gap.
Under the proposed executive budget, Jones Beach will close its west swimming pool and eliminate its 4th of July fireworks show, Bethpage State Park will eliminate its winter sports, reduce the size of its picnic area and polo field, Heckscher State Park will close its swimming pool, Montauk Downs State Park will close its swimming pool and Connetquot River State Park will close on weekdays.
Cold Spring Harbor State Park, Brookhaven State Park, Caleb Smith State Park Reserve, Cold Spring Harbor State Park, Nissequogue River State Park, Orient Beach State Park and Trail View State Park, all in Suffolk County, will close completely if Paterson’s budget passes. No state parks in Nassau County will close completely under the proposed budget.
However, Paterson’s budget calls for re-appropriating $5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund, a capital projects fund, to the OPRHP operating budget. If that $5 million transfer isn’t approved, Brentwood, Heckscher, Hempstead Lake and Valley Stream parks could also close, OPRHP spokesman Dan Keefe told Anton Newspapers.
According to Keefe, the state budget cuts OPRHC’s operating budget to $155 million, a $29 million, 15 percent decrease.
The State Assembly and Senate have until April 1 to pass a state budget and environmental groups are calling on state representatives to prevent the cuts.
“From agriculture to tourism to public health, Long Island’s economy is intrinsically linked to its environment generating over $1 billion a year for our local economy,” Lisa Ott, president of the North Shore Land Alliance said. “These cuts are short-sighted and potentially very harmful to our healthy future.”
The state is facing an $8.2 billion deficit, a problem that Paterson is addressing by cutting funding in many areas.
“In an environment when we have to cut funding to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and social services, no area of state spending, including parks and historic sites, could be exempt from reductions,” Paterson said in a statement.
Altogether, the proposed budget calls for 41 parks and 14 historic sites throughout the state to close and service to be reduced at 23 parks and one historic site, according to OPRHC.
Bethpage State Park’s winter sports program, which will be cut with the proposed budget, allows sledding and snowboarding on the golf courses, Bethpage spokes- man David Catalano told Anton Newspapers. Park personnel supervise the sledding and snowboarding program; there are as many as 12 people at a time working at the park for safety control, directing traffic and general operation of the program. The winter sports generate no revenue for the park, Catalano said.
The state said the OPRHP also plans to increase fees by $4 million at parks and historic sites, hoping to help close the state budget gap. They have not said which parks will see an increase in fees.
There will also be cuts to the Environmental Protection Fund, the state’s dedicated source of funding that protects farms, open spaces, drinking water supplies, Great Lakes, community recycling programs, zoos, botanical gardens and aquaria, pollution prevention programs, rivers, and waterfronts, said Jessica Ottney, director of State Government Relations for the Nature Conservancy.
The proposed additional $5 million from the EPF used to fund OPRHP operations puts a further burden on the EPF budget, cut 33 percent in the budget proposal, Ottney said.
“We don’t want to see parks close…the EPF isn’t necessarily the best source to pay for that so we are calling for a restoration of the budget,” Ottney told Anton Newspapers.
Ottney said environmental groups have put forth revenue-driving ideas, such as using funds from the state Bottle Bill, something environmental groups helped expand, to fund state parks.
“More than a decade of work went into expanding the bottle bill to water bottles,” Ottney said. “That will generate a significant amount of revenue for the state. The environmental community has done a lot work to help this come about and some of those revenues should be applied to paying for state parks.”
For those parks that will close, the state does not have plans to sell the land and buildings but will continue to maintain the land as needed, Keefe said.
As for the employees at the parks, Keefe said permanent staff would be reassigned and fewer seasonal staff would be hired.
Dozens of environmental groups on Long Island are organizing a rally in an effort to reach out to state officials, asking them to block the cuts to EPF and OPRHP funding.
State elected officials, environmental groups and concerned citizens are invited to attend the event on Friday, March 5 from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, 1303 Round Swamp Road, Old Bethpage, NY 11804. RSVP by calling 631-369-3300.
“The EPF funds so many things, it makes a huge contribution to Long Island,” Ott told Anton Newspapers. “Our intent is to encourage our state elected officials to restore the EPF.”