The $9.75 million that LIPA/PSEG Long Island customers have already shelled out to help build a new energy and nature center at Jones Beach won’t be the end of ratepayers' cost for the project championed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
As the center prepares to open its doors with a dedication ceremony Friday, LIPA trustees on Wednesday approved a measure to spend another $6.45 million over the next 25 years to help operate the center, which includes exhibits, meeting facilities and an education center. It amounts to around $250,000 a year, and is part of a joint agreement with the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to fund and operate the center, along with other state agencies and certain private donations.
LIPA in 2019 approved an initial cash outlay of $9.75 million to pay for construction of the center, which saw its completion price increase from an initial $18 million to $25 million.
A lawsuit filed by conservationists and visitors who frequent the facility is continuing in federal district court. Nine plaintiffs charged the center would illegally introduce commercial marketing into a pristine preserve while violating state and federal conservation laws, including the Coastal Barriers Act, the Land and Water Conservation Act and Parkland Alienation laws. LIPA and the state have denied those claims.
Michael Deering, vice president for external affairs at LIPA and a champion of the project from its inception, offered a presentation of the facility during a LIPA committee meeting Wednesday.
Deering said the 12,000-square foot facility would have full-time staffing, and LIPA/PSEG will have access to around half the facility for certain events, including potentially LIPA board meetings, officials said.
LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone during the LIPA trustee meeting called the center a "jewel" and a new educational institution on Long Island, and credited Deering for helping to facilitate it. Some LIPA and state contractors, including wind-farm companies, were solicited for donations to help complete the facility, Newsday reported last year. Falcone said the center will be "not only for children and families but also a place to hold professional" meetings. He noted many other utilities operate customer-facing energy centers.
But the group of plaintiffs see it as something different.
"It's a desecration," said Linda Jurist, one of the plaintiffs in the suit against LIPA, New York State, several state agencies and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, who cherished even the former facility's parking lot for wildlife viewing and quiet solace.
"If they want to publicize the use of energy they can go to Roosevelt Field mall and put a kiosk there," said Jurist, 83, adding that new limitations on beach access force her to walk in loose sand for 40 minutes to get to the ocean. Her husband, another plaintiff, Herb Jurist, 85, can no longer walk it.
State Parks spokesman Dan Keefe has said the project "has minimal disruption to the environment," chiefly involving demolition of a comfort station and removal of 12.6 acres of concrete from the existing parking area, to be converted to planted dunes. The agency has declined to comment on the lawsuit.
But LIPA, which has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, in its presentation Wednesday touted the new center as "bringing human beings, energy networks and the natural environment together."
The net-zero energy-use building includes "state-of-the-art exhibits, teaching spaces, laboratories, classrooms and a community room." There’s also a new 8.8-mile bike path, and a new 219-acre preserve. A 9.5-acre section of parking lot was replaced by "pollinator" vegetation, and there are six electric-vehicle charging stations and 13 outside exhibits.
The facility is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays except Thursday, when it is open until 8 p.m. It’s also open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.