The cost to complete an energy and nature center at the west end of Jones Beach has ballooned to $25 million, according to the state, which is actively soliciting private donations to help finish the controversial project.
The state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said it updated the price tag this past summer, even after securing funding for the initial $18 million, which was the original cost in 2018.
State Parks spokesman Dan Keefe described the $18 million as a “preliminary estimate” and noted that the cost was updated when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was at Jones Beach this summer for the park's 90th anniversary celebration.
In addition to $9 million that has been committed by the Long Island Power Authority, other state agencies that will help fund the center include $3 million from the New York Power Authority and $3 million from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Keefe said. Parks has committed $5 million, he said.
Keefe noted that the state is “actively fundraising” for “additional enhancements” for the center, which will include exhibits and landscaping.
LIPA’s budget says the new center, which will replace the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center one parking field to the east, will be an “interactive facility for visitors of all ages to become stewards of the environment and smart energy consumers.”
PSEG Long Island, which has been credited with devising the idea, has yet to commit any funds to it, but spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler said, the company "will be considering how to further support this center."
PSEG will staff the center with one full-time and two part-time employees from its marketing department, Flagler has said, and promote and market the center through its existing marketing budget, which, like the staffing, is funded through LIPA rates.
Industry sources have said the effort to solicit donations has been apparent across Long Island in recent months, including from wind company Orsted, which recently was awarded a large state contract to supply offshore wind. It also has a contract with LIPA. An Orsted spokeswoman didn't respond to a request to confirm its donation.
Equinor, which has a state contract to build a wind farm 14 miles off Jones Beach, said through spokesman David Marks, "We have not been asked to fund it by anybody from the state." He said the project is "something we’re obviously interested in following."
A spokesman for LIPA, which has a separate $1.6 billion contract with Orsted, acknowledged the utility has been helping in the fundraising. "We are reaching out to all those interested in partnering to build a net-zero energy facility with interactive exhibits, where visitors of all ages can become good stewards of the environment and smart energy consumers," LIPA said.
Keefe of the Parks Department said its other partners in the project, including NYPA and NYSERDA, are assisting in the "active" fundraising.
Opponents of the project, who are primarily nature lovers, hikers and fishermen, were concerned to hear more was being spent to “demolish” a section of Jones Beach they have long relished as a refuge from the crowds. A lawsuit by nine opponents of the state plan was filed in state Supreme Court in Nassau in June, seeking to stop construction and abandon the plan. A federal agency sued as part of the lawsuit has filed to move the case to federal court.
“That’s incredible,” said Herb Jurist, a Freeport resident who is also a plaintiff, of the additional $7 million cost for the center. Work on the center, he said, has made a one-time sanctuary a mess.
“It’s not a valid thing to do to a public beach like this,” he said. “The disruption they've caused. It’s ridiculous.”
Another plaintiff, Donald Powers of Merrick, said he’s been disappointed to see construction on the center continue despite the litigation.
“They ignored the lawsuit,” he said. “I’ve never seen the state do anything so fast as they knocked down that place.”
The suit against LIPA and five other state agencies charges that the energy and nature center will 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.
Keefe declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the work involves "minimal disruption of the environment." That has included demolition of a comfort station and removal of 12.6 acres of concrete from the parking lot. The concrete, he said, "will be restored to vegetated dunes," and the center "will be designed to produce as much electricity as it consumes through solar panel arrays and geothermal heating and cooling."
Powers said he doesn’t visit the west end as much as he used to. “It’s too depressing. They destroyed the place,” he said. The opponent of the project added that he doesn’t expect the state will find much success soliciting donations to finish the job. “I won’t be donating.”