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Lawmakers vow to prevent state parks' closure

More than a dozen legislators vowed Wednesday to amend the governor's budget to prevent closure of up to 91 parks and historic sites, including 10 on Long Island.

With the state facing an $8.2-billion deficit, Gov. David A. Paterson proposed a $20-million cut to the parks budget. That would become $29 million without legislative approval of two controversial proposals: higher golf and ocean beach admission fees to raise $4 million and a $5-million transfer from the Environmental Protection Fund to the parks operating budget.

The legislators from both parties said at a news conference in Albany they had the support of their colleagues to add at least $11.3 million back into the parks budget to keep the sites open. And they said they might try to add another $4 million to stave off the golf and beach fee increases.

"Given the scope of the $131-billion budget, we should be able to find $11 million to keep these parks open," Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Islip) said. "State parks constitute one quarter of 1 percent of the entire state budget. Closing them is not the answer to New York State's fiscal troubles."

He said several ideas are being looked at to find money for the parks, including selling vanity license plates.

Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), chairman of the tourism and parks committee, blasted the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for canceling and refunding 350 camping reservations - along with the $9 reservation fee - at parks slated to close. That cost the state $48,000 of the $5 million in reservations made to date.

"They have pre-empted the legislative process and begun implementing closures" before the legislators can reverse the cuts, Englebright said.

Agency spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee said "it was an issue of trying to be fair to our patrons." She said families want to make their camping plans early without the uncertainty of possible closings. "We've encouraged them to rebook at other nearby camping locations and if the parks do end up staying open, depending on the timing, we may be able to go back and revisit those reservations."

She said the department would not follow Englebright's suggestion and resume taking reservations at the threatened sites. "At this point we are not taking reservations for those parks and we will continue to not take them" until the situation is clarified, Larrabee said.

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