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Officials detail $40M plan for Nissequogue River State Park

Steve Berner kayaks in the water off Nissequogue

Steve Berner kayaks in the water off Nissequogue River State Park on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. Credit: James Carbone

State officials on Thursday detailed a $40 million plan for improvements and new uses in Nissequogue River State Park.

The plan calls for moving and modernizing a 151-slip marina near the mouth of the river, and restoring the old site to wetlands. A new water main and fire hydrants will be installed throughout the park. Four abandoned, ramshackle buildings that were part of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center will be demolished. One — a former day care center for the children of psychiatric center employees — will provide the site for a new headquarters for the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Marine Resources.

“This park is going to come to life,” Wayne Horsley, Long Island regional director of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, told about 100 residents and officials who’d gathered to hear the presentation at the Kings Park Fire Department.

Much of the work would start by spring 2018 and finish by winter. Marina work would likely not start until 2020, and officials said the current marina would remain open during construction.

State parks officials began converting the 521-acre site for public use in 2000, four years after the psychiatric center closed. Some local officials and civic leaders have complained that the dozens of buildings were safety risks and that progress has been fitful, slowed by uncertain funding. Horsley said that more than half of the money is in hand, and that he was confident the balance would be in place.

“We know how frustrated you’ve been over the years,” said Horsley, who said that the planned improvements — along with the 100 state employees who would work in the new DEC building — would also provide an economic stimulus to an area that lost thousands of jobs when the center closed.

“We are so excited about the project,” said Linda Henninger, president of the Kings Park Civic Association.

Steve Berner, president of Long Island Paddlers, a kayaking and canoeing group, said he was heartened by a promise from officials to consider a floating dock near the marina for paddlers like him, whose vessels now risk getting scraped or worse when they launch from a concrete boat ramp. He estimated it would add $10,000 to $12,000 to the project’s eight-figure price tag.

“I’m more hopeful,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “It’s naturally beautiful, such a pretty river.”

The plan did not leave everyone satisfied. Smithtown Town Councilman Ed Wehrheim said he had hoped for more marina slips to alleviate crushing demand in the area; Sarah Kautz, preservation director of Society for the Preseration of Long Island Antiquities, worried that there was no attention paid to the center’s York Hall, a building once used by patients in drama productions and by nearby residents for community meetings.

Henninger and others, like John McQuaid, president of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation, said they still hoped to see a master plan for further development of the park.

McQuaid said his group had offered to fund at least half of the estimated $200,000 to $400,000 cost of a plan, and he worried about the direction of the project already.

“I don’t think they are putting enough emphasis on removing the old buildings as they plan to build more buildings,” he said in an interview. Horsley said he was not opposed to a master plan in the future. But he considers it a stroke of luck that he was able to leverage DEC spending for park improvements, he said, and he didn’t want to let the chance pass.

“Let’s jump on this while we can,” he said. “When I get the opportunity to put $40 million into the park, it’s a good thing.”

With Joan Gralla

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