A nonprofit organization created to help restore Nissequogue River State Park is suing the New York State agencies behind a proposal to build a Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters on park grounds.
A lawyer for Nissequogue River State Park Foundation and its chairman, John McQuaid, argues in a suit filed in state Supreme Court in Riverhead that the planned 30,000-square-foot facility has the “potential to create significant adverse effects on natural, historic and aesthetic resources, and will significantly alter existing use and traffic patterns within the Park to the detriment of its current uses for walking, hiking, bird-watching.”
The lawsuit names the DEC and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and seeks to vacate a June 2019 determination by state parks officials that the project would have no such adverse effects. It alleges that an Office of Parks’ environmental assessment was premature and that transfer of parkland is illegal without approval of the State Legislature.
State parks and environmental officials said in 2017 that construction of the facility would be part of a $40 million partial overhaul of the park, created in the early 2000s on the former site of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center. The psychiatric center was described as a self-contained city and one of the world’s largest mental hospitals before its closure in 1996. Dozens of abandoned hospital buildings have made full redevelopment a complicated and expensive effort.
Plans announced with fanfare at a 2017 community meeting in the hamlet called for a LEED-certified headquarters, construction meeting green building standards, between St. Johnland Road and Kings Park Boulevard near the Nissequogue River and the Long Island Sound. The location was chosen in part to give waterfront access to researchers and enforcement officials from the DEC’s Division of Marine Resources.
Public amenities like meeting rooms and marina facilities would be built or rehabilitated during the two-year construction period, officials said at the time.
“Let’s jump on this while we can,” said Wayne Horsley, then-regional director of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "When I get the opportunity to put $40 million into the park, it's a good thing."
Some civic leaders and elected officials, including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, attended a rally earlier this month in support of the project.
Parks and DEC representatives declined to comment on pending litigation. A Parks spokesman shared environmental assessment documents with findings that the proposed project would result in removal of invasive plant species and planting of native species that would screen the building from view from the Nissequogue River. Those documents also cite “numerous public benefits,” including increased law enforcement presence at the park, where abandoned buildings have attracted arsonists and thrill-seekers.
McQuaid said in an interview last week that some of the anticipated benefits could be achieved by building a headquarters elsewhere in the park.
“Why they selected a beautiful spot smack in the middle with those views is still unexplained to us,” he said.