A Suffolk County Supreme Court judge said Thursday that New York State agencies likely violated rules forbidding use of parkland for nonpark purposes when they started building a 30,000-square-foot Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters in Nissequogue River State Park this year.
Judge Sanford Berland stopped short of ordering a halt to work, though, ordering lawyers for the DEC and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the not-for-profit Nissequogue River State Park Foundation to seek a solution before returning to his courtroom March 19.
The foundation and its president, John McQuaid, filed a lawsuit last year demanding a detailed environmental impact study for the project. They also argued that only authorization of the New York State Legislature could convey the headquarters land from Parks to the DEC. In February they asked for an injunction while that case is decided.
Foundation lawyer William Hurst said in Thursday’s hearing that the agencies had attempted to “short circuit” the environmental review process without fully taking into account the project’s possible impacts. And, he said, they had years to seek legislative approval to transfer the parkland, a process known as alienation, before they started construction earlier this year.
Andrew Frank, a state assistant attorney general, argued that suspending construction at this point would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars because the agency would have to extend rent on a building it now uses for offices and labs. Moreover, he said, DEC headquarters would serve a variety of purposes benefiting the park and its visitors, such as meeting spaces, law enforcement presence and easy access to fishing licenses.
That argument was not well-received by the court.
“You don’t need a 30,000-square-foot building to sell a fishing license,” Berland said.
Lawyers for both sides declined to comment, and the attorney general’s press office did not respond to a request for comment. McQuaid wrote Friday in an email that “we are grateful the court recognizes that nobody, including the State of New York, is above the law.”