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Assemblyman offers plan to keep state parks open

At Jones Beach, Leslie Small, left, of Roslyn,

At Jones Beach, Leslie Small, left, of Roslyn, and Molly Friend, of New Rochelle, enjoyed the warm weather, Sunday. (March 21, 2010) Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

The chairman of the Assembly parks committee Sunday outlined a plan to keep open 91 threatened parks and historic sites by taking money from other agencies, raising beach and golf fees more than proposed and borrowing against capital improvement funds.

"The state budget is $133 billion," Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) told about 75 members of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference at their annual meeting in Cold Spring Harbor. "Keeping all of the parks open would cost $11.3 million. So we're not talking about a significant part of the budget. But the impact on the people is huge."

To keep open the parks - including 10 on Long Island - targeted for closure under Gov. David A. Paterson's plan to close a $9.4 million budget gap, Englebright would transfer more than $5 million from other agencies to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The department already plans to raise beach and golf course fees to generate $4 million. Englebright favors additional fee hikes to raise several million dollars more, a step he said some park user groups have advocated.

And as a last resort, he said, "another source might be one-time borrowing from the State Park Infrastructure Fund." The fund was created to collect park fees and channel them into park capital projects in the early 1990s when the system was threatened by years of deferred maintenance. He said borrowing some of the $22 million now in that fund or against the fund's future revenues - an idea suggested by Audubon New York - would be preferable to transferring $5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund to the parks operating budget, as proposed by the governor.

The EPF, which gets most of its money from land transfer taxes and is used primarily for land acquisition and not operations, also provides money for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, he said. And the transfer could spur legal challenges to environmental laws, Englebright said.

Trail Conference President David Reisfield said later, "I think his plan is excellent." He added, "People like me who use the parks will be more than happy to pay additional fees so we continue to have the privilege of using them."

Parks spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee had no immediate comment.

 

Making a point with spare change

 

The Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference on Sunday urged Nassau and Suffolk residents who want to keep their state parks open to send a protest message to the governor with their spare change.

With the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation proposing to close up to 10 state parks on the Island as part of Gov. David Paterson's plan to close a $9.4 billion budget gap, there have been protest rallies, petitions and letter-writing campaigns. But Richard Schary, a conference member, coined a different approach.

"If they close parks on Long Island, they're going to save $1 million," Schary said. "That's about 38 cents per citizen . We should all send 38 cents" to the governor - in change.

- Bill Bleyer

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