Kim Garypie, left, with daughter Layla, from Sag Harbor, and...

Kim Garypie, left, with daughter Layla, from Sag Harbor, and Lisa Alamia, from Southampton, with son Nicholas, at the playground in Agawam Park in the Village of Southampton. (April 7, 2010) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The federal government is threatening to withhold millions of dollars from New York and take back Brookhaven State Park if Gov. David A. Paterson closes parks to reduce the budget shortfall.

The National Park Service has written Paterson that the state can't legally close as many as 91 parks and historic sites because the federal government provided money or land for those sites.

"It's about taking federal funds and then not doing what you promised to do," said park service spokesman Phil Sheridan.

The closures could put at risk all money from all federal agencies, park service Northeast regional director Dennis Reidenbach warned in a March 31 letter. He said failure to comply with the parks regulations could lead to exclusion from all funding programs under federal law.

"We're talking about education, transportation," Sheridan said. "We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in the future."

The cash-strapped state would save $11.3 million under Paterson's proposal to close the parks. Paterson's position is that he's not violating federal regulations because the parks would only be closed for a year. In a letter to Reidenbach, Paterson asked for a meeting between state Parks Commissioner Carol Ash and Park Service officials.

But the Park Service says the state's closure would not comply with the rules of two big programs - the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Federal Land for Parks Program.

Forty-three state parks, including seven on Long Island, slated for closing have received money from the land and water fund. Next year, the state was scheduled for $1.9 million from the fund. Since 1965, New York has received about $230 million from the program.

The Federal Lands to Parks Program provided the land for Brookhaven State Park and another park upstate. If the state closes either park, the federal government could demand the return of the land, Reidenbach said.

The park service issued the same cutoff threat last year to California Gov. Arnold Schwar- zenegger after he threatened to close parks that had been assisted by the same programs. The parks stayed open.

"It's a wake-up call to state government," said Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), chairman of the Assembly's parks committee. "It makes it clear that closing state parks could result in fiscal carnage Any rational policymaker should realize this is a meaningful threat."

In his letter to Reidenbach, Paterson wrote that "New York is not going to convert any parks or historic sites" to other uses. "We will maintain all areas as public outdoor recreation use in perpetuity. New York, like all states, faces a historic fiscal crisis of unprecedented magnitude."

Sheridan responded that "we're sensitive to the budgetary needs of New York," but closing any park covered by the two programs even temporarily would violate the rules. "The basic requirement is that it [a park] be open for recreational purposes to the public in perpetuity," he said.

Reidenbach wrote the letter at the request of U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, (D-Ulster County), who questioned Paterson's contention that a one-year closing would be acceptable under the federal rules.

Shawn McConnell, Campaign for Parks director with the Albany-based advocacy group Parks & Trails New York, said the federal threat would exert more pressure on state officials to keep all the parks open. "Is a minuscule amount - $11.3 million that parks needs to open all of the parks - worth all of this money that they are going to lose and all the economic activity that parks generate?" he asked.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) said, "I understand that New York State is in a budget crisis, but it is critical that the state work closely with the National Park Service before making any closures that would result in the loss of any of our beautiful park land."

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