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Source: Long Island Business News

Long Islanders rally to save parks

BY CLAUDE SOLNIK

Posted: March 10, 2010
Originally Published: March 9, 2010

Hundreds of Long Island environmental advocates, elected officials and the public over the past few days have been stepping up rallies against Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget cuts that would lead to the closing of nearly a dozen Long Island parks and end the state’s spending on land preservation.

About 250 elected officials, advocates and the public rallied at Old Bethpage Village Restoration last Friday, calling on the governor to restore $29 million in cuts to the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and reductions in other funding for the environment.

But representatives from local groups such as the North Shore Land Alliance and the Peconic Land Trust then traveled to Albany Monday as part of what’s known as Land Trust Lobby Day, fighting against eliminating land preservation money.

The governor’s proposed cuts to the state’s parks department would lead to 100 park closings, including 10 on Long Island, and for the first time since 1993 end the state’s funding of the preservation of open space.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy joined others at the Friday rally, calling for the state to restore funding and avert closures or major cutbacks to parks and the environment.

Assembly members Virginia Fields, Steve Engelbright, Marc Alessi, John Conte, Fred Thiele, Jr. and Joseph Saladino, as well as Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, also called for more green to keep the state green.

Engelbright said park closures would create both environmental and economic problems, leading to a loss of revenue for local governments, because studies show parks lead to increasing local spending and revenues.

“The message was very clear,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who helped organize the rally. “Restore the Environmental Protection Fund and save our parks.”

If the cuts, which are being hotly contested in Albany, go through, a long list of Long Island’s parks would close, potentially creating additional pressure and even economic problems for the area, legislators said.

Orient Beach State Park, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, Nissequogue River State Park, Trail View State Park, Cold Spring Harbor State Park, Brookhaven State Park, Heckscher State Park, Hempstead Lake State Park, Valley Stream State Park and Brentwood State Park all would shut down.

“I don’t believe people would actually stay away from these parks,” Esposito said. “People are going to use them, even if they are closed. I think that creates a liability for the state.”

The state legislature last year set aside $222 million for the Environmental Protection Fund, which the governor would reduce to $143 million this year, a 40 percent cut over last year’s numbers and 80 percent from 2008.

The cuts to the EPF would mean an end for the state’s land preservation program, which officials also said could have economic consequences to the area.

Levy said the state’s decision to end money for land preservation would mean the counties and towns’ programs would receive less for that purpose, hampering their own efforts to preserve open space.

“We know there is a recession and we would accept a proportional reduction in our category but not 40 percent,” Esposito said. “The environment and parks are being targeted by this administration as throwaway items.”

She said letter writing and telephone campaigns continue as legislators continue to meet in order to hammer out their own version of a budget.