Senator John J. Flanagan (2nd Senate District) joined environmental advocates and members of the Kings Park community at the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center demanding that Governor Eliot Spitzer and his administration give strong and clear assurances that the transfer of this land into the Nissequogue River State Park will be respected.
"The Kings Park community deserves to know that their rights will be respected. We are calling for a firm commitment from Albany that they will honor this transfer and that this park will become one of the crown jewels of the state parks system," said Senator Flanagan. "I am committed to working with the new administration once that assurance is provided but I am equally committed to protecting the rights of this community. This is a park now and it should remain a park."
Organized by the Kings Park Neighbors' Association to bring a collective voice to the ongoing process regarding the future of the park, the rally attracted over 200 community members. The residents were supported by Senator Flanagan, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio, Smithtown Councilwoman Patricia Biancaniello, New York State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick and Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society Dick Amper.
"We held this rally to send the message to Albany that we are united in our commitment to this park. With elected officials from both parties and environmentalists like Dick Amper joining this rally, the message is clear that we are ready to work together to make this park a a reality. This is important for our children and for our future and we need to know that this transfer will be respected," stated KPNA President Linda Henninger.
In the first days of Governor Spitzer’s administration, two of Governor Spitzer's nominees, Patrick Foye and Carol Ash, requested a meeting with Senator Flanagan. This routine meet and greet session quickly turned into an unexpected probe of the recent park expansion that led Senator Flanagan to question the new administration's dedication to the Kings Park community.
Troubled by the direction of that initial conversation, Senator Flanagan stated his intention to fight any attempt to utilize the land in any other manner and immediately sent letters to Governor Spitzer and state officials demanding public assurances that the transfer would be respected.
He also spoke directly to Governor Spitzer to express his desire for assurance that this environmentally friendly transfer will be respected and the rights of the community protected.
To date, however, Senator Flanagan has received no official response regarding the future of this property.
The new administration's lack of commitment comes on the heels of the recently announced transfer of 365 plus acres of property into the Nissequogue River State Park. The final official agreement to transfer the land, which has been under the jurisdiction of the Office of Mental Health, was provided by the Office of General Services at the request of former Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro.
The transfer exempts a 2.68 acre piece of property that will be used by the Kings Park Fire District and a 36 acre parcel that will remain with the Office of Mental Health. The remaining acreage, estimated at 368 acres, are now part of the park system.
Senator Flanagan worked with Commissioner Castro for months to transfer the entire property following a recent court decision dismissing a developer's lawsuit. The suit was filed by developer Cherokee Arker after Senator Flanagan's successful fight to cancel a proposed sale in January of this year and sought to force New York State to sell a ninety acre piece of the land for construction. The lawsuit was dismissed in early December and that decision spurred Senator Flanagan's efforts to transfer the property into the state park system.
The move also follows years of work between Senator Flanagan and the Kings Park community to ensure that the people's voice is heard. Aside from the cancellation of the proposed sale, Senator Flanagan had worked on the community's behalf to secure $25 million in state funding for the cleanup of the site.
This transfer, which was officially approved on December 29, is intended to protect this wide swath of open space in Kings Park and build on that cleanup funding to transform this property into a natural beauty that all Long Islanders can enjoy. It will also force the state to rehabilitate the property is now in and that it created so that the land can be enjoyed by Long Islanders again.
Specifically, Senator Flanagan called on Governor Spitzer and his administration to assure environmentalists and the Kings Park community that:
-The entire expansion of the Nissequogue River State Park will be upheld as parkland;
-The $25 million secured by Senator Flanagan in last year’s budget will be reappropriated as part of the 2007-08 Executive Budget for the sole purpose of remediating the expanded parkland property;
-An additional $25 million be appropriated by Governor Spitzer to accelerate cleanup and redevelopment of the Nissequogue property;
-The present value of tax payments paid on this property by the State to Kings Park School District will be maintained; and
-A fair and public process will be established for redeveloping the property exclusively as parkland.
"It is very clear that New York State has a responsibility to the people of this community and of this region to cleanup their mess. This is the same standard Governor Spitzer used as attorney general when he held private companies responsible for cleanup costs. This transfer was accomplished through years of hard work and community commitment and they deserve a firm answer from the new administration and they deserve it now," stated Senator Flanagan. "At the end of last year, this was parkland and by the end of this year, I want to see it on its way to being clean parkland."
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