Updated 05/28/2010 04:43 PM
State Senate Approves Legislation To Reopen Parks
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Dozens of shuttered state parks should reopen, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend.
Early Friday morning, the State Assembly passed a bill that would provide $11 million for park operations this year.
The State Senate voted later in the afternoon to approve the measure.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says reopening parks is particularly important during tough economic times.
"In this time of recession when many New Yorkers are not traveling too far, they're using the resources of New York for their family vacations,” Silver said. “This is an appropriate thing for us to do."
Some Republicans opposed the bill because they say it would raise fees for businesses that dispose of hazardous and electronic waste. They also say the bill contains funding for pet projects.
Democrats, however, had enough votes to pass the legislation on their own and said that the additional fees will raise about $5 million for the state.
The agreement reached with Governor David Paterson yesterday takes about $80 million from the state's Environmental Protection Fund. Of that money, $6 million will go toward reopening the parks and the remaining $74 million will go toward closing the state's $9.2 billion budget deficit.
The Paterson administration had closed 41 parks and 14 historic sites, including Bayswater Point Park in Queens to try to save money.
Others, including Riverbank State Park in Manhattan, have had services and hours cut.
"Yeah, it feels like a piece of me is gone ever since they closed down in the morning,” said one park-goer.
"It's beautiful,” said another park-goer. “It makes you feel like you are not in New York City."
Those who rely on Riverbank for exercise and an escape from the city say the state cannot put a price on their quality of life. Others say it's time for the state to improve how it manages parks.
"You pay $3 to go swimming here,” said a pool user. “I would pay $5, $8, so would every other person here."
Critics say taking money from the Environmental Protection Fund will lead to drastic cuts for the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Garden, but the Assembly speaker says those institutions will not be affected.
"These are important for tourism, for recreation, all the things that make New York great,” said Bill Ulfelder of the Nature Conservancy. “To reduce this spending is devastating. The EPF has been treated like a punching bag through the budget process."
The money shuffle may solve the problem for now, but there are no guarantees New Yorkers won't be locked out of their park again next year.