Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Hoping for no pool/park closures this year! times union 2/9/11.

ALBANY -- Don't expect a repeat of last spring's budget-driven threats to close state parks, the acting head of the park system told a panel of state lawmakers Tuesday during a hearing on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed 2010-11 budget.

But get ready for a different kind of drama around the beginning of June, when the state Department of Environmental Conservation is slated to release proposed rules to regulate the controversial natural gas drilling technique called hydrofracking.

Andy Beers, acting commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, credited layoffs during the waning days of the Paterson administration with giving the park system breathing room to absorb the additional spending cut of 6.2 percent, or $19 million, sought by Cuomo.

"We will not be repeating last year's scenario," Beers said during a hearing of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. The budget also contains no changes in park fees, with Beers saying fee hikes last year have brought the parks "up to market rates."

A park advocacy group that includes former parks commissioner Carol Ash, who went through the political firestorm that followed last year's closure threats, took Beers' announcement with a grain of salt.

"While it may be reassuring to hear that the agency has no plans to close parks at this time, it is difficult to see how they will be able to achieve required savings without serious service reductions and even closure of some park operations," said Erik Kulleseid, director of the Alliance for New York State Parks.

His group called for the state to impose a 1-cent fee on disposable plastic grocery store shopping bags that would yield $60 million a year help pay for the parks. The group released a poll of 1,000 registered state voters that found 73 percent supported the idea of the bag fee.

"The crisis facing New York's state parks goes far beyond this year's budget proposal. Although parks may be open, there are pools and campsites not open due to the continuing deterioration of the system," Kulleseid said.

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