Baldwinite pleased with open access compromise

County might keep some open spaces closed to the public


To the delight of Baldwinite John Lowe, Republican county legislators on Oct. 5 introduced a measure to require the Public Works and Parks departments to determine which parcels should remain closed to the public before the county opens more than 300 acres of forests, fields and wetlands it owns to everyone. The properties are scattered in communities across the county, and one — a wetland on a canal — is in Baldwin.

“I’m very optimistic that this is what we were asking for,” Lowe said, “that each parcel would be evaluated.”

The amendment to a recently proposed local law would require the commissioners of DPW and Parks to evaluate all open spaces owned by the county and determine where public access is inappropriate because of the nature of the property. The commissioners would then send their determinations to the Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee, which must approve all decisions to open lands to the public. The restricted spaces would be marked with appropriate signs.

The proposed amendment was attached to a bill introduced by County Legislator Richard Nicolello, a New Hyde Park Republican. Nico-lello wrote the bill after a series of reports published in Newsday de-tailed unfulfilled promises to im-prove and grant public access to lands purchased as part of the Environmental Bond Acts of 2004 and 2006.

According to the reports, many of the lots bought through the bond — for a total of $150 million — benefited county appointees and those politically connected to former County Executive Tom Suozzi, now a member of Congress, and former County Executive Ed Mangano, who faces federal corruption charges.

But as the Herald reported last month, some want to see a four-acre lot of tidal wetlands at the end of Parkway Drive in Baldwin exempt from that bill. County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Freeport Democrat, said she believes there are other lands that should remain closed.

The county bought the Baldwin wetland in 2006 to block the development of 11 detached houses. The plot is home to ospreys, blue herons and sea turtles.

Lowe said that opening the land to the public would endanger the natural habitat. The wetland also improves water quality in the Parkway Drive canal by filtering runoff and pollutants, and during Hurricane Sandy it helped reduce damage to waterfront homes by acting as a buffer against the storm.

Mulé said she thinks the amendment is a step in the right direction. She and Lowe said they were optimistic that an evaluation would show the wetland should not be open to the public. “It seems pretty obvious,” Mulé said. “All you have to do is go look at it.”

“I’m hopeful the DPW will determine, as I think, it’s unsuitable for public access,” Lowe said.

County Democrats have expressed opposition to Nicolello’s bill to open the lands because of concerns about cost and public safety. Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams, a Freeport Democrat, said on Oct. 11 that he was pleased with the latest amendment. “It makes perfect sense,” he said. “We need to make sure the spaces aren’t unsafe to ensure the public is secure.”

Legislator Josh Lafazan, an independent from Syosset who caucuses with Democrats, broke with his party to support the original bill during a Sept. 12 parks committee meeting, though he requested an audit of all properties. He said the amendment is a good compromise.

“I think it’s assuaged all of my fears,” he said. “I think all Nassau County taxpayers should have access to this land because they paid for it … but it’s important that we really get it right.”

Karen Contino, a spokeswoman for Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin, said in an email, “The county executive will always support access to open space for all residents. However, we are working to ensure all plans are fiscally and environmentally responsible. The majority caucus received a 2011 report and a recent update, which made clear that this rushed legislation is unnecessary.”