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Residents oppose Jones Beach nature center

Lawsuit claims plans violate laws

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As Gov. Andrew Cuomo moves forward with plans to build an $18 million Energy and Nature Education Center at Jones Beach State Park and designate a portion of the West End a preservation area, nine local residents filed a lawsuit last month claiming that the move violates state and federal laws and would turn a “pristine beachfront” into an industrial area.

A handful of residents voiced their concerns about the center at a Long Island Power Authority board meeting last week, saying that the project illegally uses private funds to build in a public park and serves as a “smokescreen” for an offshore wind farm that would potentially disrupt the natural environment.

“Everybody who’s gone down there this summer is shocked, appalled, disgusted at what you have done to the most beautiful place on earth,” said Linda Jurist, a Freeport resident named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Nassau, to LIPA board members at the meeting.

“The energy education center that you propose, first of all, is with private money, which is illegal on parkland, and that is our case,” Jurist continued. “Secondly, it is simply a smokescreen to cover up the fact that you are putting up this huge wind farm which has been thrown out of upstate, the Hamptons, and now it’s down with the peons: us.”

The center, which Cuomo announced last fall, would be built in a public-private partnership with PSEG Long Island, LIPA, the New York Power Authority, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and private donors.

The center would replace the existing Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, and construction is under way. In a news release, Cuomo said the interactive, energy-neutral facility would be built to educate people on ways to promote a “sustainable future.” It’s designed to produce as much energy as it consumes through solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling. The Parks Department would also designate the West End of Jones Beach as a park preservation area to protect the marine coastal habitat.

“The addition of the Energy and Nature Center highlights New York’s progress in revitalizing historic Jones Beach State Park and our commitment to providing the very best recreation and tourism opportunities to both residents and visitors,” Cuomo said in a news release. “This investment will continue to boost tourism across the region, while preserving our environment and encouraging visitors to support our state’s outdoor resources.”

The lawsuit names LIPA and other agencies, Jurist said, claiming that constructing the center violates Parkland Alienation laws, the Coastal Barriers Resources Act, the Land and Water Conservation Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Tidal Wetlands Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the state Environmental Quality Review Act and the state Historic Preservation Act.

A spokesman for Cuomo did not immediately return calls requesting comment.

Jurist said she expected the lawsuit to move to federal court. Her husband, Herbert, said he and other residents were concerned about the impact a wind farm would have on the local bird population and fishing industry. Anne Lazarus, of New York City, also told LIPA board members that the project posed a threat to local bird populations.

“I am here today to protest this violation of the West End 2 environment,” Robert Muller, of Garden City, said at the meeting. “I oppose this unlawful attack and destruction of the only remaining natural seashore at Jones Beach. This $18 million project, $9 million of which will be paid by LIPA, is an outrageous abuse of we, Long Island ratepayers, towards this poorly disguised political ploy by Gov. Cuomo and the marketing tool, LIPA, at the taxpayer’s expense in support of the new green deal.”

He described the construction as “wrecking machines tearing down the last untouched natural environment on Jones Beach to make way for a commercial consortium comprised of PSEG LI, NYPA, LIPA, and others.”

“It is an oxymoron to proclaim 218.5 acres of the West End 2 area as a parkland preservation area when in fact LIPA’s plans are to turn this once pristine beachfront into a taxpayer-supported industrial site surrounded by high-power voltage cables, fed by offshore wind farms and artificial sand dunes to mask the real world of sun, sea and sand,” Muller said.

Daniel Karpen, of Huntington, also denounced the project. He told board members they “ought to settle with the plaintiffs and stop the project, restore the land.”

John Keating, the economic development manager at PSEG Long Island, said, “We have aggressive energy goals to meet that are more challenging every year, so it’s a perfect place to demonstrate new technology for energy efficient technology and renewable energy. . . . From our own perspective, we like to use energy-efficient programs to help customers lower their bills. By using it, they can use less energy and they can lower their costs. It’s good for the environment, and it’s good for their pocketbook.”

Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, highlighted the environmental benefits of the project.

“The center will be a four-season interactive facility to encourage visitors of all ages to become good stewards of the environment and smart energy consumers,” Keefe said in a statement, adding that the project would only minimally disrupt the environment. “Visitors will learn about Long Island’s various ecosystems and how to use energy wisely, conserve water and create a more resilient and sustainable future. The center will have modern spaces that will expand and enhance existing environmental education programs.”

A spokesman for the Department of Public Service said that while he could not comment on pending litigation, the department was contacted by a resident who shared concerns about the center and is reviewing the comment.

“While the project has already commenced, I am interested in finding out the specific impacts on the environment, taxpayers and aesthetics of the area,” State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on this development.”

“Everything comes back to the source, which is the wind farm . . . They kicked it out all over the northeast shore, but LIPA has a different view,” Jurist said. “They’re in for the money, and they have their viewpoint. But it’s going to cost the taxpayers, the ratepayers, people who have LIPA — it’s going to cost them a lot of money. This thing isn’t going to fly for a long time.”

Alena Walters, a plaintiff named in the lawsuit, said Baldwin residents are among the residents protesting the project. Members of the Baldwin Civic Association declined to comment, but said they would look into the matter.

“I’ve had a full life, and I seek nothing more than to quietly enjoy my remaining years here on Long Island,” Muller said. “Jones Beach, in particular West End 2, has been that special sanctuary where I am able to cherish the sun, sea and sand in all its natural beauty.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that PSEG was named in the lawsuit, but the company was not. We regret the error.