Nassau considers bill to ease access to public lands

Nassau considers bill to ease access to public lands
The Nassau County Legislative and Executive Building is seen in Mineola. (Photo by DanTD via Wikimedia Commons)

Nassau County is moving to improve access and signage for public spaces following a report that many of these sites were hard to reach or almost completely inaccessible.

A report in Newsday last week detailed $100 million in purchases through the county’s landmark environmental bond acts of 2004 and 2006. This acquired land was supposed to be used for the public benefit, but the report found that many of the plots had little to no signage, parking, hiking trails or other park amenities. Some of these plots could not even be reached by the public.

“Anytime that public money is used, the public should know every aspect of it,” said County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove).

Proposed by Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), a law has been put before the Nassau County Legislature that would more clearly mandate that all open space owned or operated by the county be open and accessible to the public. Signage and parking would be required at all of these locations, the sites must be listed on the county’s website, and written materials on how to reach the sites must be provided.

According to Newsday, a similar proposal was put forward in 2011 to improve access at a number of county-owned sites, but it was defeated by funding issues and protests from some environmentalists.

That program would have cost $300,000 but would be more expensive today, Newsday reported. But Nicolello said that implementing the new bill wouldn’t have much of an impact on the county’s strained budget, as new signage and promotional materials would be relatively inexpensive.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran disagreed. In a letter to Nicolello and Abrahams sent on Tuesday, she said that any program would need to “fit within the urgent fiscal constraints facing Nassau County finances” and said the county already had strategies to improve open space access without passing additional legislation.

DeRiggi-Whitton said Tuesday that she needed more time to look at the bill but indicated she would probably support it. Nicolello told Newsday that Republicans would support the bill; Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams indicated that Democrats would as well.

“I still think that preserving public land is a good idea because there isn’t much of it left here in Nassau,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “But the process has to be scrutinized and the spaces identified.”

The bill will come before the Legislature at its next meeting on Aug. 6.

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at [email protected], by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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