Here is the complete text of testimony given November 19th by NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Commissioner Carol Ash at the New York State Assembly Public Hearing for the $132 million capital improvement spending plan for our parks and historic sites. A pdf of the Capital Plan presentation is located here. This page includes the initial announcement of the plan along with a Report to the Legislature and the Capital Projects List.
Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss our real success story of the past year — our capital initiative — “The Revitalization of New York State’s Parks and Historic Sites”.
I truly appreciate this opportunity to fully discuss our capital program, its economic significance, and the importance of our state parks in communities throughout the state.
The New York State Park system is made up of 178 parks and 35 historic sites encompassing 325,000 acres of lands and waters. The system is widely recognized as one of the best in the nation. Our parks and historic sites host more than 55 million visitors annually.
Our huge inventory of public recreational facilities includes 5,000 buildings, 29 golf courses, 53 swimming pools, 76 beaches, 27 marinas, 40 boat launching sites, 18 nature centers, 817 cabins, 8,355 campsites, more than 1,350 miles of trails, 106 dams, 640 bridges, hundreds of miles of roads, and dozens of historic structures listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Niagara Falls State Park, established in 1885, is the oldest state park in the nation, and Washington’s Headquarters, established in 1850, is the first publicly-owned state historic site. The Bethpage Black was the first publicly-owned golf course to host the U.S. Open Golf Championship in 2002. The 109th United States Open Championship will return to this world-class facility in June of next year.
In traveling to more than 150 of our state parks and historic sites across the state, I have seen first-hand some of the significant challenges facing our parks. In many parts of the state, I was able to share these experiences with members of the Assembly and to those legislators who were able to join me on these park visits, I offer a special thank you.
As a result of a thorough assessment of our system, we identified a backlog of critical capital project needs approaching $650 million.
How did a $650 million capital backlog come to be? Over the fifteen year period from 1992 through 2007, the state park system grew. Twenty-six new parks and 70,000 acres were acquired, representing a 25 percent increase in the system. But over this same period, the state parks’ capital budget was cut by 50 percent, adjusting for inflation. Cutting the capital budget by 50 percent, while expanding the system by 26 new parks, led to a predictable outcome – we are now faced with the challenge of addressing a large backlog of health and safety and park rehabilitation needs.
Fortunately, this year Governor Paterson and the Legislature, with the support of Speaker Silver and Chairmen Englebright and Sweeney, responded to this challenge. The current year FY2008-09 state budget created a new State Parks Capital Initiative. This initiative, coupled with other funds OPRHP secured from federal, state, and private sources, enabled the agency to launch a program to revitalize the state park system totaling more than $100 million.
OPRHP’s $100 million capital investment is delivering tangible, on-the-ground benefits to the residents of New York State. Last week, I submitted a six-month update report to the Legislature on the status of State Park’s Capital Program. The agency has initiated more than 150 capital construction projects to remedy the health and safety issues and rehabilitate deteriorated facilities in State Parks and Historic Sites across the state—addressing health and safety concerns, and providing safe and affordable recreational and educational experiences for millions of New Yorkers.
Of the total $95 million State Parks Capital Initiative appropriation, $75.5 million was allocated to OPRHP. As charged by the Governor and the Legislature, we aggressively set out to efficiently spend these dollars. As of today –seven months later – OPRHP has spent or encumbered 96 percent of the $75.5 million.
Let me repeat, in just seven months through the fiscal year, we have spent or have under contract $72.5 million of the $75.5 million provided to the agency this year – and we have initiated bidding and contract awards for the remaining $3 million.
The agency is on track to encumber the entire $75.5 million by March 31, 2009, and the visiting public will see some noticeable improvements to our state parks during next year’s summer operating season. And, we are ready to begin construction on the next installment of new projects for the next fiscal year, spurring even more economic activity in communities throughout the state.
These capital investments will not only improve the parks and protect the state’s investments in irreplaceable public assets, but they also support the equivalent of 1,000 full-time private sector construction and engineering jobs which bolster the state’s economy in these very difficult times. Due to the nature of construction jobs, this equivalent reflects thousands of actual, on-site workers for various periods of time. The nature and scope of agency’s capital work also makes the projects ideal for small to medium-sized construction firms, businesses that will be most impacted by the economic downturn.
Here are some examples of revitalization projects made possible by this year’s State Parks Capital Initiative.
Four Mile Creek State Park Comfort Station Renovations.
At Four Mile Creek in Niagara County, we are providing park patrons with a new, updated comfort station. The new building features several “green” components including water saving fixtures and skylights, and is fully accessible.
Letchworth State Park.
Roads throughout Letchworth were repaired and repaved, and several public parking areas were resurfaced – addressing critical but long-deferred park infrastructure needs. Other projects initiated at the park this year include waterline improvements and construction of a new washhouse to serve campers. Camping at the park was booked to capacity for most of the summer. About an hour’s drive south of Rochester, Letchworth is a popular and significant tourist attraction in the Genesee region of the state, hosting about 750,000 visitors each year.
The large Peerless Pool complex, including the fully accessible main pool, slide pool, and toddler pool, were rehabilitated. A new pool liner was installed to improve durability and eliminate water leakage. In addition, a number of the park’s roads, parking areas, bike paths, and walking trails were resurfaced. The spa park attracts 1.7 million visitors annually.
Last year, we showed you pictures of severely deteriorating cabins at this park. This past summer, we initiated phase one of the cabin loop restoration project that will rehabilitate deteriorated public rental cabins throughout the park, which has 424 campsites and 375 cabins spread throughout its 65,000 acres. Allegany is a top destination for campers, hikers, and nature lovers.
This bathhouse provided another of last year’s memorable “uglies”. Capital projects completed using this year’s funding include the rehabilitation of bathhouse and pool fencing. FDR State Park, located in Westchester County, draws 570,000 visitors annually. (Here we are viewing some of the ongoing work with members of the local Assembly delegation)
Following a news conference attended by local Assembly members and Senators this summer, State Parks broke ground on a new $2.3 million bathhouse at the swimming beach in this popular park, located near Syracuse. The new bathhouse will incorporate green technologies, as well as current building code and accessibility standards, and will be open to the public for next summer. The park hosts 850,000 visitors annually.
This past summer, we celebrated the 15th anniversary of Riverbank state park community supporters and local state representatives. As part of our capital initiative, we are replacing the traffic circle roadway which provides the park’s main entrance for vehicles, including public buses. In addition to the traffic circle, the agency is in the process of letting contracts to rehabilitate failing roofs and HVAC systems, and has initiated other upgrades including rehabilitation of irrigation lines and the replacement of more than 100 trees donated by the
Brentwood State Park-Park Development.
Construction has begun at Brentwood State Park in Suffolk County, a major athletic complex that will provide greatly needed playing fields in this underserved area. This first phase of construction, which includes sixteen soccer fields and four baseball fields, is slated to open in the summer of 2009. The park will serve thousands of children in a community that has been very much in need of recreational facilities.
By any measure, the State Parks Revitalization Initiative is off to a solid start. However, contrasted against a capital backlog of $650 million, much more work remains to be done. As I outlined last year, the bulk of OPRHP’s capital needs fall into two categories:
Health and Safety Projects.
The state parks continue to face a number of health and safety issues. We have outdated drinking water systems that need to be replaced. We have aging sewage treatment systems that have exceeded their useful life; dams on the state’s “high hazard” list that do not meet modern dam safety standards, and bridges that have been flagged as potential hazards. We have failing electrical systems and landfills that, although inactive for many years, were never closed to DEC standards.
This category is by far the largest, comprising approximately two-thirds of OPHRP’s total identified capital needs. It encompasses capital rehabilitation of existing infrastructure in the parks and historic sites – replacing facilities that have long exceeded their practical and operational effectiveness and are in various stages of disrepair, including roofs, heating and plumbing systems, visitor centers, bathrooms, campgrounds, shower buildings, picnic shelters, recreation fields, pools, swimming pools, bathhouses, nature centers, roads, parking areas, hiking trails, and maintenance centers.
We understand that decisions about next year’s investment in our state parks need to be made in the context of the unprecedented fiscal picture facing New York State. Like all state agencies, we are reducing operating expenses and focusing on the agency’s core mission and priorities. Nonetheless, I believe that, even in this time of fiscal difficulty, continued funding for New York’s State Parks’ capital program is a smart financial investment. The State Parks Capital Program has and can continue to deliver:
Safe and Affordable Parks
Visitation at parks was very strong this summer and, given the challenging financial outlook facing millions of New Yorkers, we expect continued heavy public demand next year for our campgrounds, cabins, picnic and swimming areas, lakes and ocean beaches, and other recreational facilities.
Revitalized State Parks and Historic Sites directly support recreational tourism, which is one of New York’s largest industries. To grow our tourism industry, we need to make sure that these visitors have high-quality experiences, so that they will return in the future and tell others to do the same.
Parks provide a place for New Yorkers of all ages to and exercise and play. By investing is safe and attractive facilities, the initiative is part of a comprehensive state strategy to promote public health and wellness, particularly among children and underserved communities.
This year, OPRHP has proven our ability to quickly and efficiently put the State Parks Capital Initiative Funds to work – creating jobs and investing in tangible, lasting improvements to our public facilities. I hope that we are able to continue our momentum on this initiative, within the confines of what is affordable in the overall state budget.
In closing, I would like to thank you for your support of New York’s State Park System. As I have traveled the state over the past two years – from Long Island’s magnificent ocean beach parks, to our urban parks in New York City, to our hundreds of facilities across upstate New York – I have received universal support for the parks from our state’s elected officials. Supporting our parks is a sound investment in the future of our state, and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is committed to continuing to make wise use of this investment in the future.
Thank you. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.