FORT EDWARD -- The historic Rogers Island, mostly privately owned, could be preserved as a state park if New York can buy it.
That’s a big "if" for some.
Shortly before Memorial Day, Gov. David Paterson pushed an emergency funding bill through the Legislature that kept state parks operating but cut $78 million from the Environmental Protection Fund for open space conservation and land acquisition. The money available for buying land was reduced from $65 million in the previous budget to $17.6 million for the 2010-11 fiscal year, but most of that is intended for forest preserve purchases.
For the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, that means no money for the Rogers Island property.
Parks spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee said there’s also no certainty the funds will be available in 2011-12.
"It’s all held up with the budget," Town of Fort Edward Supervisor Mitchell Suprenant said Sunday on a portion of the island known as the "gut," where a channel in 1917 was filled in, connecting the main island and a smaller island. "We all know what we want to see with this island, but you need money in order to do it."
The town has held public meetings to discuss its future, which include possible walking paths, ferry transit and ownership by a Local Development Corporation.
"It certainly was a priority for the agency to make the acquisition," Larrabee said. "I don’t know where we’re going to be come next year."
Warren County Historical Society Trustee John Strough, who is also the Queensbury 3rd Ward councilman, suggested the purchase of the property could further tourism efforts much in the way Vermont architecture has done for Manchester, Vt.
Rogers Island is considered the birthplace of the U.S. Army Rangers because Rogers’ Rangers — named after the group’s commander, Robert Rogers — were based there during the French and Indian War.
Strough noted that U.S. military still uses Roger’s Rules of Ranging or Plan of Discipline today. The code gives instruction for various military strategies and defenses.
The island is located on what was part of a sprawling British fortification from 1755 to the early 1760s, a period when Fort Edward was England’s largest military outpost in North America.
South of the Visitor’s Center, 34 acres of the 42-acre island are owned by a Long Island businessman who inherited the property from his father, a history buff.
"We have a duty to save this island from the kind of development that would forever destroy this noteworthy historic site," Strough said in an e-mail. "The only way to assure this with any integrity is to bring this part of the island into the public realm with the intent of preserving it [as] an historic site."
"The bottom line here is that it is the social and financially prudent right thing to do," Strough said.
The owner of those 34 acres said Wednesday he’s still planning to sell the property to the state for use as a park, despite a budget-related snag that will postpone the transaction until at least next year.
Long Island businessman Anthony Nastasi said he hasn’t heard anything official from state or local officials in Fort Edward about the sale of 34 acres on Rogers Island, 45 miles north of Albany.
State parks officials said in March that the $400,000 acquisition would be final by September. On Wednesday, an agency spokeswoman said the sale won’t happen this year because of cuts in funding for buying land.
The state was "in a rush to get the paperwork done by a certain date, and then it went quiet," Nastasi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I would imagine, because of the state budget woes, this is not a priority. So we’re sitting in limbo, waiting for them."
Nastasi’s father, Frank, a contractor and history buff, bought the property in the 1990s and later started talks with the state about a deal for the land.
After Frank Nastasi died in December 2007, his son took over the property and the negotiations continued. The younger Nastasi, whose drywall contracting business is based in Nassau County, said he has no other plans for the land and still wants to fulfill his father’s wish to preserve the property as a public park.
"This is what he wanted," Nastasi said. "We’re not going anywhere. The island’s not going anywhere. Unless they find gold or something, nothing’s going to change."
"We’ll wait it out for now," said Neil Orsini, a town board member who is also on The Rogers Island Heritage Development Alliance, Inc. "One way or the other, it’s going to be protected and turned into a park, even if we have to go knocking on doors ourselves to raise money and preserve the property for the community."
-- Post-Star reporter David Taube contributed to this report.