2012-06-22 / Top Stories

Refuge Visitor Center Renaming No Done Deal

Gillibrand Calls Renaming A ‘Stunt,’ Environmentalists Oppose
By Nicholas Briano


Congressman Bob Turner at the Wildlife Refuge Center last week. Congressman Bob Turner at the Wildlife Refuge Center last week. Bob Turner’s proposal to rename the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center after former conservative U.S Appeals Judge and Senator James Buckley isn’t as cut-and-died as perhaps Turner may have first thought.

Since his announcement last week there has been a controversy brewing about Turner’s political motives behind renaming the center and whether or not it should be remembered for someone more significant to the bay and park itself. Even though Buckley sponsored legislation while in the Senate that would help create Gateway National Recreation Area, environmentalists much closer to the heart of the park feel Buckley’s name has no place in the park regardless of his role in creating it.

Don Riepe, self-proclaimed Guardian of Jamaica Bay, spends a lot of time in the refuge organizing events, cleaning the bay and leading tours through the area as the executive director of the American Littoral Society’s northeast chapter and can think of someone much better to name the center after if the government insists on doing so. The Littoral Society, Riepe says, prefers to keep things the way they are now, but if they choose to rename the facility it should not be in Buckley’s memory but for someone with a more direct influence on the park’s physical development.

“We, the American Littoral Society, opposed the naming on the grounds that we had never heard of Sen. James Buckley before and we feel there are more deserving people who should have that honor,” he told The Wave this week.

Herbert Johnson is a name that immediately comes to mind for Riepe and his other Littoral Society members.

“[Johnson was] the first refuge manager and spent the remaining years of his life building up the refuge from scratch. Also, there was no public input and the many user groups who visit the refuge frequently were left out of the process. There should have been some debate. It is, after all, a democracy. Although Sen. Buckley was involved in the initial legislation, no one has heard of him since then and I’m told that the National Park Service will not name things for individuals unless they have a long-standing involvement with the park.”

With that said, Riepe and other environmentalists plan to play as big a part as possible in opposing the renaming of the center, despite the fact that Turner is formally introducing the legislation this week before Congress.

Buckley was a U.S. Senator from 1971 to 1977 and he co-sponsored the bill to help create the park.

In order for the legislation to pass, however, it needs the approval of the House and the Senate. The passage of the bill in the Senate is unlikely since Kirsten Gillibrand, who called the renaming a “stunt” last week, seems opposed to doing so. While the environmentalists such as Riepe are opposed for what may be historical reasons, Gillibrand and Turner seem to disagree as a matter of political difference. After all, should Turner win his primary this week, it would be Gillibrand he faces in the November election for the junior Senate seat.

“As the current occupant of the Buckley senate seat, it should be a natural for Senator Gillibrand to support this modest naming. One has to wonder if Ms. Gillibrand would consider this a ‘stunt,’ as her office called it, if this naming were for a liberal Democrat,” Turner said late last week after Gillibrand’s spokesperson told the New York Observer that they “will decline to comment on this latest stunt.”

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