Environmentalists to sue county over use of drinking water protection funds

09/14/2011 11:40 AM |

Environmental groups — led by firebrand Pine Barrens Society head Richard Amper — announced this week they are planning to file a lawsuit against Suffolk County lawmakers because the government approved the use of funds slated for drinking water and open space preservation to balance next year’s budget.

Mr. Amper, director of the nonprofit Riverhead-based Long Island Pine Barrens Society, charged in a press release this week that on Aug. 2 the Legislature and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy illegally approved using monies from the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program to help plug a $150 million budget gap.

Mr. Amper said the county’s move was illegal because the program, created in 1987 to safeguard drinking water through purchasing land and preventing development, “may only be amended, modified, repealed or altered by an enactment of an appropriate Charter Law subject to mandatory referendum.

“Lawmakers ripped-off the taxpayers, directing millions to plug a hole in the bloated county budget,” Mr. Amper said. “That’s not just a betrayal of public trust; it’s against the law.”

Long Island Environmental Voters Forum member Jennifer Juengst, whose nonprofit group is another litigant in the case, said in a press release that she believes “voters have been defrauded.”

“We urged voters to support the Drinking Water Protection Program most recently in a 2007 referendum, so it’s our responsibility to prevent elected officials from committing voter fraud by ripping taxpayers off,” she said.

The environmental groups are expected to file suit Sept. 15.

Mr. Levy did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

jennifer@northshoresun.com