Changes to preservation bill die on the vine

12/18/2013 4:00 PM |
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

A measure by Legislator Al Krupski to amend how the county purchases farmland and open space failed to pass on Tuesday, even after the Cutchogue Democrat revised the proposed bill after it initially drew the ire of some environmentalists.

In June, Mr. Krupski proposed his original farmland preservation amendment, which suggested splitting the use of the county’s Drinking Water Protection Fund 50-50 between open space and farmland purchases. But dedicating a specific portion of the revenue stream to one use or the other proved too much to ask, and the legislator later altered his proposed amendment, pitching a watered-down version of the legislation in July.

Mr. Krupski’s amended proposal made no mention of setting aside a certain percentage of land purchases for open space or farmland. It did, however, set certain standards that parcels must meet in order to be appraised by the county — a required step before legislators vote to purchase land.

“I find it surprising that in any way, we could find it controversial that we would spend our money more wisely,” he said before the vote at Tuesday’s general meeting.

But the added benchmarks concerned at least 13 legislators, who voted to table the amendment in the final meeting of the year Tuesday, effectively killing it.

Attention to Suffolk’s land purchases through the Drinking Water Protection Fund came to the fore in the past year after the county bonded out against future revenues and subsequently used nearly all the funding. While land was at that time available for historically low prices, Suffolk County, Southampton and Riverhead towns were just a few of the municipalities that borrowed to buy now rather than later.

Legislator Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) said before Tuesday’s floor vote that he didn’t believe the proposed appraisal rating system was designed to be considered a threshold for whether a particular parcel could ever be purchased.

Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) said Mr. Krupski’s amendment would likely favor the first and second legislative districts — the North and South Forks — as they would codify the process of appraising land parcels, and most parcels available for open space and farmland preservation purchases are located out east.

“To set a rule that would cause me to put my constituents at a disadvantage permanently — I have a very difficult time doing that,” he said.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), chair of the county’s environment, planning and agriculture committee, said last week that those proposed thresholds, in effect, favor purchasing farmland over open space, as the standards were harder to meet for open space buys.

“It’s not treating them equally, and we have a preference for open space because this is drinking water protection money,” she said. “And a wooded parcel that’s open space is protecting drinking water more than preserving farmland would.”

While the Mr. Krupski’s proposed amendment wasn’t rejected, having been tabled Tuesday, it would have to be re-introduced next year in order to be considered once again. Mr. Krupski said he doesn’t intend to bring it back up immediately and will see how previously approved alterations in the land-buying process, which go into effect next year, work out.

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