06/27/13 6:00am

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Environmental activists gathered in front of the Riverhead County Center to protest a bill proposed by Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) to revise the county’s land preservation program last Tuesday afternoon.

Two weeks ago, freshman Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski introduced legislation to alter Suffolk’s Drinking Water Protection Program to favor farmland preservation over open space.

It was a dumb-headed rookie error that threatens both. Here’s why.

1. For the past 25 years the Drinking Water Protection Program has been protecting both farmland and open space. Environmentalists and farmers have worked together to assure public support to fund these worthy goals with the result that we have protected more than 30,000 acres to benefit everyone. This bill pointlessly pits one objective against the other for no purpose.

2. What makes the Krupski proposal even worse is that the DWPP is nearly out of money, so his proposed legislation would create two sides scrambling for the leftover crumbs when they should be maintaining a productive alliance by seeking a new funding stream to keep protection of both farmland and open space moving forward in the region.

3. Worst of all, the Krupski measure seeks to change the DWPP by an act of politicians, when the existing DWPP was created through a public referendum which promised that any changes in the law could only be made by a new public referendum. So Krupski is undermining the whole democratic process that was designed and intended to put the public in control of the preservation program — not the politicians. Mr. Krupski has been in office for only a few months and already he’s running roughshod over the people who elected him. If he wants to subordinate drinking water protection to subsidizing agriculture, he and his friends in the county Legislature should put the matter to a vote. That’s what democracy is all about.

Mr. Krupski, a farmer himself, is also working on legislation that would permit more activities on land from which the public has purchased the development rights. He wouldn’t even talk to us when we asked about this. He claims that 95 percent of land purchases over the years have been for open space purchases and not for farmland. That’s just false. We’re seeing farms stripped of their productive soils, replaced by concrete and glass structures — not to produce food, but rather plants for Walmart. Then there are the wedding factories, and on and on. If the legislator wanted to run for president of the farm lobby, he shouldn’t have run for county Legislature. Maybe we should call him “Korruptski.”

Then, as the TV ads say, “But wait! There’s more!” The Long Island Farm Bureau — the agriculture lobbying group that says it told Mr. Krupski the DWPP legislation was a bad idea — flip-flopped and played politics by coming out in favor of the bill they say they discouraged him from introducing! They needlessly entered a fight they didn’t need. Almost all the farms that have sought county protection have received it. So now, Long Island’s leading environmentalists have come out against Mr. Krupski and the agriculture lobby to demand rejection of the bill and restoration of public control over the Drinking Water Protection Program. And more than 80 percent of Long Islanders consider themselves environmentalists.

As the name suggests, the Drinking Water Protection Program was created to buy open space that sits atop Long Island’s underground drinking water supply. That water supply was the first to be designated a sole source aquifer by the federal government, meaning that there is no other viable source of drinking water for the Island’s three million people except for groundwater. That groundwater also feeds our rivers, lakes, bays and harbors. By protecting open space, our water is not polluted by sewage, pesticides, fertilizer or toxic chemicals. On the other hand, farming is contaminating our drinking water and surface waters with fertilizers, pesticides and more. And we can’t seem to get the agriculture lobby to change its ways. Nobody wants the Drinking Water Protection Program to become the Drinking Water Pollution Program. So what’s to be done?

I suggest the following:

First, the Suffolk County Legislature should kill the Krupski bill.

Second, we should all sit down and decide on a new source of funding for land preservation, to be voted on by residents and taxpayers.

Third, we should insist on alternatives to the pesticides and fertilizers that scientists have shown are poisoning Long Island’s water.

Legislator Krupski and the agriculture lobby need to join with the rest of Long Island to find the way to productive farming AND clean water.

Mr. Amper is executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, an environmental education and advocacy organization.

04/18/13 6:00am

COURTESY PHOTO | Boy Scouts on a rope obstacle course.

There are two troubling elements in the controversy of the proposed training course proposed for the Boy Scouts of America property in Baiting Hollow. The project would be built close to adjacent property owners.

First, why can’t the Boy Scouts of America learn to be good neighbors? Previously, the Suffolk Chapter proposed to site a money-making cell tower on the property, without regard for their neighbors’ concerns. The Nassau Chapter proposed converting their scout camp in Wading River into a golf course until environmentalists intervened and protected the land, the community and the camp.

What kind of message does this send to the young people the Boy Scouts of America are trying to shape? It sure isn’t the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The scouting organization may not be willing to love their neighbors as themselves, but they might try, at least, to accommodate them. Flat or not, the portion of the scout property abutting their residential neighbors can’t be the only place to erect telephone poles.

The other problematic position to emerge from the Riverhead Town Planning Board’s meeting on the subject was the position of member Ed Densieski. He asked why members of the public should be accommodated at an evening meeting, because they had to work during the day, at the alleged inconvenience of the applicant. Of course, it’s because government is supposed to represent the public’s interest, not the applicant’s. Maybe that’s why Densieski is no longer a member of the Riverhead Town Board. You have to get elected to that body.

Richard Amper, Lake Panomoka

To read more letters to the editor, pick up a copy of the Riverhead News-Review on newsstands or click on the E-Paper.

10/12/12 2:00pm

It was the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” The same is true for News-Review editorials.

Oh, there’s nothing wrong about the newspaper’s lamenting the Town of Riverhead’s incapacity for nearly 20 years to get much of EPCAL on the tax rolls, but the job is never going to get done if we don’t understand why it hasn’t happened.

For years, Riverhead politicians have scapegoated the environment for their incapacity to market the property. One or two supervisors even admitted to me that because they couldn’t get the job done before Election Day, they had to blame something for the failure.

Last week’s News-Review picked up the same time-worn song and dance, the facts be damned.

Your editorial said, “It’s no secret environmentalists would like to see the whole thing remain a nature preserve.” That’s not true. When the Pine Barrens Act was enacted, we set aside only 450 acres of the 2,500 within the fence-line for preservation to protect drinking and surface water and critical habitat. The remainder was placed in a Compatible Growth Area where development is permitted.

I’ve been campaigning for decades for development of the former Navy/Grumman airbase. Whenever an endangered species has been discovered, I’ve come out publicly time and again, saying the critters can be protected without compromising economic development. It’s been done repeatedly at EPCAL.

It’s also false that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation “officials seem to be at war with everything and anything proposed for this land,” as your editorial declared. Not so. The DEC has granted permits for everything from the Burman development to the rail spur to a water ski park at the site. The DEC has not denied a single permit application since the Navy transferred the land to Riverhead. So what’s standing in the way?

Well, harebrained ideas like a Hollywood film studio, an international jetport, racing that even NASCAR disavowed, the “Wilpon Deal,” an indoor ski mountain and on and on.

EPCAL seems to be where bad ideas come to die.

The idea of doing a marketing study to decide what would work there was a good one. That way, Riverhead could find out what kind of development would work, rather than simply responding to the latest crazy scheme advanced by someone without the capacity to deliver it.

Eighty percent of Long Islanders call themselves environmentalists. Nobody truly believes that they’re all “anti-growth,” that they prefer poverty over prosperity and hope that the economy gets worse. That’s ridiculous.

Most believe that economic growth is possible without destroying our environment.

When the News-Review buys into the never-ending excuse-making of supervisors Stark, Villella, Kozakiewicz, Cardinale and Walter — and calls for federal intervention to blame environmentalists for Riverhead’s bipartisan incompetence — it’s reinforcing a myth that somehow protecting water and nature is the problem.

I have three suggestions on how to finally get EPCAL properly developed.

First, blame local politicians, not environmentalists. Second, prepare a workable subdivision map as required by state law. Third, stop proposing stupid things like cutting down hundreds of acres of Pine Barrens to create grassland habitat, as Supervisor Walter has, or pretending that state environmental laws don’t apply at EPCAL

State officials including Peter Scully at DEC, Senator Ken LaValle and East End assemblymen such as Fred Thiele and Dan Losquadro are committed to responsible development at Calverton.

But if the Walter administration and the News-Review still believe the do-nothing federal government should intervene on behalf of incompetent Riverhead government, then it should just take back the land and give it instead to New York State, which would have EPCAL up and running in no time. If the first step in solving any problem is recognizing you’ve got one, then the second is recognizing what the actual problem is and doing something about it.

Mr. Amper is the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, an environmental nonprofit group based in Riverhead.

03/08/12 6:00pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A heavy traffic day on Route 25A in Wading River.

Aeschylus said, “In war, the first casualty is truth.” In the battle about overdevelopment in Wading River, more than a thousand residents have turned out at community meetings; sent emails, postcards or letters; or come to the Riverhead Town Board in person. There are legions behind them.

So, before I express my opinion, let’s stop debating the facts and accept them.

• First, this conflict is not about developers’ private property rights. Nobody disputes them and they’re protected by law. The developers are going to build; there’s no dispute. But residents have rights, too. The right to peacefully enjoy their property and to be spared from nightmare traffic, zoning that won’t work and diminished property values.

• Second, zoning authority is conferred on towns by the state. It’s intended to protect the citizenry and not to guarantee developers’ investments. Government has no obligation to assure the success of real estate investments any more than they do stock market investments, bonds, precious metals or pork bellies. And there is no legal prohibition against towns’ changing zoning for the benefit of the many, even at the cost of a few. Towns may legally upzone or downzone for any legitimate purpose.

• Third, courts do not substitute their judgment for that of municipalities. When land-use decisions are overturned by the judiciary, it is always because local government failed to provide a rational basis for its decision or broke laws governing the project review process. It is a false claim that if government doesn’t give developers everything they want, the courts will.

• Fourth, Riverhead decided to exclude from the corridor study the development dubbed Knightland proposed for a parcel on Route 25A. The reason cited by BFJ Planning, which conducted the study, is that a lawsuit has been brought by citizens against their government. Ironically, the suit was brought because the town, in approving the Knightland shopping center plans, failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the Knightland property in combination with the other properties in the corridor. Go figure.

• Fifth, as part of the town’s planning consultants’ study of Route 25A on the Brookhaven side of the town line in Wading River, economic experts determined that Wading River could absorb only about 23,000 square feet of additional retail space. The current BFJ plan calls for 123,000.

• Sixth, the most recent version of the constantly changing plan calls for more commercial development — over 200,000 additional square feet — and a reduction in the amount of open space sought by local residents. Is the plan getting better or worse on the basis of community input?

• Seventh, at its March 1 work session, instead of discussing what development Wading River needs and what it doesn’t, the Town Board went parcel by parcel, discussing what zoning it would grant for development of each property. Then, it set the March 6 Town Board Meeting as the time to decide the date for a public hearing on the flawed plan. How’s that for proper planning?

• Eighth, developers’ attorney Peter Danowski says that absent changes to the Wading River plan, developers are likely to sue. So are citizens. While some say that the people of Wading River will accept anything they can get from town government, the fact is that if an adopted plan doesn’t protect the hamlet, the town will be sued again – this time not by developers who want to earn big bucks in a recession but by citizens who care about their community. Count on it.

Now, in my opinion. BFJ Planning failed to recommend a plan that reflected local input or one that would work for the citizens or the developers. If too much retail development is proposed, not only will existing businesses be hurt but the new developers will be cannibalizing each other. Wading River needs a mix of retail, housing, professional offices and community services. The Town Board should put every interested planner in a room and charge them not with accommodating a few developers but rather with producing a plan that works economically and in terms of quality of life for everyone. That must happen before a public hearing is held on a faulty plan that serves nobody.

Mr. Amper is the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, an environmental nonprofit group based in Riverhead.

01/13/12 6:00am

It was the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” That applies to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter in his confrontation with Dominique Mendez, president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, at a recent Town Board meeting.

First, it was always agreed that there were to be two so-called focus groups, as well as a public workshop, involved during the Route 25A corridor study that will chart the future of Wading River. I’ve participated in dozens of land use studies, and a community visioning workshop is a key element in most of them; it gives everyone an opportunity to speak out on what they want and don’t want in their community.

As the News-Review reported last week, Mr. Walter said at a Dec. 27 Town Board meeting that the RNPC squandered its opportunity for a public workshop when “you took it upon yourselves to lambaste town officials instead.” He was referring to what happened at one of two so-called focus group events. (There was one for a small group of business leaders, which the supervisor attended, and one for a small group of community leaders, which he did not.) The meetings were supposed to encourage participation in a land use planning process aimed at balancing business and community concerns.

At the forum for community leaders, instead of inviting suggestions from them, for which the forum was intended, deputy town supervisor Jill Lewis — herself a resident of Wading River — said, and I quote, “I don’t understand why the property owners who bought their land with the presumption that they could develop it consistent with existing zoning shouldn’t be entitled to do it.” She went on to say, “I think your side is extreme.” I know because I was there, and I took notes.

Here, the community was trying to say that builders should be able to develop their land consistent with the interests of the community and the Walter administration was effectively saying: We’re going to let the builders develop their land any way they please, regardless of zoning — let the community be damned. Which is the “extreme” position?

Anyway, in response to local residents trying to advocate for planning that would be best for the community, as the consultants had requested, the administration retaliated by canceling the promised (and contracted for) public workshop. Mr. Walter has since promised a public hearing at the end of the planning process — something that is required by law and that will allow a land use plan to be advanced, without the public input that is supposed to shape such a plan.

At the last Town Board meeting of 2011, Mr. Walter continued his administration’s attack on the citizenry. He called the community group a “special interest.” Of course, a “special interest” is just that — a group that seeks public policy decisions from elected officials that would advance their own special interest. Labor unions, the Trial Lawyers Association and the big oil lobby are examples of “special interests.” A community or an environmental group, on the other hand, seeks public policies, the benefits of which would accrue to the public at large — things like clean air and water, tax relief and protecting community character. These groups are known as “public interest groups.”

Mr. Walter went on to claim at the Dec. 27 Town Board meeting that the RNPC “sent people to threaten me before the election,” providing no facts to back up this spurious charge.
In the overstatement of the day, Mr. Walter said, “I’ve done everything you’ve asked.” Really? He has said “no” to a moratorium while the study is completed; “no” to a public workshop; “no” to consideration of the cumulative impacts of six large projects in a 1.5-mile stretch of Route 25A; and “no” to even attending the community focus group. It is clear that the Walter administration is very concerned about developers’ property rights. Residents’ and taxpayers’ — not so much.

Finally, some of today’s politicians have lost sight of the fact that they’re supposed to be public servants, not czars. Citizens are explicitly empowered to “redress their grievances” with government. There is no provision for elected officials to redress their grievances with their constituents. So it was Mr. Walter who was out of order, advancing his unsubstantiated opinions without the benefit of the facts and berating a member of the community that he is supposed to represent and serve.

It is clear that this administration doesn’t want to be confused by the facts and will go to any length to try to silence the public in a planning process, when even the town’s own consultants say public input is essential to the success of the study and protection of both developers’ property rights and those of the community. What is the point of studying the projects’ impacts, if they’ve already been approved?

If the Town Board members are serious about looking for a solution to the threat of overdevelopment in Wading River, instead of berating citizens and asserting that Wading River residents don’t care about the mega-development proposed for their community, they should hold the promised public workshop and listen to what the people have to say about the future of the place they all call home.

Richard Amper is executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, a Riverhead-based environmental group.