07/30/14 2:24pm
07/30/2014 2:24 PM
Dave Colone, Chairman of Suffolk County Planning Commissioner; Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Bob Delucca, President and CEO of the Group for the East End, County Executive Steve Bellone, Dick Amper, Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Deputy Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory. (Courtesy photo)

Dave Colone, Chairman of Suffolk County Planning Commissioner; Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Bob Delucca, President and CEO of the Group for the East End, County Executive Steve Bellone, Dick Amper, Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Deputy Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory. (Courtesy photo)

The Suffolk County Legislature OK’d the deal Tuesday, but voters will have the final say on an agreement that would drop two pending lawsuits environmental groups have filed against the county alleging a misuse of funds they say are reserved for protecting the county’s drinking water aquifer.

County legislators passed support for most of the deal 14-4 at their general meeting. First announced in June by County Executive Steve Bellone and the parties who initiated the lawsuits, part of the agreement maintained that after legislative approval, a public referendum would ultimately determine if the deal would go through.

The accord stems from what environmental advocates have called a “raiding” of a portion of the Drinking Water Protection Program, a quarter-percent sales tax that Suffolk voters have chosen to levy upon themselves through the year 2030. It is intended to protect groundwater through several specific uses, such as open space purchases and a fund dedicated to stabilizing residents’ sewer rates.

In 2011, and again in 2014, the county dipped into the sewer stabilization fund, using the money to help plug budget gaps. Environmentalists say that violates the terms under which voters agreed to tax themselves and is therefore illegal.

Under the proposed settlement, the county could still dip into the fund — which had a balance of around $140 million last year — until 2018, in order to meet long-term financial needs. However, any money diverted would have to be paid back in full by 2029. No interest would be attached to the repayment.

While the announcement in June required voter approval for any future changes in the Drinking Water program, legislators withheld support of that part of the deal on Tuesday. Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said that because negotiations are still technically ongoing — the lawsuit has not been officially dropped — the legislature was advised to table support for part of the agreement.

North Fork Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said he was at first “disturbed” by the agreement, since it contains no provisions guaranteeing the purchase of farmland in the future.

However, he said that Mr. Bellone and the Legislature’s willingness to preserve farmland on the East End in the past have eased his mind. And in the end, voters will still have the final say on whether or not this agreement suits their needs.

“I would have structured this a little differently, but I wasn’t at the table,” Mr. Krupski said Wednesday morning. “So I didn’t have that option … But I think if you look at this globally, this is the hand we were dealt. And past decisions have really made our options limited financially. This was, I felt, the best option to take.”

With county budget forecasts looking grim, Republican members of the Legislature — though split on the issue — expressed concern about the long-term viability of paying back the debt.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he would rather see the dollars currently in the sewer stabilization fund — the section of the Drinking Water Protection Program that would be borrowed from — used to build sewers to revitalize the county’s downtown areas and update aging cesspool systems countywide.

“This is nothing more than kicking the can down the road with steel-tipped shoes,” Mr. Trotta said. “People are saying we cut a deal and fixed a problem. But we have beaches closing because cesspools are running into our water. Sewers would fix that.”

Legislator Ken Barraga (R-West Islip) voted in favor of moving the agreement to voters on the merits of giving the public the power to make its own decision. But he said paying the borrowed funds back by 2029 could end up being more trouble than it’s worth, a concern Mr. Krupski said the county would have to address before the payments come due.

Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Smithtown), however, pointed out that if the lawsuits proceed, and the county prevails, it won’t have to replay the funds at all.

07/26/14 3:45pm
07/26/2014 3:45 PM
The land where the Calverton Manor project wanted to build just to the west  of Manor Lane on Route 25 in Calverton. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch photo)

The land where the Calverton Manor project wanted to build just to the west of Manor Lane on Route 25 in Calverton. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch photo)

A decade-old lawsuit challenging Riverhead Town’s 2003 master plan update, which Town Board members had considered settling two years ago, was decided in the town’s favor last week.   (more…)

07/24/14 8:00am
07/24/2014 8:00 AM
A six-mile stretch of Main Road could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The corridor includes Aquebogue’s Old Steeple Church, built in 1862 and designed by a farmer with no architectural experience, as well as Aquebogue Cemetery, which dates back to 1755 and contains the graves of numerous Revolutionary War soldiers. (Credit: Andrew Lepre)

A six-mile stretch of Main Road could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The corridor includes Aquebogue’s Old Steeple Church, built in 1862 and designed by a farmer with no architectural experience, as well as Aquebogue Cemetery, which dates back to 1755 and contains the graves of numerous Revolutionary War soldiers. (Credit: Andrew Lepre)

It’s a stretch of road where Benjamin Franklin placed mile markers and early 20th-century car racers ran the road ragged, hitting speeds up to 70 miles per hour at a time when horses were the dominant mode of travel.

(more…)

07/23/14 1:07pm
07/23/2014 1:07 PM
TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Regina Calcaterra of New Suffolk opening her State Senate campaign in the summer of 2009.

Regina Calcaterra of New Suffolk opening her State Senate campaign in the summer of 2009. (Credit: Tim Kelly, file)

In mid-September, the three co-chairs of a high-powered commission aimed at rooting out corruption in state politics arranged for a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who set up the commission last summer. In the governor’s mid-town office, William Fitzpatrick, a district attorney from Syracuse, raised concerns he felt were hampering the commission’s effort, the New York Times reported today .

At the center of those concerns were alleged roadblocks  planted by Regina Calcaterra, a New Suffolk attorney who had been appointed the commission’s executive director. The commissioners threatened to quit, alleging that Ms. Calcaterra was running interference on investigations that pointed back to the governor’s office.

Lawrence Schwartz, the secretary to the governor, responded by saying of Ms. Calcaterra: “She is not going anywhere.”

These bombshell revelations were detailed by a three-month New York Times investigation published today.  (more…)

07/21/14 2:00pm
07/21/2014 2:00 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Refuse in woods along Oak Avenue in Flanders.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Refuse in woods along Oak Avenue in Flanders.

Having seen too much illegal dumping over the years in the hamlets of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton, a proposal to create a garbage collection district will go to a public vote this fall among residents in the area.

The idea has been discussed by civic leaders in those hamlets for several years, as they feel it would eliminate the need to drop off trash on vacant lots in the area — while saving locals garbage costs of their own — if carting can be obtained for a reasonable price.

“It is a community that has a large rental population — the homes are very tight together on small lots. But we also have a community in a socio-economic position where a lot of people are looking for alternative methods for disposing their waste, and that does not include taking it to the dump or having a private carter, but actually placing it somewhere that it doesn’t belong,” said Councilman Brad Bender, who lives in Northampton.

Mr. Bender, a former president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association was elected last fall in his second bid for Southampton Town Board.  The Town Board discussed the issue at its July 10 work session.

While the creation of a garbage district normally is subject to a permissive referendum, in which a petition signed by a certain percent of the voters could force a referendum, Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the Town Board plans to have a mandatory referendum on the issue. The town offered residents the same option when it created beach erosion control districts in Bridghampton, Sagaponack and Hampton Bays.

“This way, there was no gray area in terms of people having the ability to be heard on this,” said Ms. Throne-Holst.

But before a vote, the town will first gather bids from commercial garbage carters in order to get an idea of what it will cost to have a garbage district in the three hamlets, according to assistant town attorney Kathleen Murray. They also will have a public hearing on the proposal before the fall vote.

Vince Taldone, the current president of FRNCA, said at the meeting that about 80 percent of residents in the hamlets currently pay for private carting, coming at a cost of about $40 per month.

By comparison, residents in Riverhead’s six different garbage districts pay on average about $250 per year, said Christine Fetten, Southampton’s director of facilities management.

The referendum for the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton garbage district would be a vote amongst residents in just those three hamlets — not from the entire town. The boundaries of the proposed district would be the same as those of the Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance, which covers those three hamlets.

While neighboring Riverhead Town has had garbage districts for years, Southampton Town doesn’t have any garbage districts, in which residents pay a special tax and have their garbage and recyclables picked up at curbside.

Southampton Town currently requires residents to buy green town garbage bags that are required for self-haulers to dispose of their garbage at town transfer stations. Recyclable items can be disposed of for free at the transfer stations.

There are transfer stations in Hampton Bays, Westhampton, North Sea and Bridgehampton. Residents also can contract with private garbage carters.

Putting Flanders, Riverside and Northampton into a separate garbage district would reduce the amount of revenue the town receives from self-haulers in those areas by about $63,000 per year, officials said.

However Mr. Taldone pointed out that money would also be saved, though it would be tough to quantify — and savings wouldn’t necessarily come from the town’s facilities management department.

For instance, the town highway department last fall cleaned up piles of discarded televisions, yard waste, construction debris, clothing and other items from a lot in Riverside. Those clean-ups would be reduced, though not wiped out entirely.

“I believe this garbage district will greatly reduce the amount of illegal dumping there is, but to entirely eliminate it is a different story,” said Ms. Fetten.

The proposed Flanders, Riverside and Northampton district will likely be just for residential trash, officials said. Slightly over 2,000 homes would be affected.

Mr. Bender said the proposal would have a “single stream” recycling program, in which residents put all of their recyclable containers, paper and cardboard into one container at the curbside on designated recycling days, rather than putting each into separate containers.

07/21/14 8:00am
Southold Town trustee candidate Abigail Field, left, of Cutchogue signs a petition to create the Women's Equality Party line. The petition was being circulated by a group of fellow Democrats at the King Kullen in Cutchogue Sunday, including Jennifer Maertz of Rocky Point, center, and local committeewoman Lynn Summers of Southold.

Southold Town trustee candidate Abigail Field, left, of Cutchogue signs a petition to create the Women’s Equality Party line. The petition was being circulated by a group of fellow Democrats at the King Kullen in Cutchogue Sunday, including Jennifer Maertz of Rocky Point, center, and local committeewoman Lynn Summers of Southold.

Days after lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul announced she and Gov. Andrew Cuomo intend to run on a new Women’s Equality Party line, local Democrats were out collecting signatures to make sure the line gets added to the ballot in time for the November election. (more…)