07/30/13 10:55am
07/30/2013 10:55 AM

 

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Legislator Al Krupski has a new proposal to protect farmland, such as this hayfield in Mattituck.

Conceding that he doesn’t have the votes, Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) is withdrawing his bill that would have given farmland preservation and open space purchases an equal share of dwindling county funding.

The lawmaker will instead offer a new bill to streamline the approval process and require properties considered for preservation meet a certain rating threshold.

“It doesn’t make sense to get an appraisal on all these parcels if you have only $2.5 million to spend and 20 parcels on the list,” Mr. Krupski said. “With limited money, we want to acquired the highest quality open space and the highest quality farmland. Why appraise them all, especially if the ratings aren’t high?”

The county currently appraises each property suggested for preservation, regardless of its environmental value. The new Krupski measure would require open space parcels reach a minimum rating of 45 out of a possible 100. Farmland, which follows a different rating system, must obtain at least 11.25 out of 25.

If another municipality shares the cost, the parcel would receive a higher score.

While disappointed the original draft didn’t gain the 10 votes needed, Mr. Krupski said he’s optimistic the amended version will pass in the 18-member legislature.

“I think I have support for this,” he said. “There is a realization that we should be preserving the best and highest quality. With money being so short it’s important to start now.”

The lawmaker said he has yet to come to an agreement on his new proposal with Long Island Pine Barrens director Richard Amper, the most outspoken critic of his original bill.

Mr. Krupski said he would introduce the amendment during the legislature’s Tuesday meeting in Hauppauge.

07/11/13 8:00am
07/11/2013 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A memory and a roadside attraction at Reeves Farm in Aquebogue.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A memory and roadside attraction at Reeves Farm.

Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper and 1st District county Legislator Al Krupski have been engaged in a public battle in recent weeks over Mr. Krupski’s draft of legislation that would give farmland preservation a guaranteed 50 percent of whatever land protection money the county has at its disposal, which these days isn’t much.

In keeping with his public persona, Mr. Amper wrote an opinion piece, published in this newspaper last month, in which he accused the legislator of a nefarious scheme to undermine the county’s tried-and-true land preservation program. He went as far as to suggest that Mr. Krupski deserves the name “Korruptski.” In a response published the following week, the legislator took a more low-key approach and discussed the need to preserve active farmland.

All of this ignores the geopolitical forces at play. The East End has only two representatives in the 18-member Suffolk County Legislature, crucial numbers given that when new legislation is laid on the table the first thought that comes to many lawmakers’ minds is, “How does this benefit my district?” When the topic is farmland preservation, the answer for 16 representatives is, “It doesn’t.” To be fair, there would be no county farmland program without the support of non-farming communities, who realized that losing productive, valuable agricultural land would be a blow to the entire county, not just a few East End towns.

Mr. Krupski’s bill would upset the political equilibrium that gives all of Suffolk, particularly the West End towns that dominate the Legislature, a shot at open space buys, even if for only a tiny parcel.

Putting the politics and strident criticism aside, the Krupski bill raises an important and timely question: What lands should be protected going forward?

Mr. Amper has led the opposition to allowing greenhouses to be built on preserved land, a position we share. It’s true, the days of the old-time farmer riding a tractor through row crops are all but a memory, and growers must have the flexibility to respond to a changing market. But preserving open space is a key component of county and town farmland programs.

Mr. Amper also correctly points out that some farms have fallen into uses that no one imagined when the county created the nation’s first ag preservation program in the 1970s. Some wineries, for example, are little more than catering halls; others are open-air saloons. And when objections are raised, we’re often told that the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which has the power to override local land use regulations, sets virtually no limits on what commercial activities can occur on farmland.

The Krupski bill forces the issue of how much money should be invested in new farmland preservation projects and what new restrictions, if any, should follow. It’s not a question of restricting farm operations; it’s a matter of better defining which farms fit in with the public protection goals.

07/05/13 8:00am
07/05/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A view of Peconic Bay from Mattituck Beach.

Here’s some bad news for those of you hoping I would flunk my boating safety test: I passed. I — and all of my classmates, I am pleased to report — are now the proud possessors of a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary boating safety certificate and “license.” (It’s actually just a laminated wallet card, but let’s call it a “license.”)

Also, in the days following the final exam, our little 18-foot runabout passed the Auxiliary’s boat safety inspection, which it would not have done had I not taken the course. (Not enough life jackets, no throwing rescue cushion, no fire extinguisher.) And throughout the process, Auxiliary member Ted Webb of Orient could not have been more helpful or informative. And the same is true of his fellow Auxiliary members who instructed us: helpful and informative to a man and woman.

Having said that, I stick by my original assertion that the Suffolk County Legislature overreached in passing the new boating safety law. Licensing is a good thing and should be required, but there needs to be some sort of mechanism for exempting experienced boaters from taking the 11-hour course before they take the exam. In my opinion, only if they flunk the test the first time around should they be required to take the course.

Meanwhile, those of you out there who live in Suffolk and operate a motorized craft better get a-crackin’. The deadline for getting a license is Friday, Sept. 13. After that, without one, you will be breaking the law every time you operate your boat.

Note: This column was published before it was reported that a bill in the state Legislature would supercede county law.

And here’s another update to an earlier column, the one about my grandson receiving the gift of an expensive baseball glove from Major League pitcher Heath Bell, then of the Florida Marlins and currently of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In this day and age of pampered, over-compensated (and occasionally criminal) professional athletes, Mr. Bell appears to deserve his reputation as “the nicest guy in baseball.” Case in point: as this is written, Tyler, his mother and grandfather (that would be me) are preparing to drive into Manhattan to be Health Bell’s guest at lunch. After that, we’ll be Heath Bell’s guest as the D-backs take on the Mets at Citi Field. Of course he can afford it with a contract that pays him $9 million a year, but no one is paying him to be so very nice to a 12-year-old baseball fan from eastern Long Island.

I would never be so bold as to suggest that there is a major shift in the air, politically speaking in Southold Town, as there was when United Southold vaulted into power in the early 1990s. Although the Republicans still have a stranglehold on Town Hall, there isn’t a sense that it’s their way or the highway. And Supervisor Scott Russell’s quiet style of leadership and communication deserves much of the credit for that.

Still, there was a sense that this could be an unusual year, politically speaking in Southold Town, based on my observations at County Legislator Al Krupski’s fundraiser Friday night at the Pequash Club in Cutchogue. As you would expect, most of the usual subjects were in attendance. But it was the unusual suspects who caught my eye. As in Town Justice Bill Price Jr., a lifelong Republican who this year is running for re-election as a Democrat. (See earlier editions of The Suffolk Times for details.) Then there was Conservative (with a capital “C”) Town Board member Jim Dinizio, whom I would not normally have expected to see at a Democratic event, even though, as a friend of mine reminded me recently, “everybody loves Al Krupski.” It turns out the Conservatives have endorsed Krupski, but still …

And that got me to thinking the following: with the very-popular Al Krupski at the top of the ticket via his special election bid for a full term, Scott Russell not on the ticket because he’s in the middle of a four-year term, and Bill Price drawing Republican and independent voters to the ticket as he undoubtedly will, maybe, just maybe, some change will be in the air come Nov. 4.

(Disclaimer: Al Krupski’s was the first local political fundraiser that we’ve ever attended as paying customers. That’s because the former Joan Giger Walker and I no longer are owners of this newspaper, whose long-standing policy prevents editorial staff members from supporting or contributing to local campaigns.)

tgustavson@timesreview.com

07/03/13 8:00am
07/03/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farmer Phil Schmitt (left) and his sons Matt (center) and Phil Jr. loading boxes of cabbage onto a flatbed at the family’s Riverhead farm in 2011. Phil Schmitt says most food safety issues have come out of West Coast and large farm operations.

Land preservation does not pit farmland preservation against open space protection. It’s about hard work and a commitment to preserving the character of our community, towns, county and island for future generations. It’s about quality of life.

In the 1970s, Suffolk County led the way by starting the farmland preservation program. Why? Because the people had the foresight to realize the importance of agriculture to Suffolk County. The seal of the Suffolk County Legislature, symbolically, is a plow.

Over the years, the towns and county have borrowed and spent millions to achieve the goals of protecting open space and farmland. Open space was prioritized for scenic and recreational qualities and habitat and sensitive wetland areas also were protected. Acquiring a critical mass of land is crucial to the preservation of meaningful wildlife habitat. These areas also provide for the active and passive recreational activities and the access to the water that we all enjoy.

Farmland preservation is critically important and food production must not be trivialized as so few things are produced in this country. We all appreciate food quality and safety. Without active farmland we would have no choice but to become dependent on foreign nations for our food, which could be of questionable safety.

The value of locally produced food cannot be minimized. Fruits and vegetables picked at the prime of ripeness provide not only great flavor and meals, but also are at their peak of nutritional value. The health benefits of locally grown produce cannot be refuted.

My bill would not prioritize open space preservation over farmland protection, but rather give them equal footing. A benefit of farmland protection is that the government pays less per acre, doesn’t have to fence, clean or police the property and it stays on the tax rolls. The landowner is forever responsible for the stewardship.

Another goal of the legislation is to insure that the money spent is well spent. The Suffolk County Planning Department has a rating system in place for both farmland preservation and open space acquisition. The professional planners rate available parcels, and following their recommendations we should acquire the very best properties that reach a higher standard. The land should reach a certain threshold before the county invests in appraisals, etc. The designated portion of the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection money for acquisition has been heavily borrowed against leaving little to spend. Let’s make sure we preserve the highest quality open space and the best soils.

I’ll be happy to work with anyone and everyone to find a different funding source to continue the efforts to protect today’s land for tomorrow’s generation. My long record of land preservation in Southold, both in open space and farmland protection, tells the whole story.

My 28 years as an elected official have been spent saving both open space and farmland. I helped to make the difficult decisions about how to focus preservation efforts and prioritize spending our always limited resources. I look forward to bringing this commitment of preserving the best to the county level.

In 100 years my name and those in all the current and past preservation efforts will be forgotten. But the people who live on Long Island will benefit from and appreciate the hard work and resources that we used to preserve both open space and farmland.

Al Krupski is the Suffolk County legislator for the 1st District.

06/27/13 6:00am
06/27/2013 6:00 AM

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.

06/26/13 10:00am
06/26/2013 10:00 AM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | EPA environmental scientist Bernward Hay listens to the concerns of audience members Tuesday.

Local government officials blasted members of the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday for failing to properly notify them about a public meeting regarding the agency’s intentions to designate dredged spoil dumping sites in the eastern Long Island Sound.

The meeting, held at Suffolk Community College’s culinary center in Riverhead, outlined the EPA’s plans to conduct a supplemental environmental impact study evaluating potential dumping sites in the eastern portion of the Sound.

Four dredging sites currently exist in the Sound. Cornfield Shoals is the closest to the North Fork, located north of Greenport. The New London site is just west of Fishers Island. The other two sites are the western Suffolk site, south of Stamford, Conn. and the central Sound site, south of New Haven.

For the past 30 years dredged material from the eastern Long Island Sound has been disposed of primarily at the New London and Cornfield Shoals sites. Both are scheduled to close in 2016, prompting the EPA to seek out new dredge spoil disposal locations.

Alternative areas being considered are located off of Southold and Greenport.

“One of the things you said is if you want to get the public involved in this process, well, you first have to invited the public,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who told EPA members he was first notified of the meeting just 24 hours earlier.

Furthermore, Mr. Russell said he has not received answers to questions previously submitted to the agency on the issue.

“As supervisor of Southold Town I certainly should be involved in this process,” he said. “You need to make sure we are at the table for this discussion.”

Approximately 20 people attended the meeting, many echoing Mr. Russell’s statement about the short notice.

During the hour-long presentation representatives from EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, who helps designate and monitor the sites, outlined the process of choosing a new dumping area.

“This is a work in progress we are narrowing down locations that could work as a potential site,” said Bernward Hay, an EPA environmental scientist. Mr. Hay noted the environmental impact statement would not guarantee the approval of any proposed dumping site.

The new impact study will build on an evaluation conducted in 2005 when the agency established dumping sites in the western and central portion of the Sound, according to the presentation.

The study would analyze sediment, geographical position, depth of water, distance from the coastline and the history of dumping in the proposed areas, Mr. Hay said. The study would also take into account impacts on shellfish beds, fishing areas, shipping lanes and recreation areas.

But local lawmakers expressed frustration over the presentation.

“Suffolk County has an agriculture leasing program that’s not mentioned at all,” Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said.

Citizens agreed the proposal wasn’t comprehensive.

While the dredge material from Long Island is mostly sand that can be used for beach restoration, Connecticut dredge spoil is fine-grain silt or clay that’s not suitable for beach repairs. Because of that most of what is deposited in these sites comes from Connecticut, according to the EPA.

“Anything that comes from Connecticut ends up on Long Island’s beaches,” Mattituck resident Ron McGreevy said. “I think you need to collect more information from the Long Island side of the Sound.”

The Farmingdale-based nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment doesn’t believe any dredge spoil should be dumped in the Sound, according to its executive programs manager, Maureen Dolan Murphy.

The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers agreed in 2005 to phase out open water dumping and to develop a dredged material management plan before deciding to move forward with this step, however that plan was never developed, Ms. Murphy said.

Elected officials also questioned the continued use of underwater dumping sites.

“It’s well documented that there is a high incidence of shell disease in crabs and lobster in the waters around these dump sites,” said James King, Southold Town Trustee and commercial lobster fisherman. “I think the bottom line here is that water disposal is the cheapest, easiest way to get rid of dredge spoil. There is a lot of game playing.”

The EPA said it would continue to assess the proposed sites in more detail and include more data.

Additional public meetings on the issue will be held in the winter.

A dredge spoil disposal map showing current dumping sites.

06/19/13 11:33am
06/19/2013 11:33 AM

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 Tuesday afternoon.

Environmental advocates lined up Tuesday to speak out against a bill proposed in the Suffolk County Legislature that’s designed to revise the county’s land preservation program.

The bill, proposed by Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), would ensure that half of Drinking Water Protection Program funds, which must be used for land preservation, would be designated for purchasing farmland development rights.

With funding for the program dwindling, the environmental activists believe legislators should focus on securing future land preservation funds “rather than declaring one land type is more superior to all others,” said Kevin McDonald of the Nature Conservancy, during the public hearing portion of Tuesday’s Legislature meeting at the County Center in Riverside.

“We should in fact be arguing for additional funding for a wildly popular program that helps both the environment and the economy,” said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who also spoke during the hearing.

According to a press release from Mr. Krupski promoting his proposed bill, 95 percent of program funding currently goes to open space purchases, which include wetlands, Pine Barrens, woodlands and hamlet parks. The remaining five percent is allocated for farmland preservation, the release states.

Joe Gergela, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said he applauds Mr. Krupski’s efforts in taking on the “sensitive” issue.

“It is a balancing act,” Mr. Gergela said at the hearing. “He has raised awareness of the importance of farmland in the program.”

Since the Drinking Water Protection Program started in 1988, about 12,000 acres of farmland have been preserved, leaving 23,000 acres to be protected, Mr. Gergela said.

Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment also took to the podium. She said that, according to the county charter, the Legislature does not have the last say on changing the voter-approved law, which directs a quarter penny sales tax on every dollar to the Drinking Water Protection Program.

A mandatory referendum is needed to make any amendments to the program, she said.

“You can’t do this legally,” she said.

“When the voters of Suffolk County approved this overwhelmingly important environmental program, they approved very specific wording and provisions and had an expectation that land preservation would proceeded accordingly,” Tom Casey, vice president of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, told legislators.

The program has secured more than a billion dollars for land preservation throughout the county, Mr. Amper said.

In 2007 the county accelerated the program, bonding purchases against future sales tax revenue through November 2011. But now the county must purchase land on a pay-as-you-go basis, significantly reducing available funds, according to previous Times/Review coverage.

Currently, the county has $25.1 million in program funds to spend on acquisition, but it already has 43 properties, totaling 420 acres, in various stages of purchase, together costing $23.9 million, according to an April 29 press release from Suffolk County executive Steven Bellone.

For future purchases, the county anticipates receiving $5 million from this years sales tax, along with $1.14 million that’s available from leftover program funds. Moving forward, it must rely solely on the yearly sales tax revenue to fund the program, according to the release.

During the hearing, Mr. Amper asked that legislators not lose sight of the program’s goal.

“This is for drinking water protection,” he said. “When you buy open space above important aquifer sources, the water below stays clean.”

cmiller@timesreiew.com

06/13/13 6:13pm
06/13/2013 6:13 PM
Broidy in Reeves Park

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The land just west of Park Road/Thomas Kelly Memorial Drive that nearby Reeves Park residents have wanted to see preserved.

Two Riverhead Town Board members who oppose a plan by Suffolk County to purchase 15 acres of land on Sound Avenue as open space now say they would support  a move by the county to preserve the property as farmland instead.

But county officials say such a move would require the entire potential acquisition process to start again, with no guarantees the county will be making any offers on the land.

Council members Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen sent a letter to county Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) Thursday voicing their support for preservation of the land as farmland, rather than open space.

Under the county’s farmland preservation program,  the county would buy what’s called development rights and the land could only be used for agriculture in the future.

“The property being preserved as parkland would require taking the entire property out of farming permanently and would not only require use of town Community Preservation Fund funds, which have been depleted in recent years, but also ongoing maintenance of the park with town resources, on behalf of all Suffolk County residents,” reads the letter, which was also sent to the News-Review.

The councilpeople say it is more desirable to preserve the land as farmland, which would be “in keeping with the rural character of Sound Avenue and would support the Scenic Rural Historic Corridor.”

The land in question is just shy of 15 acres of farmland stretching north from the northwest corner of Park Road (also called Thomas Kelly Memorial Drive) and Sound Avenue.

[See interactive map below]

It is owned by Ed Broidy, a developer whose Boom Development company first proposed a commercial shopping center at the site in 2003, a plan that met with community opposition.

When the town rezoned the property to residential uses in the mid-2000s, Mr. Broidy sued, but later offered a settlement in which he would develop the land residentially, with one seven-acre farm and 16 residential lots on the remainder of the land.

The county later proposed to acquire the land as open space under the “active recreation” section of the voter-approved drinking water protection program, for use as a fitness trail. However, that section of the program requires that a town or private entity act as a partner to manage the recreation use, and submit a plan to do so beforehand.

Riverhead Town officials estimated the cost of creating the fitness trail at about $70,000, and council members Gabrielsen and Giglio opposed doing so, saying at a recent public Town Board work session the town doesn’t have the money.

Without the support of Ms. Giglio or Mr. Gabrielsen, and since Supervisor Sean Walter once represented Mr. Broidy as his attorney and recused himself from the discussion, the Town Board wouldn’t have three votes to support of the acquisition.

That would mean the county could not proceed in purchasing the parcel.

Mr. Krupski, whose district spans the North Fork, said Friday that he plans to speak with Mr. Broidy next week, but he said preserving the land as farmland would require a whole new process be started at the county level.

On the other hand, he said, the alternative could be that the land isn’t preserved at all.

The acquisition of the farmland development rights also would require that the land be farmed, and Mr. Broidy has indicated in the past that he is not interested in doing that.

There currently is no application with the county for the purchase of the farmland development rights on the Broidy parcel, officials say.

Mr. Broidy could not immediately be reached for comment.

Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper has been critical of the two council member’s opposition to the park purchase.

“It’s properly purchased as open space,” he said Friday. “The county approved the purchase on the basis of its suitability for trails and recreation. The county got it right, Gabrielsen and Giglio have it wrong. Development rights are purchased only with the expectation that the land owner is going to continue to farm the land.

“That’s not going to happen here.”

Mr. Amper said the purchase would be “a gift from the county…why don’t they just say ‘thank you?”

tgannon@timesreview.com


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