The bag ban proposal is back in town.
Saying a lawsuit against the Suffolk County isn’t quite enough, environmentalists have taken to parking lots from Southold to Huntington to get a referendum on this fall’s ballot to halt a county effort to use $33 million in reserved Drinking Water Protection funds.
Dollars are raised for the Drinking Water Protection Fund through a 1/4 percent sales tax, and several dedicated programs exist within the fund. One of those, the sewer stabilization fund is meant to offset large spikes in sewer rates for residents, and the last fall the county decided to budget $32.8 million from that fund to help balance the 2014 spending plan.
While the Pine Barrens Society of Long Island, along with the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, filed suit last week against the decision, Group for the East End has joined the Pine Barrens Society in gathering 10,000 signatures before the end of April. The hope is to get a measure to overturn the decision to use the funds this year.
“We’ve been arguing against it pretty vociferously,” said Bob DeLuca, president of GFEE. “But you hit that point when you realize nobody’s listening.”
Suffolk voters last agreed to renew the tax in 2007 — approving a ballot measure to maintain the tax through 2030.
The PBS sued Suffolk after it decided in 2011 to use close to $20 million to balance its budget previously. That litigation is still making its way through the justice system, though is expected to be heard later this year.
In order to qualify to get on the ballot, according to PBS president Dick Amper, the groups have to gather 2.5 percent of the population in each town who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
That equates to about 10,500 signatures, or a town-by-town breakdown as follows:
Mr. Amper said on Monday morning that he’s been “amazed at the number of people who know about” the issue as PBS and GFEE petitioners have approached citizens in public places such as parking lots at supermarkets or post offices.
County Executive Steve Bellone’s original budget last year had not called for dipping into the sewer stabilization fund at all, but rather closing the budget gap in the $2.7 billion budget through borrowing from the New York State Dormitory Authority, a path that would have required legislation approved at the state level. A report from the County’s Budget Review Office identified that plan as a risk because of the necessary legislation.
Justin Meyers, communications director for Mr. Bellone, said last week that the county exec plans on replenishing the fund.
“The fact of the matter is that there are two overarching concerns,” he said. “First, if the money is being taken and used for something other than drinking water, it must be repaid. The county executive completely supports that.”
He added that also, the county “needs to engage the public and voters on the issue if it moves forward.”
Mr. Meyers added that once the county decides to spend the money from the sewer stabilization fund, the county legislature would have to pass a measure approving the spending. Within the language of that approval would be a repayment structure outlining when the county would pay the fund back.
Mr. Amper said a ballot referendum would be the only way to ensure that the funds are paid back, noting that a similar use of Drinking Water Protection Program money in 2011 did not require county legislation.
“We want to guarantee” that the money is paid back, he said. “And we’re going to do that through courts, or the court of public opinion.”
The plan laid out by the county last fall intends to start paying back into the sewer stabilization fund in 2017, though the county would still have to formally adopt a repayment schedule. Last fall, the balance in the sewer stabilization fund hovered around $140 million, leaving over $100 million left, should the $33 million be allocated this year.
However Mr. DeLuca noted that part of the Drinking Water Protection Fund already reserves a portion of revenues raised for balancing the budget. According to the county charter, about 32 percent of the proceeds raised by the tax go toward reducing county property taxes.
“You got money for the purpose of reducing taxes,” Mr. DeLuca said. “Stay away from the other part.”
Environmentalists rallied in Albany last week to support a bill that would establish and implement a water quality protection plan aimed at reducing nitrogen levels in ground and surface waters across Long Island.
One major component of the legislation would require all septic systems near coastlines or public water sources to be replaced by more high-tech nitrogen-reducing systems. But that part of the bill is generating skepticism tied to a lack of tested technology and to the potential costs for governments and property owners alike.
Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said the legislation, if enacted, could “make the largest contribution to Long Island’s environment of any piece of legislation ever written.”
But it’s still early in the process.
State lawmakers refer to the measure, which is still in committee, as a “study bill,” calling it simply a starting point for discussion.
Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D- Lindenhurst) proposed the legislation in August, with state Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) proposing a matching bill in the Senate soon after. They caution that the bill needs more work, but both hope to get it passed during this legislative session and said a final draft is expected in April.
The bill aims to curb the amount of nitrogen — which comes from human and animal waste, fertilizers and other sources — reaching area bays and Long Island Sound, feeding algal booms that deprive waters of their oxygen.
It also calls for creation of a Long Island Water Quality Commission that would establish and then oversee implementation of an island-wide water protection plan.
As proposed, the 11-member commission would include two representatives from the governor’s office, one representative each from the Senate and the Assembly, both county executives, one representative from each county legislature and a single member representing all Long Island town and village governments.
It would also include a technical advisory member to represent county health and planning departments and a citizen’s advisory representative such as an environmental or industry advocate. With a protection plan in place, local governments would have to adopt and amend land use, zoning and engineering specifications to adhere to the plan, according to the bill.
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), whose district spans the North Fork, and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter each flagged that component of the proposal as something that wrests zoning control from local officials.
They also said such a commission would direct too much power away from elected leaders.
“It would kind of give the state zoning authority,” Mr. Krupski said. “You need to have elected officials on [the commission] really, being that they are the ones on the front lines making decisions based on someone having elected them to that positions.”
“What they are asking us to do is abdicate our zoning authority, give 100 percent of our zoning authority to what is mostly an unelected group of individuals,” Mr. Walter said. “I could not support the legislation as it is written.”
Mr. Walter said while he is in favor of a plan to improve water quality, he believes affected towns should be broadly represented. That’s the case with the five-member Central Pine Barrens Commission, which includes the supervisors of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton, as well as the county executive.
The water protection plan would affect too many people on Long Island and they need proper representation, he said.
Mr. LaValle, who wrote and sponsored the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act, said state officials are taking those concerns into consideration and plan to invite local government officials to the table to voice their concerns.
“My approach is to be inclusive and to make sure that people’s points of view are represented,” Mr. LaValle said. “Everyone can’t get everything they want, but it should represent the stakeholders’ major concerns.”
As for curbing nitrogen flow into water, the bill calls for the removal of existing commercial and residential septic systems, which would be replaced by nitrogen-reducing systems. The mandate would apply to all such “on-site” septic systems within 1,000 feet of a coastline or public supply well.
“We have 17 [public] supply wells in Riverhead and we’re surrounded by water,” Mr. Walter said, “Thousands of homeowners could be impacted.”
Currently, conventional underground on-site septic systems release nitrates into groundwater at a rate of 35 to 50 milligrams per liter, said Bob DeLuca of Group for the East End, an environmental advocacy group working with lawmakers on the bill. The county health department’s standard for drinking water is 10 milligrams per liter and, according to Christopher Gobler, marine researcher for Stony Brook University, aquatic life is affected by levels of 0.5 milligrams per liter or higher.
Any new nitrogen-reducing system would have to reduce that output by half, Mr. DeLuca said, keeping in line with the National Sanitary Foundation’s standard, which “speaks to a 50 percent reduction.” The nonprofit foundation develops public health standards that help protect the world’s water; and certifies that emerging de-nitrifying systems and technology meet those specific standards, according to its website.
“It is not a bill that says everybody in Suffolk County has to rip up their backyards and put in a system next week,” said Mr. DeLuca. “There are places where they will need advanced nitrogen treatment and where they will not.”
Mr. DeLuca, Mr. Amper and other environmentalists traveled to Albany last Tuesday hoping to gain support for the bill — which the two state lawmakers stressed could look very different in its final draft, given all the concerns.
Engineering experts argue that the proposed legislation is not in line with available sewage treatment technology, as no de-nitrification system is currently approved by the Suffolk County health department for use on a consumer level.
“There’s no technology to do what they are asking for,” said professional engineer Joseph Fischetti of Southold. “The problem all comes down to individual sub-surface sanitation and there is nothing out here that takes nitrogen out of individual sub-surface sewer systems. So we’re not there yet.”
Mr. DeLuca said health department engineers are currently testing available technology and are in the process of studying at least three systems.
Mr. Fischetti also spoke to the cost of such systems, which he said can range from $10,000 to $30,000 and higher. Such systems, he said, would require long-term maintenance, some seasonally, which would add to those costs.
“This a very complicated problem and they’re going to put legislation out there that’s going to be costing people tens of thousands of dollars,” Mr. Fischetti said. “It affects almost everybody; look at a map and draw a line 1,000 feet from the coast. You have to start talking about how much this is going to cost.”
Mr. Sweeney said the protection plan would incorporate identifiable means of paying for all the septic system upgrades, without putting all of the cost on ratepayers or property owners.
“We recognize it simply isn’t realistic to turn to homeowners and say, ‘This is all your problem and now you have to fix it at your expense,’ I don’t think that could happen, much less that it would happen,” Mr. Sweeney said.
Mr. Krupski, a former member of Southold Town’s Board of Trustees, which is tasked with protecting the town’s water sources, applauded the effort to move forward on improving water quality.
But, he added, the bill as proposed seemed to outline quite an expensive endeavor for no guaranteed payoff.
“Who is going to do the work? And who going to pay for it?” Mr. Krupski asked, adding that nitrogen is not the only factor in water degradation. “Look at everything that goes down the drain. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket and then say nitrogen was just one player with everything going into groundwater.”
“Everybody is interested in how this affects them, that’s natural,” Mr. Sweeney said. “We’re having those discussions and we could end up, who knows, in a very different place down the road from where we are right now on this issue.
“The main point was to get a discussion going and figure out what can reasonably be done,” he said, “and what we need to do to address the issue.”
Property owners across the North Fork and beyond now have easy access to information concerning contaminated areas they may – or may not – have known existed in their neighborhoods.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has released information about 1,950 different locations across the state that have been investigated for possible environmental contamination, according to DEC officials.
Prior to the release, only two locations in Southold Town and the Riverhead area had been made public on the DEC’s website, the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Calverton (more commonly known as EPCAL) and the Mattituck Airbase, said DEC spokesman Aphrodite Montalvo.
Though nine other locations have been added to the website, none of those locations have been newly discovered as contaminated sites, she said.
The information can be accessed on the DEC’s website along with about 2,500 sites that had already been made public and listed online, good for 4,450 total sites.
The newly added sites were mostly unknown to the public until now, local environmentalists said.
Jenn Hartnagel, a senior environmental advocate for the nonprofit Group for the East End, said she had been calling on the state agency “for some time” to release information about sites it has been investigating, in the interest of “transparency.”
“The earlier we know that their might be a problem, the more capable we are with dealing with them and making informed decisions,” she said.
Making the information readily accessible to the public gives people and local governments the opportunity to better understand these locations, and the extent of potentially hazardous conditions associated with groundwater and soil contamination, she said.
Prior to the release, information about these sites was only available by request, largely because the information is considered to be preliminary, incomplete, or not verified, Ms. Montalvo cautioned.
“Information about these sites can easily be misunderstood,” she said. “Their mere existence may unnecessarily raise concern about human exposures or environmental impacts before the sites are better characterized. Due to the nature of this information, significant conclusions or decisions should not be based solely upon the released summaries.”
The DEC released information about the sites in response to an increasing number of requests for property information, often associated with buying and selling property, according to an agency release announcing the measure. Below is information on sites, as provided online. The number matches the map above.
1) Calverton NWIRP 02 (EPCAL)
Grumman Boulevard, Calverton
As many as 230 gallons of fuel are recorded to have been spilled in the area. Groundwater contaminants found included fuel-type and chlorinated volatile organic compounds (VOCs), believed to be from unreported spills of solvents used to clean the aircraft engines and fuel systems. Potable water that is contaminated above drinking water standards is currently being treated.
2) Riverhead Landfill
Youngs Avenue, Riverhead
This facility accepted municipal and industrial wastes, and construction and demolition debris. In 1980, spent industrial solvents of unknown composition were disposed at an on-site brush dump. The results of the most recent sampling, done in June of 1992, indicate that no substance of concern was found to be migrating from the landfill.
3) Riverhead Hortonsphere Site
West Main Street, Riverhead
Manufactured gas and stored natural gas. Began operations sometime prior to 1944 and was dismantled and removed in 1998. The site has been undeveloped since.
4) L.I. Horticultural Research Lab
3059 Sound Avenue, Riverhead
Application tanks containing pesticides were periodically washed and cleaned with rinse waters discharged into two leaching structures located on-site, which led to the contamination of subsurface soil.
A well survey was conducted in the area and no site-related contamination has been detected in the private wells. Contaminated surface soils were excavated and the remaining deep soils will be covered with an impervious liner to minimize further groundwater contamination.
5) Altaire Pharmaceuticals Inc.
311 West Lane, Aquebogue
This facility is being tracked because it once managed a type of hazardous waste.
It has not been determined whether any environmental releases have caused concern at this facility. As information for this site becomes available, it will be reviewed by the NYSDOH to determine if site contamination presents public health exposure concerns.
6) Graphics of Peconic Inc.
300 Pleasure Drive, Flanders
This facility is being tracked because it once managed a type of hazardous waste.
It has not been determined whether any environmental releases of concern have occurred at this facility. As information for this site becomes available, it will be reviewed by the NYSDOH to determine if site contamination presents public health exposure concerns.
7) Mattituck Airbase
Airway Drive (off New Suffolk Ave), Mattituck
Solvent rinses and wastewater from the facility were discharged to leaching pools until the pools were closed in 1979. Analyses of samples from the pools indicated elevated levels of copper, iron, nickel, zinc, lead, and cadmium. Contaminated soils were excavated and disposed of in 1997.
8) Southold Landfill
Cox Lane, north of Route 48, Cutchogue
This facility accepted municipal and domestic wastes, demolition, and landscaping debris, and cesspool and septic tank wastes from 1951 to Oct. 1993.
Based on the information contained in the reports, the wastes disposed at this site are not hazardous.
9) Cutchogue Freone Plume
Harbor Land and Oak Street, Cutchogue
The Suffolk County Department of Health Services has discovered VOCs in private homeowner wells in the area. A later investigation found no sources of VOCs breaching groundwater standards and it was further determined that there is no longer a threat in this area.
10) Southold Acetylene Gas Production
370 Hobart Road, Southold
The acetylene manufacturing facility, which was operated by the Southold Lighting Company from 1906 to 1921, produced acetylene gas for the surrounding community. A number of organic and inorganic compounds are present at the site in surface soil.
11) Mitchell Property
115 Front Street, Greenport
Fourteen underground storage tanks containing gasoline, diesel fuel, fuel oil or waste oils had leaked, impacting soils in the vicinity of the tanks. Soils were later excavated and disposed of off-site. The site has since been remediated.
Eight North Fork wineries can now add a L.I. Sustainable Wine logo to their 2012 vintages.
On Friday, environmental advocacy organization Group for the East End officially endorsed the work of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing (LISW), a not-for-profit organization that provides education and certification for Long Island vineyards.
“We applaud the efforts of LISW in becoming the first vineyards in the eastern U.S. to earn certified sustainable status,” said Aaron Virgin, vice president of Group for the East End. “It couldn’t come at a better time as the Long Island wine industry celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
“This is the right direction the wine industry should be headed in.”
There are currently 10 “certified sustainable” vineyards on Long Island, eight of which are on the North Fork: Bedell Cellars, Harbes Family Vineyard, Martha Clara Vineyards, One Woman Wines & Vineyards, Palmer Vineyards, Roanoke Vineyards, Sannino Bella Vita Vineyard and Shinn Estate Vineyards. On the South Fork, Wolffer Estate Vineyard and Channing Daughters Winery earned the distinction.
Six North Fork vineyards that joined the LISW in 2013 and are working toward sustainability certification include Kontokosta Winery, Lieb Cellars, Mattebella Vineyards, Mudd Vineyards, Sparkling Pointe and Surrey Lane Vineyard.
LISW’s sustainability certification process is monitored by Allan Connell, former district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. Mr. Connell oversees a checklist of nearly 200 sustainable grape growing practices.
According to LISW’s website, sustainable viticulture practices include science-based nutrition management to promote vine health and most importantly limit or prevent nitrate leaching into groundwater, how fertilizers are stored, and vine size measurements to help adjust and limit nitrogen use.
“The announcement of our first certified sustainable vineyards strengthens the ecological leadership and social responsibility of the Long Island wine region,” said Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue. “The effort of creating meaningful, rigorous sustainable farming standards for grape growers proves that Long Island wineries are serious about making world-class wines that are ecologically sensitive.”
Growing sweet corn on the North Fork is an art form. It takes time, attention and plenty of fertilizer to ensure crops have enough nutrients to thrive.
The results are delicious, but the process can cause unintended harm to the environment, namely pollution from nitrogen that seeps into ground and surface water and feeds damaging algal blooms.
In an effort to achieve a successful harvest while protecting the environment, Suffolk County farmers are participating for the second year in a conservation project this summer to reduce their use of nitrogen fertilizers on sweet corn and potato crops. The technology, called controlled-release fertilizer, is designed to break down gradually according to the plant’s need for nutrients. The product would replace conventional fertilizers that can dissolve during heavy rains and enter local water systems.
Cornell Cooperative Extension and American Farmland Trust are spearheading the water-quality improvement project. CCE is working directly with 35 farmers to calibrate equipment to apply fertilizers at the correct rate. To test the product’s efficiency, samples will be taken from corn and potato crops produced with traditional fertilizer and controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer to determine if both crops are receiving adequate nitrogen, according to AFT.
“Long Island farmers are well aware of concerns about drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary,” said David Haight, New York director of AFT. “Our project offers practical ways for farmers to sustain crop yields while reducing nitrogen entering the water.”
Last year’s program had 10 participating farmers, who were able to cut their fertilizer use by an average of 20 percent while sustaining farm productivity, according to AFT.
Marty Sidor, owner of North Fork Potato Chips in Cutchogue, said the product fits well in his planting and fertilizing plan.
“It’s very user-friendly,” Mr. Sidor said. “I have seen crops that store better and I have not seen one deficiency in the field through all this time.”
Fourth-generation farmer Phil Schmitt, owner of Schmitt Family Farm in Riverhead, is having similar success with the conservation methods.
“We practice very intensive agriculture,” he said. “We started to see that the land was getting a little tired.”
To regenerate the soils, Mr. Schmitt employs an integrated pest management approach to reduce his use of pesticides and spreads compost to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. As a part of this initiative, Mr. Schmitt is using controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer on all of his sweet corn.
He made the switch, he said, “to do the right thing.”
To encourage participation, the program provides risk protection for farmers interested in reducing dependence on traditional fertilizers, but concerned about possible yield losses. The farmland trust and AgFlex, a private company that manage the risks farmers face when adopting conservation practices, introduced the protection policy to 10 Suffolk sweet corn growers in 2012. It pays farmers cash if a new conservation practice, such as switching to a controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer, reduces yields — and therefore income.
Becky Wiseman, CCE’s agricultural environmental stewardship coordinator who works with farmers on the program, said it addresses water contamination, one of the toughest issues local farmers have ever faced. The region’s aquifers, the sole source of drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary, suffer from heightened levels of nitrogen, according to the farm trust.
Suffolk County long ago recognized that safeguarding agriculture involves safeguarding agricultural lands. Suffolk launched the country’s first farmland preservation program in the 1970s. Before that, aggressive real estate development reduced land in active farming from 100,000 acres during the mid-1900s to the current 34,000 acres. Without the action, Long Island would have lost nearly all of its farms, Mr. Haight said.
Today, agriculture is the backbone of the region’s economy. Suffolk County ranks first in New York in annual farm sales, with more than $300 million in farm products sold in 2010, according to the trust.
“We hope Suffolk County will once again be a national leader by demonstrating that it’s possible to work with farmers to protect water quality while keeping farms economically viable,” Mr. Haight said.
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.
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.”