11/20/13 1:00pm
11/20/2013 1:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | U-pick operations like this one will soon be allowed on preserved farmland.

The Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday unanimously passed a bill amending the county’s Farmland Preservation Law, which will allow activities promoting tourism to take place on preserved farmland – ensuring such farm operations stay economically viable in the future.

The legislation, proposed by County Executive Steve Bellone, applies to land purchased in part or in whole by Suffolk County for the purpose of farmland development.

Once signed by Mr. Bellone, activities promoting agricultural tourism including U-pick operations, harvestable crop mazes and hayrides would become acceptable, as well as the addition of larger farm stands, permeable parking areas, and processing facilities that create locally crafted goods such as wine or potato chips.

The new regulations will also allow educational tours to teach visitors about agricultural production and environmental sustainability, according to the bill.

“These updates to the County’s Farmland Development Rights program will ensure that current and future generations of Suffolk County farmers will have the economic tools necessary to succeed on Long Island,” Mr. Bellone said. “Our agricultural industry not only drives our local economy but it sustains healthy communities with fresh local foods and preserves our overall quality of living.”

The amended code also calls for committee members to prioritize parcels of land being considered for purchase every six months, rather than once a year – to be drawn up in a comprehensive master list submitted to the County Legislature, according to the bill.

Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca said last month that while supporting farmers who operate on preserved land should indeed be on the county’s priority list after investing in the land, doing so should be done carefully.

“The primary purpose of the underlying investment was for agricultural production, so it’s important that farming not drift too far into entertainment,” Mr. DeLuca said.

“But obviously the underpinning of the financial investment is to protect farmland,” he said. “They don’t want to undercut the core of their investment, which is agricultural land for agricultural production. That requires some delicate balancing and regular scrutiny.”

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.

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