03/17/14 12:00pm
03/17/2014 12:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

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:

  • Shelter Island: 39
  • Southold: 237
  • Riverhead: 268
  • East Hampton: 205
  • Southampton: 475
  • Brookhaven: 3,137
  • Smithtown: 974
  • Huntington: 1,623
  • Islip: 1,917
  • Babylon: 1,623

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.”

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

02/28/14 5:00am
02/28/2014 5:00 AM

mic

News-Review and Suffolk Times editor Michael White will be appearing Friday morning on the “Going Green” radio show hosted by Group for the East End president Bob DeLuca.

The show airs at 11 a.m. on WPPB (Peconic Public Broadcasting) at 88.3 FM and runs until noon.

Mr. White will be joined by fellow East End newspaper editors David Rattray, editor of the East Hampton Star, and Joe Shaw, executive director of the Press News Group, which publishes The Southampton Press eastern and western editions, and the East Hampton Press.

The journalists will take to the studio for an in-depth discussion on the region’s top environmental issues.

“From the controversial culling of deer, to the future of water quality, learn how the local media decides what issues matter and where the truth lies,” reads a press announcement from WPPB, “while we consider the impact these decisions have on community perceptions and attitudes about the future of our environment.”

Listeners are invited to join the conversation by posting questions on the WPPB Facebook page.

The show is produced by award-winning broadcaster Bonnie Grice.

11/19/13 9:00am
11/19/2013 9:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has signed the 2014 budget.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Steve Bellone has signed the 2014 county budget.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has signed a 2014 budget previously amended by county legislators earlier this month, though the amended plan has environmental groups preparing to sue over how the county is balancing its books.

Signed on Monday, the $2.7 billion spending plan – which calls for no tax increase in the county’s general fund – calls for using nearly $33 million from the county’s sewer stabilization fund, a reserve account created when Suffolk County taxpayers approved the Drinking Water Protection Program via referendum in 1987.

The fund comprises one of several dedicated revenue streams created by the sales tax — another being open space preservation, for example — which is one-quarter of one percent, and critics say the choice to use it to close a budget gap violates the terms under which voters agreed to tax themselves.

“The public has repeatedly voted to tax themselves – and they are paying 2.5 times the national average as it is – to protect their drinking water with the explicit assurance that the writing can’t be altered for any other purpose,” said Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper. ”There’s no justification for violating this solemn contract with the public.”

Suffolk voters last agreed to renew the tax in 2007 — approving a ballot measure to maintain the tax through 2030. The recent plan laid out by the county intends to start paying back into the sewer stabilization fund – which is used to offset spikes in sewer rates – in 2017.

The balance currently hovers around $140 million, leaving over $100 million left in the sewer stabilization fund.

Mr. Bellone, in the budget he presented to the Legislature, had suggested closing the budget gap 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.

Legislator Tom Barraga (R-East Islip), who spent over 20 years in Albany as an assemblyman, voted along with legislators Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) against the county Legislature’s budget – pointing to past bailouts in New York City and Nassau County as evidence the legislation would not be much of a risk at all.

Supporters of the decision to use the funds said the plan will save over $40 million in interest payments from what they would have paid if they borrowed from the Dormitory Authority.

“It’s a huge savings,” said North Fork Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who added that he wasn’t exactly sure how the use of the funds was legal.

He said that’s “a legal issue for the lawyers to decide.”

An opinion of the county attorney’s office, provided by a spokesperson for Mr. Bellone, pointed to case law — considered analogous with Suffolk County — that held that “The New York Court of Appeals has endorsed the statement that ‘laws proposed and enacted by the people under an initiative provision are subject to the same constitutional, statutory, and charter limitations as those passed by the legislature and are entitled to no greater sanctity or dignity.’”

While the county and some environmental groups remain in court over similar action taken in 2011, Bob DeLuca, executive director of Group for the East End — which did not take legal action then — said his organization’s members are deciding for themselves whether or not to sue.

Mr. DeLuca questioned whether or not the sewer fund would ever be replenished as promised.

“Anybody can promise anything in order to get a short-term gain,” Mr. DeLuca said. “But in 2017, to go back to the Legislature and say, ‘You promised to put the money back’ — there will be different people in place and different priorities. Maybe there will be another economic downturn.”

Aside from the county’s decision to use reserves from the sewer stabilization fund, an attempt to bring back about $120,000 more in revenue to the East End, generated through the county’s hotel/motel tax, stalled in the Legislature’s economic development and energy committee.

In addition, the Legislature rejected measures to adjust its police revenue sharing program — a move that would have brought over $500,000 to Riverhead, more than $400,000 to Southold and over $50,000 to Shelter Island — as well as an attempt to fund the Vocational Education and Extension Board, part of the county fire academy for a full year, as opposed to six months.

Pointing to the police revenue sharing defeat, the decision not to fund VEEB, and the loss of additional hotel/motel revenue — as well as use of the sewer stabilization funds — Mr. Schneiderman voted against the budget for the first time in 10 years.

“I don’t feel this year’s budget was great for the East End,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who was just re-elected to a sixth and final two-year term in office under term limit laws.

Mr. Krupski, meanwhile, said that some hotel/motel funds were brought back to the East End during the budget working group meetings, a closed-door process that has earned criticism on its own.

He also pointed to success “keeping revenue projections in a more realistic place,” and added that police revenue sharing is something that needs to be addressed on a percentage basis, rather than the hard numbers currently negotiated.

While he said the budget’s end product might not be exactly what East End voters would want, he said, “I did have some constructive input on it, but everything doesn’t always go my way or my district’s way. Every dollar was allocated evenly.”

As far as going to court over the use of sewer funds, Mr. Amper said the Pine Barrens Society’s board of directors has already approved litigating the topic. Group for the East End is still considering, while a request for comment from the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, another major environmental group in the region, was not immediately returned.

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

10/24/13 9:00am
10/24/2013 9:00 AM

prescription-drugs-giveback
Law enforcement agencies nationwide have scheduled another National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, so unwanted or expired medications can be disposed of safely – keeping them out of the wrong hands, and the island’s groundwater.

The Riverhead Police Department and Peconic Bay Medical Center will be accepting medications on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“It is very important to legitimately get rid of these prescriptions because some can be very addictive and are gateway drugs to other more dangerous narcotics,” said Riverhead Police chief David Hegermiller. “Keep track of quantities; missing pills could be a warning sign. When finished with a prescription, make sure you dispose of it properly.”

“Properly disposing of medications not only protects the drinking water from contamination of pharmaceutical residues, but it also ensures that children, young adults and others will not have ready access to controlled substances,” said supervisor Sean Walter.

Soon, East End residents will not have to wait for drug disposal events to turn in their unwanted medications.

The Group for the East End, with the help of Suffolk County’s Soil and Water Conservation District, has established the East End Medication Disposal Program, giving residents year-round access to drop boxes at local police departments, including Riverhead and Southold departments, to dispose of unused medications.

08/19/13 1:30pm
08/19/2013 1:30 PM
Times/Review Newsgroup hosts legislative debate

GIANNA VOLPE FILE PHOTO | Martha Clara Vineyards is on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

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.”

ryoung@timesreview.com

04/11/13 8:00am
04/11/2013 8:00 AM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, called for the banning of certain pesticides at the DEC’s Draft Long Island Pesticide Pollution Prevention Strategy hearing at Suffolk County Community College in Northampton last Wednesday night.

Environmental advocates, farmers, and elected officials stepped up to the microphone one by one last week, voicing support for or concern about the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft strategy to prevent future pesticide contamination of Long Island’s drinking water supplies.

Close to 100 people attended the hearing at Suffolk County Community College’s Eastern Campus in Riverhead last Wednesday night, April 3.

The new, 122-page proposed strategy calls for a technical review and advisory committee to review water quality data, so it can weigh factors such as human health risks and the availability of effective pesticide alternatives. The committee would provide the DEC with background information needed to support future regulatory action.

[Editorial: Is it time to rethink entire approach on pesticides?]

The draft strategy also calls for a working group of stakeholders to make sure those directly involved in pest management, pesticide use and water quality on Long Island are broadly represented.

Since 1996, 117 different pesticide-related chemicals have been detected in Long Island’s groundwater, according to the DEC.

By 1998 the agency began developing a plan to prevent further degradation of below-ground water supplies, culminating with the release of a draft plan in 2011 that included the possibility of a zero tolerance policy on certain pesticide uses. But the 2011 draft drew great concern from farmers, who said they would not be able to farm successfully under such harsh restrictions.

“The zero tolerance provision upset us greatly,” Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said in an interview about the 2011 proposed plan, which got scrapped. “We objected to it because in the draft document was the notion of zero tolerance. We had to interpret what zero meant. To me, zero means if they found something, it’s banned.”

Taking note of those concerns, in January, the DEC released its newest proposal to prevent future pesticide contamination, calling the new draft a “strategy.”

Environmental advocates at the hearing last week said the proposed strategy is a step back from the original plan proposed in 2011.

Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, said the strategy lacked specific goals for improving water quality over time.

Mr. DeLuca also asked for specific triggers, such as a certain number or level of pesticide detections, that would require the DEC to take regulatory action. He said the strategy also lacks a way to gauge how well it is working.

The new draft strategy “simply calls for more meetings and more planning” with too many “vagaries going forward,” he said.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, asked for a ban on three common pesticides — atrazine, metalaxyl, and imidacloprid — compounds she said are the most commonly found in Long Island’s groundwater.

Ms. Esposito asked the DEC to take responsibility for finding safer alternatives to common pesticides entering groundwater

But representatives of the East End’s agricultural community cautioned against implementing overly restrictive pesticide regulations, saying farmers need pesticides to remain economically viable.

Deborah Schmitt of Schmitt Family Farms in Riverhead voiced concern about a pesticides ban saying, “The last measure we use is pesticides.”

She said that before any pesticide is taken off the market alternatives must be identified, adding that the past few years have already been a struggle for Long Island’s farmers.

Ms. Schmitt also said a zero-tolerance policy for pesticides in groundwater “will put us out of business.” Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela agrees.

“Don’t start talking about banning things until the homework is done,” he said.

On the proposed banning of imidacloprid, for example, Mr. Gergela later said in an interview, “You have to be careful what you ask for.

“The alternative is far more toxic,” he said. “It’s product called dylox, and it is not as effective.”

Mr. Gergela also asked the DEC to assess risks presented by pesticides versus their benefit to society, adding that farming on Long Island is a $300 million industry.

“We need to work together,” he said. “We have to balance the issue.”

After the meeting, DEC deputy commissioner Eugene Leff said the agency would “seriously consider” creating water quality goals to ensure water quality changes are addressed over time.

Developing automatic triggers for regulatory action would be more difficult, he added. He believes a one-fits-all standard is not possible since different pesticides are harmful at different levels. The DEC is accepting public comments regarding the draft strategy until April 30. Comments can be submitted through email to: LongIslandStrategy@gw.dec.state.ny.us or by fax to 518-402-9024, or mailed to:

Scott Menrath, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Materials Management, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233.

cmiller@timesreview.com

02/10/12 7:00am
02/10/2012 7:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | An osprey delivers a twig to build up its nest at Cedar Beach in Southold on Tuesday morning.

A local environmental group is organizing a volunteer project to help the osprey population by installing new poles and repairing some existing ones before nesting season begins next month.

Kate Fullam of the Southold-based Group for the East End, the lead group organizing the nesting platform project, said most poles on the North Fork were put up by individuals, but few have been maintained. Her group’s goal is to repair or install a pole in each of the five East End towns.

“We’re in the process of developing a long-term monitoring program to evaluate existing poles and to figure out where new poles are needed,” she said. “Right now, we’re looking for volunteers with strong backs.”

Many poles are made from 25-foot black locust trees and placed in marshes, where the soft ground and high winds are common causes of poles leaning and becoming unstable.

Since the spring nesting season begins in mid-March, pole repairs are usually scheduled in February.

“If a pole is leaning, a nest could be at risk and fall off,” Ms. Fullam said. “We will usually dig out one side, push the pole back up straight and refill the hole for support.”

In addition to repairing nesting sites, Ms. Fullam said her group plans to install new poles. So far, one is planned to go up in Aquebogue near Reeves Creek and another is needed by Scallop Pond in Southampton.

Eastern Long Island, according to the Group for the East End, had been home to the world’s largest population of ospreys, often called fish hawks. But in the 1960s, DDT in pesticides made shells of osprey eggs thin and brittle, and numbers of the large fish-eaters declined sharply throughout the country. After DDT was banned in the early 1970s, the birds have been making a comeback.

For more information about the project or to volunteer, call (631) 765-6450, extension 208.

jennifer@timesreview.com