11/27/13 12:00pm
11/27/2013 12:00 PM
ROBERT O'ROURK FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

Suffolk County could find itself being called to court as early as this week, as environmental groups consider if and when to take legal action after the county officially adopted its 2014 budget, which some say illegally pilfers from funds reserved in the county’s Drinking Water Protection accounts.

County Executive Steve Bellone signed a $2.7 billion spending plan last Monday, after the Legislature decided to use nearly $33 million from the county’s sewer stabilization fund, a reserve account created when Suffolk County taxpayers first 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.

While representatives of some environmental groups said last week they were considering taking legal action, the only one that decidedly said it will litigate – the Long Island Pine Barrens Society – could do so later this week.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, said he would be meeting with the organization’s legal team Wednesday, Nov. 27, to determine which of the county’s moves would trigger the legal action.

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.

Bill Toedter, president of the North Fork Environmental Council, said Monday that his organization’s board of directors will vote at its December on whether to join the litigation, and would be more likely to join with other groups than file suit on its own.

“Because of the wording on the referendum … voters never would have approved additional quarter-percent sales tax if they felt that legislators, on a whim, could change it,” Mr. Toedter said.

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.’”

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

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.

06/19/13 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

05/17/13 5:00pm
05/17/2013 5:00 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Sandy-damaged white pine trees on Main Road in Jamesport. Experts say white pine owners should look for green growth under needles that have been turned an orange-brown or yellow color from salt exposure during the October storm.

Spring is in full bloom, and the region’s grasses and hardwoods are greening up accordingly. But some pine trees are not, and experts say it’s due to the salt carried inland during Sandy.

White pines, indigenous trees popular in landscaping across the North Fork and all Long Island, are still showing the aftereffects of October’s superstorm. For worried homeowners who fear their decorative pines might be dead, experts say most of the salt-burned trees should rebound in time.

“This is the worst I’ve seen in quite a while,” said Melissa Daniels, president of the Long Island Nursery and Landscaping Association. “It is going to be worse in areas close to the road and close to the shores.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, says discoloration of the white pines’ needles is either orange-brown or yellow, depending on the amount of salt exposure.

“The fact the homeowners are observing damage far away from any body of water is not surprising,” Mr. Amper said. “Salt spray can be carried way inland by high winds.”

The further your pine is from the coast, the more yellow, rather than brown, the needles will appear, he said.

Ms. Daniels said this winter’s blizzards didn’t help the pines, either.

“They were using more salt than they normally would on the roads, and that splashes tree bottoms,” she said.

Some smaller shrubs, such as arborvitae, rhododendrons and mountain laurel, were also affected by the salt spray, Ms. Daniels said.

“We didn’t have a lot of rain with the storm, which would have washed it out,” she said. “You really had to have watered them after the storm.”

If white pines are displaying the brown or yellow burning effect, there isn’t anything for landowners to do but wait, the experts say.

“My short advice: Be patient,” Mr. Amper said. “Pine trees are extremely resilient. They look a lot worse than they feel most of the time.”

Most white pines will shed half their needles this year, Mr. Amper said. “You would see the first signs that the needles are being restored next year, but the tree won’t be fully restored until the spring of 2015.”

“Wait it out until the fall and see if they send out any new growth,” Ms. Daniels suggested, before starting to dig up and discard damaged pines.

“We haven’t had to replace any yet,” said Hugo Rios Jr., landscaping manager for Hugo Rios Masonry and Landscaping in Riverhead, though Mr. Rios said many of his clients are not in immediate coastal areas.

“Some of the trees were really yellow. They dropped the needles that were yellow, and now we are starting to see some green come through,” Mr. Rios said. “They seem to be getting better.”

Mr. Amper said that if a property owner sees bark beetles in a pine tree, that’s a sign the tree has probably died, and “only then is cutting it down justified.”

There are a variety of bark beetles and other trunk-damaging pests in white pines.

“For the most part people do not see the actual insects themselves, but rather the evidence of past or current attack,” said Dan Gilrein, entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension. Bark beetle damage usually happens after the tree been subjected to some other stress or injury, such as salt spray or flooding, he said.

One example is the black turpentine beetle. Adult beetles are dark reddish-brown to black, and about one-third of an inch long, Mr. Gilrein said.

“One sign of attack is the resulting ‘pitch tubes’ and sap flow one sees on attacked trees,” he said. “As for the salt-damaged white pines, we suggest homeowners re-examine the trees’ growing conditions, perhaps bringing in a consulting arborist if needed, and provide the best care possible particularly during this year of recovery.”

The protected Long Island Pine Barrens areas stretching from eastern Brookhaven Town to Southampton Town are made up predominantly of pitch pine, an indigenous tree that is extremely resilient to salt spray, Mr. Amper said. The Pine Barrens lost more trees to high winds than to salt spray.

“If there is another storm, people should know to turn their sprinklers on, and water the salt out of the ground [and off the trees] if they can,” Ms. Daniels said. “If you are going to replant trees and live near a shore area, I would not recommend replacing them with a white pine.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

03/21/13 6:00am
03/21/2013 6:00 AM
COURTESY PHOTO |    The Long Island Pines Barrens Society environmental group issued a press release March 1 that included this Feb. 1 aerial shot of the 35 acres where cars were being stored.

COURTESY PHOTO | The Long Island Pines Barrens Society environmental group issued a press release March 1 that included this Feb. 1 aerial shot of the 35 acres where cars were being stored.

To the Editor:

In the March 14 News-Review newspaper article about Sandy-damaged cars parked on grass at EPCAL, Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper speaks of photos that show grasslands at the site covered in puddles, and “utterly destroyed.” Puddles of what, water? If so, were there no puddles on adjacent areas (at that same time, of course)? Puddles of oil? Antifreeze? Something else? Hard to tell from an aerial photo.

As for “utterly destroyed”, there is no definition for that either. I have a suggestion. Perhaps every three to four months a News-Review reporter could stop by this area and look at the affected and unaffected areas and take some pictures. If six months to a year from now there still is “utter destruction,” it will be further evidence of Mr. Amper’s technical expertise as an environmentalist and he deserves credit. But if the evidence of “utter destruction” or any other type of damage rapidly disappears, I think that those facts should be reported so that the public can gauge their opinions of Mr. Amper’s credentials for themselves.

Please help to separate Mr Amper’s sensationalism from his facts. (He does publicize some valuable facts).

Even now, the actual DEC statements seem a good deal less alarmist. A salamander could be crushed and it could cause short-eared owls and northern harriers to forage in other areas. I am in favor of preservation of endangered species, but looking at the area surrounding the 35 acres in question, it is very hard to believe that a temporary disturbance of the affected area is critical to anything.

Alan Daters, Riverhead

To read all newspaper articles and Letters to the Editor, pick up a copy of the News-Review on newsstands or click on the E-Paper.

11/21/12 12:00pm
11/21/2012 12:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Long Island Pine Barrens Society head Dick Amper says town officials are looking to get exemption from environmental laws.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Long Island Pine Barrens Society head Dick Amper says town officials are looking to get exemption from environmental laws.

Environmentalists, grab your pens and pads and blueprints.

You’ve got an empty canvas, so to speak. Thousands of acres of undeveloped land in Calverton.

Long Island Pine Barrens head Richard Amper said this week he will be urging environmentalists to come up with a plan of their own on how to develop the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

This, he says, is necessary because Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter “is launching a one-man war on the environment.”

Mr. Amper’s rallying cry comes just a few weeks after Mr. Walter contacted the area’s three federal representatives, Congressman Tim Bishop and U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, in an effort to jump-start development at the former Grumman site, saying the land was given to the town by the federal government for economic development — and the state has hindered this goal.

Mr. Amper says the supervisor is also trying at the state level to circumvent the state Pine Barrens Act.

“Sean Walter’s effort to have the federal government supersede state environmental law at EPCAL has been compounded by his new proposition that the Pine Barrens Act does not apply to government-owned land and has set him on a collision course with environmentalists,” Mr. Amper said in an interview this week.

“Add to this the town’s approval of storage of Sandy-wrecked cars in a state-designated Special Groundwater Protection Area in the Pine Barrens at EPCAL and it seems he’s declared a war on water and habitat exceeding anything heretofore,” Mr. Amper said. “I will now urge environmentalists to advance an EPCAL development plan that will protect the ecosystem and permit appropriate development to avoid further delay in economic development of the property.”

Mr. Amper said his ultimate goal would be to convince the town to accept whatever plan the environmentalists drew up.

Reached for comment, Mr. Walter dismissed the outspoken Mr. Amper as just trying to draw attention to himself and his nonprofit group.

“That would be Dick Amper just wasting a lot of time,” Mr. Walter said.

The town has been trying to develop town land at EPCAL, the site of a former Grumman naval weapons plant, for several years now, and both Mr. Walter and his predecessor, Phil Cardinale, have complained about state bureaucracy, specifically the state Department of Environmental Conservation, impeding that goal.

DEC officials counter that they’ve never rejected any plan the town has proposed for EPCAL.

The town is in the process of having an environmental study and subdivision map created for EPCAL in hopes this will make the property easier to develop.

In addition to contacting the area’s federal representatives, the Town Board also has met publicly with former Congressman George Hochbrueckner, who was instrumental in getting the EPCAL land turned over to the town, instead of being sold, after Grumman left.

Mr. Hockbrueckner said it was always the goal to have the land developed as “economic development” that would replace the jobs lost when Grumman left the area.

Mr. Amper is also saying the town has sent a series of letters to the state Pine Barrens Commission — a multi-jurisdictional government agency that regulates development in designated pine barrens areas — claiming government projects are exempt from the commission’s jurisdiction.

In an Oct. 16 letter to Suffolk County Water Authority attorney John Milazzo, deputy Riverhead Town attorney Dan McCormick claims that a recent state Supreme Court ruling involving the county’s Southaven Park Trap and Skeet Range expands the scope of the term “public improvement and/or recreation uses” to include a county-maintained shooting range.

“If a shooting range is now judicially recognized as a ‘public improvement,’ it is reasonable to conclude that most, if not all, other municipally sponsored projects are public improvements as well,” Mr. McCormick writes, according to a copy of one of the letters Mr. Amper turned over to the News-Review.

In the Southaven case, the judge found that the Pine Barrens Commission’s ruling that the reopening of the skeet range constituted development “was arbitrary, capricious and irrational.”

In an Oct. 10 letter to Mr. Walter, John Pavacic, executive director of the Pine Barrens Commission, wrote that “government uses are not expressly exempted from being subject to the comprehensive land use plan” of the Pine Barrens Act. He wrote that government uses are addressed as either non-development, which are exempt, or development, which are not, and that these definitions are spelled out in the law.

Mr. Amper said one only needs to read the Pine Barrens law to see that government activities are not expressly exempt.

“The town could make tens of millions of dollars more if it could agree to do development at EPCAL in an environmentally sensitive way,” he said. “It is my opinion that town supervisors, from Jim Stark to the present, have blamed the environment as an obstacle to developing EPCAL. It’s just a political excuse. The salamanders and owls are not preventing EPCAL from being developed, inept politicians are.”

“I’m not blaming the environment,” Mr. Walter responded.

Asked what he is blaming, he replied, “Bureaucracy. But we’ll get through it.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

02/11/11 2:27pm
02/11/2011 2:27 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | John Turner, co-founder of the Long Island Pines Barrens Society

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | John Turner, co-founder of the Long Island Pines Barrens Society and retired town environmental official, has written a new book to guide those interested in exploring the non-paved areas of Long Island.

As you go about your day, have you ever come across an unusual bird and wondered where it was heading? Would you rather spend a day off observing creatures in their natural habitat instead of rummaging store selves for bargains?

John Turner, co-founder of the Riverhead-based Long Island Pines Barrens Society and recently retired director of Brookhaven Town’s Division of Environmental Protection, has written a new book to guide those interested in exploring the non-paved areas of Long Island.

“It took me, literally, five minutes to come up with a list of 25 events and phenomenons that people could experience,” Mr. Turner said about his book, “Exploring the Other Island: A seasonal guide to nature on Long Island.” “The book, to me, is a window to the natural world of beauty, magic and wonder.”

We sat down with Mr. Turner this week to discuss his new book. The following was excerpted from our conversation:

Q: How long have you been an environmentalist?

A: Since I could first walk. My father loved clams on the half shell. Almost every weekend during the summer we would dig for them. He would also feed birds long before it became in vogue. We had a bird feeding station in our backyard in Smithtown. When I was 7 years old, I remember looking out our window during a heavy snow storm and all of a sudden I saw a flock of about 40 unusual mustard-yellow, bright-white and black birds. They were evening grosbeak birds. I remember being absolutely captivated and just suddenly realized I love birds. Once you start looking at birds you start to appreciate their interrelationships with other animals and the natural community of which they are a part of.

Q: How is your book different from other Long Island guide books?

A: It takes a seasonal approach. A lot of other guides just focus on a certain area, such as if you go to this park here’s what you’re likely to see. What I wanted to do is take advantage of people’s connection to the seasons. I thought it would be neat to present the nature on Long Island in a seasonal frame work.

Q: What are your top seasonal sight-seeing recommendations?

A: Summer is the best time to go whale watching. A fall phenomenon is hawk migration. If you go to the Fire Island Hawk Watch near the lighthouse, on some days, you’ll see a steady stream of hawks as they head southbound. Long Island is a migratory hotel for a lot of species. A great kid-friendly winter activity is having a black-capped chickadee eat right from your hand at the Morton National Wildlife Refuge in Noyac. In the spring is the American woodcock mating season. Once the male’s hormones start raging, they begin this strutting behavior and make a “peep peep peep” sound like a martian before shooting up to about 250 feet in the air. It’s incredible.

For more information, visit longislandnature.org.

jennifer@northshoresun.com

11/01/10 2:20pm
11/01/2010 2:20 PM

The Long Island Pine Barrens Society has filed a lawsuit against Suffolk County over the county Legislature’s recent move to allow more development on preserved farmland.

In the past, construction for agricultural operations was allowed to cover up to 10 to 15 percent of a preserved property, depending on the circumstances.

The new rules, adopted Sept. 16, allow farmers to develop up to 25 percent of a parcel for which development rights have been sold if they can show the county’s farmland commission that a lower limit would pose a hardship.

Permitted development includes barns, equipment storage buildings and greenhouses with foundations.

The society’s lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Riverhead, calls for farmers who have sold their development rights but also built on their land to return the money they received for the development rights.

The county responded to the suit with a prepared statement from the county attorney’s office: “The lawsuit lacks all merit and the legislation is completely lawful and valid.”

Announcing the lawsuit in a press release issued Tuesday, the Pine Barrens Society cited as a prime example of the type of development it wants to stop Center Moriches farmer Russell Weiss’s 2007 decision to remove the topsoil from his preserved farmland and erect permanent industrial greenhouses with foundations.

“The farmers can’t have their cake and eat it too,” Pine Barrens Society president Richard Amper said in the press release. “If they want to develop their land, then they can’t sell the development rights to the public.”

Mr. Amper said that the county’s farmland preservation program was approved through a public referendum and that the county’s decision to allow development on the protected properties constituted a gift of public assets without a public purpose.

Mr. Amper also recently took Southold Town to task on a property in Mattituck, which already has several greenhouses. The town is considering purchasing the development rights for this property under its own local farmland preservation program. Town officials have said that the greenhouses are within the town’s requirement that structures not cover more than 20 percent of the property.

byoung@timesreview.com