10/14/14 5:00am
10/14/2014 5:00 AM
KARL GROSSMAN

KARL GROSSMAN

I should have been suspicious last month driving into a gas station off the Long Island Expressway to fill up. I’d written a column in May about the effort of Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) to require gas stations to make clearer the difference between the cash and credit prices of the fuel they sell. (more…)

07/30/14 2:24pm
07/30/2014 2:24 PM
Dave Colone, Chairman of Suffolk County Planning Commissioner; Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Bob Delucca, President and CEO of the Group for the East End, County Executive Steve Bellone, Dick Amper, Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Deputy Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory. (Courtesy photo)

Dave Colone, Chairman of Suffolk County Planning Commissioner; Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Bob Delucca, President and CEO of the Group for the East End, County Executive Steve Bellone, Dick Amper, Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Deputy Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory. (Courtesy photo)

The Suffolk County Legislature OK’d the deal Tuesday, but voters will have the final say on an agreement that would drop two pending lawsuits environmental groups have filed against the county alleging a misuse of funds they say are reserved for protecting the county’s drinking water aquifer.

County legislators passed support for most of the deal 14-4 at their general meeting. First announced in June by County Executive Steve Bellone and the parties who initiated the lawsuits, part of the agreement maintained that after legislative approval, a public referendum would ultimately determine if the deal would go through.

The accord stems from what environmental advocates have called a “raiding” of a portion of the Drinking Water Protection Program, a quarter-percent sales tax that Suffolk voters have chosen to levy upon themselves through the year 2030. It is intended to protect groundwater through several specific uses, such as open space purchases and a fund dedicated to stabilizing residents’ sewer rates.

In 2011, and again in 2014, the county dipped into the sewer stabilization fund, using the money to help plug budget gaps. Environmentalists say that violates the terms under which voters agreed to tax themselves and is therefore illegal.

Under the proposed settlement, the county could still dip into the fund — which had a balance of around $140 million last year — until 2018, in order to meet long-term financial needs. However, any money diverted would have to be paid back in full by 2029. No interest would be attached to the repayment.

While the announcement in June required voter approval for any future changes in the Drinking Water program, legislators withheld support of that part of the deal on Tuesday. Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said that because negotiations are still technically ongoing — the lawsuit has not been officially dropped — the legislature was advised to table support for part of the agreement.

North Fork Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said he was at first “disturbed” by the agreement, since it contains no provisions guaranteeing the purchase of farmland in the future.

However, he said that Mr. Bellone and the Legislature’s willingness to preserve farmland on the East End in the past have eased his mind. And in the end, voters will still have the final say on whether or not this agreement suits their needs.

“I would have structured this a little differently, but I wasn’t at the table,” Mr. Krupski said Wednesday morning. “So I didn’t have that option … But I think if you look at this globally, this is the hand we were dealt. And past decisions have really made our options limited financially. This was, I felt, the best option to take.”

With county budget forecasts looking grim, Republican members of the Legislature — though split on the issue — expressed concern about the long-term viability of paying back the debt.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he would rather see the dollars currently in the sewer stabilization fund — the section of the Drinking Water Protection Program that would be borrowed from — used to build sewers to revitalize the county’s downtown areas and update aging cesspool systems countywide.

“This is nothing more than kicking the can down the road with steel-tipped shoes,” Mr. Trotta said. “People are saying we cut a deal and fixed a problem. But we have beaches closing because cesspools are running into our water. Sewers would fix that.”

Legislator Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) voted in favor of moving the agreement to voters on the merits of giving the public the power to make its own decision. But he said paying the borrowed funds back by 2029 could end up being more trouble than it’s worth, a concern Mr. Krupski said the county would have to address before the payments come due.

Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Smithtown), however, pointed out that if the lawsuits proceed, and the county prevails, it won’t have to replay the funds at all.

07/25/14 2:00pm
07/25/2014 2:00 PM

The North Fork Preserve in Northville has been called the county’s “last great park.” (Credit: Tim Gannon file photo)

With plans for Northville’s North Fork Preserve already taking shape, the county Legislature is set to vote Tuesday on the creation of an advisory committee to make recommendations for development and future use of the park.

Because of the park’s 314-acre scale and the number of proposed active uses — which include camping, hiking and horseback riding — the park stands to have “significant” impacts on nearby communities, according to the resolution introduced by Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue).

The North Fork Preserve Advisory Committee would be made up of 10 members, including representatives from the county and Riverhead Town government, as well as members of local civic group, an environmental group and horseman’s organizations to gather input from the community and make use recommendations, according to Mr. Krupski’s proposal.

In an interview Friday morning, Mr. Krupski said he made the recommendation after hearing from residents neighboring the park, who had voiced concerns about use and infrastructure, including drainage for storm water runoff. Last winter, the county decided to borrow $850,000 to fix drainage problems coming from the property which have plagued an abutting Northville neighborhood for years.

He said Friday that the community is also interested in completing and inventory of natural resources on the parcel “to make sure that everything on the parcel is protected.”

Mr. Krupski said local input is very important, as the “people who live nearby, who are probably are going to use it the most, should have some input as to how it is developed.”

The county purchased of the final three acres of the Preserve in February 2013 with a price tag of $702,000, while the bulk of the property, two parcels totaling 314 acres, were purchased in 2011 for $18.3 million, according to prior News-Review coverage.

Current plans include leaving 133-acres of the northern section undeveloped for uses like hiking or horseback riding, while the southern portion will be used for more active recreation like camping, tennis and basketball.

The three acres most recently purchased contain existing structures on them which will be used by the Suffolk County Parks Department for a check-in station, parks maintenance equipment, a caretaker residence and include a small office area for parks personnel, Mr. Krupski said during prior to its purchase.

“The North Fork Preserve has been called ‘Suffolk’s last great park’ and I agree with that description,” Mr. Krupski said during the final acquisition. “The park, with fishing, hiking, camping and more, will be a highlight of the entire Suffolk County park system.”

Read more about the committee in the proposed legislation:

North Fork Preserve Advisory Committe

06/17/14 8:00am
06/17/2014 8:00 AM
Pine Barrens Society head Richard Amper reads from the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program in 2011, which states the law "may only be amended, modified, repealed or altered by an enactment of an appropriate Charter Law subject to mandatory referendum." (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson file)

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Pine Barrens Society head Richard Amper reads from the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program, which states the law “may only be amended, modified, repealed or altered by an enactment of an appropriate Charter Law subject to mandatory referendum.”

A public hearing will be held today at the Suffolk County Center in Riverside on an agreement made between County Executive Steve Bellone and environmentalists who had sued the county after they claimed Suffolk leaders illegally “raided” the Drinking Water Protection Program on two occasions to balance its budget.  (more…)

06/12/14 11:57am
06/12/2014 11:57 AM
The former Long Island Beagle Club off Edwards Avenue in Calverton. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

The former Long Island Beagle Club off Edwards Avenue in Calverton. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said he heard the Calverton community “loud and clear” Wednesday night: don’t use the Beagle Club property as Long Island ABATE’s home.

So, it won’t happen.

(more…)

06/06/14 10:00am
06/06/2014 10:00 AM
Eileen Kreiling, manager of the North Fork Animal Welfare League's Riverhead shelter, with 4-year-old pitbull Benny, who has been at the shelter since February. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Eileen Kreiling, manager of the North Fork Animal Welfare League’s Riverhead shelter, with 4-year-old pitbull Benny, who has been at the shelter since February. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

When speaking about his work as an animal advocate in town government, Councilman James Wooten will often repeat a quote widely attributed to Mahatma Ghandi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

On this front, Riverhead Town and Suffolk County governments have each made great strides over the past few years to better care for and protect animals: this in a state that consistently ranks near the bottom in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s annual report on animal protection laws in the U.S. (more…)

06/04/14 8:00am
06/04/2014 8:00 AM
R1205_Preserve_BE_C.jpg

Drainage at the North Fork Preserve is one issue the county is hoping to fix by borrowing money in this year’s proposed capital improvement plan.

The Suffolk County Legislature hopes to borrow more than $70 million over the next three years to fund capital improvements and educational expansion initiatives, including projects from Riverside to Southold Town.  (more…)