01/12/14 10:00am
01/12/2014 10:00 AM
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO  |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO |  The rise in deer population has become one of the biggest concerns for North Fork residents.

As a lifelong resident of the North Fork, I have witnessed the explosion of the deer population.

When I was growing up, it was rare to find deer tracks in fields or in the woods, but now it’s common to come across several deer in one’s backyard. Historically, populations of deer were dramatically lower than they are today, and we know that without natural predators and with plentiful food sources, deer populations can double in two to three years.

The agricultural industry, a critical part of the East End economy, has experienced millions of dollars of crop loss due to white-tailed deer. Farmers have spent thousands of dollars on deer fencing to protect crops; this is an expense most cannot afford. As a fourth generation farmer, I understand this all too well.

As a Suffolk County Legislator and a former Southold Town Councilman, I have spoken to hundreds of constituents whose lives have been seriously impacted by deer, whether it is by a tick-borne illness or a car accident or, as in some cases, both. I have walked through many acres of preserved open spaces and parks in my district and seen firsthand the destruction deer have done to the natural environment.

All efforts must be made to bring the population of white-tailed deer, which has reached crisis proportions in eastern Suffolk County, down to sustainable levels. The USDA sharpshooter program is one tool that can be employed to help achieve this goal and, at least in Southold Town, the community will utilize the program to decrease the herd size and protect human health, biodiversity and property.

This does not mean that there is unanimous support for culling the herd or that no controversy surrounds the program, but if the alternatives are considered objectively, the logical conclusion is that we need to act.

Tick-borne illnesses have cost millions of dollars in treatment and lost work and caused much pain and suffering. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported almost 3,000 cases of Lyme disease in New York State in 2012, but it is believed the actual number is much greater due to misdiagnosis, inconclusive testing and underreporting. New York State has one of the highest incidences of tick-borne illnesses in the country and Suffolk County has one of the highest infection rates in the state.

Lyme disease is not the only tick-borne illness associated with deer. Others, such as Babesiosis, can be particularly harmful to people with compromised immune systems. In addition, tick-borne disorders unfamiliar to scientists are emerging, such as a potentially life-threatening red meat allergy that develops in some people bitten by lone star ticks.

The Suffolk County Tick Management Task Force concluded that “the issue of tick-borne disease is inextricably linked to deer overpopulation … Any strategy for tick control must reduce the number of deer and/or the number of ticks on deer to have any chance of success.”

Unchecked growth of the white-tailed deer population has devastated the natural environment and this will continue until we act to reduce the population to a sustainable level.

Conservationists and those who advocate for the protection of wildlife alike should support policies that cull the herd to protect habitat and biodiversity. In many areas deer have destroyed the woodland understory. Invasive plant species, like mile-a-minute vine, have taken over because beneficial native plants have been gobbled up by deer.

The insects, birds and other animals these native plants and ecosystems support are now threatened and have decreased in numbers. Some forests are so stripped they may not be able to regenerate.

The problems caused by white-tailed deer overpopulation are multi-faceted and costly. As a community, we need to make the hard choices and manage the herd to lessen the occurrence of disease, habitat destruction and property loss.

If you are concerned about the well-being of individual deer, perhaps you should stop driving, because hundreds are killed or maimed in car accidents yearly. It is not a pretty sight to see an animal writhing in pain after being hit but not killed.

The USDA program is conducted safely, professionally and humanely. The meat harvested is a good source of protein and will not go to waste but will be donated to food pantries and homeless shelters feeding many people in need on Long Island.

Al Krupski is a Suffolk County legislator whose district encompasses the North Fork. He lives in Cutchogue.

01/07/14 12:15pm
01/07/2014 12:15 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory and Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schndierman.

COURTESY PHOTO | Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory and Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schndierman.

Despite holding just two of 18 seats in Suffolk County Legislature, the East End will be represented among the legislature’s leadership, as South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman was selected as the county’s next Deputy Presiding Officer earlier this month.

Schneiderman (I-Montauk) will serve as deputy to new Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who was voted to lead the body unanimously by all legislators who were present (four were absent). Mr. Gregory takes over for Wayne Horsley, who left the county legislature for a job in state government.

According to Mr. Schneiderman, the title of deputy presiding officer doesn’t technically bring with it any added responsibilities — though the title is “more of a reflection, I think, of the support of my colleagues. It doesn’t give any special powers unless the presiding officer is not present. Then I would chair the meetings.”

The longest-tenured legislator in the county, Mr. Schneiderman represents the South Fork, Shelter Island, and part of Brookhaven town. He will be termed out after this term, and was voted to the post by 12 legislators, with five legislators — all Republicans — voting against the Independence Party member.

“It’s unfortunate — I would think they would like to start the new year out with some effort of bipartisanship,” he said. “I hope it’s not indicative of that kind of year.”

According to the county, Mr. Schneiderman will be the first member of the Independence Party to hold a leadership position at the county level.

12/18/13 4:00pm
12/18/2013 4:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

A measure by Legislator Al Krupski to amend how the county purchases farmland and open space failed to pass on Tuesday, even after the Cutchogue Democrat revised the proposed bill after it initially drew the ire of some environmentalists.

In June, Mr. Krupski proposed his original farmland preservation amendment, which suggested splitting the use of the county’s Drinking Water Protection Fund 50-50 between open space and farmland purchases. But dedicating a specific portion of the revenue stream to one use or the other proved too much to ask, and the legislator later altered his proposed amendment, pitching a watered-down version of the legislation in July.

Mr. Krupski’s amended proposal made no mention of setting aside a certain percentage of land purchases for open space or farmland. It did, however, set certain standards that parcels must meet in order to be appraised by the county — a required step before legislators vote to purchase land.

“I find it surprising that in any way, we could find it controversial that we would spend our money more wisely,” he said before the vote at Tuesday’s general meeting.

But the added benchmarks concerned at least 13 legislators, who voted to table the amendment in the final meeting of the year Tuesday, effectively killing it.

Attention to Suffolk’s land purchases through the Drinking Water Protection Fund came to the fore in the past year after the county bonded out against future revenues and subsequently used nearly all the funding. While land was at that time available for historically low prices, Suffolk County, Southampton and Riverhead towns were just a few of the municipalities that borrowed to buy now rather than later.

Legislator Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) said before Tuesday’s floor vote that he didn’t believe the proposed appraisal rating system was designed to be considered a threshold for whether a particular parcel could ever be purchased.

Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) said Mr. Krupski’s amendment would likely favor the first and second legislative districts — the North and South Forks — as they would codify the process of appraising land parcels, and most parcels available for open space and farmland preservation purchases are located out east.

“To set a rule that would cause me to put my constituents at a disadvantage permanently — I have a very difficult time doing that,” he said.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), chair of the county’s environment, planning and agriculture committee, said last week that those proposed thresholds, in effect, favor purchasing farmland over open space, as the standards were harder to meet for open space buys.

“It’s not treating them equally, and we have a preference for open space because this is drinking water protection money,” she said. “And a wooded parcel that’s open space is protecting drinking water more than preserving farmland would.”

While the Mr. Krupski’s proposed amendment wasn’t rejected, having been tabled Tuesday, it would have to be re-introduced next year in order to be considered once again. Mr. Krupski said he doesn’t intend to bring it back up immediately and will see how previously approved alterations in the land-buying process, which go into effect next year, work out.

11/27/13 11:59am
11/27/2013 11:59 AM
TIM KELLY PHOTO | Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer, County Executive Steve Bellone, Legislator-elect Al Krupski and Legislator Wayne Horsley.

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer, County Executive Steve Bellone, Legislator-elect Al Krupski and Legislator Wayne Horsley.

In signing Suffolk County’s 2014 budget last week, County Executive Steve Bellone put his John Hancock on a plan devised by a majority of county legislators that calls for borrowing nearly $33 million from its sewer stabilization fund. This revenue stream was created as part of the Drinking Water Protection fund — a tax county residents voted to impose upon themselves for the purpose of preserving their underground aquifer in years to come.

With the county’s decision to dip into this reserve fund, environmental groups have raised a red flag . One is even ready to go to court on the issue, noting that the sewer fund, as part of the Drinking Water Protection program, was created with explicit uses — and that “balancing the county’s books” is not listed among them. The tax has been renewed by voters several times, most recently in 2007, extending it through 2030, indicating the public’s support for ensuring the future health of their drinking water.

While a court may someday rule on the legality of this issue, it won’t be anytime soon. A court case over a similar action taken by the county in 2011 is still moving slowly through the justice system, so it looks like the sewer stabilization fund will be down by $32.8 million come next year. Legal or not, it’s happening.

Until the day a court mandates replenishment of the fund — if that day ever comes — Suffolk County leaders have a chance to get ahead of the curve and mandate it themselves. The language in the approved budget states that “it is the intent of the Legislature to replenish the [fund] beginning in fiscal year 2017 with an appropriation in the General Fund.”

Legal questions aside, it’s encouraging to see a plan that could save county taxpayers over $40 million in interest payments as opposed to Mr. Bellone’s plan to borrow to close the budget gap in next year’s $2.7 billion spending plan.

But we all know what road is paved with good intentions.

If leaders truly intend to start repaying the funds in 2017, they should be comfortable passing further legislation, with teeth, that specifically mandates repayments from the general fund.

Such a requirement would protect the integrity and original goals of the sewer stabilization fund — and others dedicated for specific purposes.

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.”

11/03/13 8:00am

Krupski-web-1

Incumbent county Legislator Al Krupski is running for his first full term on the county level after winning a special election earlier this year against Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. After earning two-thirds of the vote over Mr. Walter, someone who has proven himself on the town level, Mr. Krupski now faces someone who has less experience in public office in Republican candidate Albie DeKerillis.

Mr. Krupski is the clear choice to earn a full term in office this fall.

Mr. DeKerillis faces a steep uphill battle against Mr. Krupski, who has 28 years in public office under his belt. While seemingly hard-working and community-oriented — Mr. DeKerillis holds down two jobs while volunteering as an EMT — the Republican offers no clear plan to implement his number one priority, which he says would be bringing high-paying jobs to Suffolk County’s 1st District.

With budget woes a constant conversation at the county level, Mr. Krupski — endorsed by the Conservative Party as well as Democratic and Independence parties — brings a track record of fiscal right-mindedness that benefits residents in the 1st District and throughout Suffolk. Mr. Krupski went so far earlier this year as to reject spending $200,000 of borrowed money for a study that would have looked into the economic impacts the Peconic Bay Estuary offers, something he called a waste of taxpayer money. Given the Peconic Estuary Program’s library of reports, it’s clear those studies have already been done, and borrowing funds to study the issue again offers a questionable return on investment.

Mr. Krupski – a farmer himself – has focused most publicly on farmland preservation during his first 10 months in office, at one point earning the public scorn of some longtime environmentalists. But Mr. Krupski went back to the drawing board on his original plan to meet critics in the middle and further hone the plan. In addition, he has helped guide changes to the county farmland preservation code that were crafted with the support of those most in favor of saving what’s left. This flexibility is admirable, as is the effort to preserve the county’s remaining undeveloped land with a limited bankroll.

But one thing we do hope Mr. Krupski takes with him back to the Legislature, should he earn the votes, would be Mr. DeKerillis’ zeal to create high-paying jobs in the district, particularly at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

Farm-related jobs are a vital part of the North Fork economy, but the future of the district’s western portion will rely heavily on whether or not businesses are drawn to EPCAL. Having a legislator in the majority who will promote positive change there should help hasten that process, and we hope Mr. Krupski continues to work with his peers and colleagues at the town and state levels toward that end. Mr. Krupski has shown during his time in office he can respond to his constituents’ needs and deliver for them.

10/11/13 9:00am
10/11/2013 9:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Pumpkin pickers in a field at Harbes Family Farm on Sound Avenue in Mattituck.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Pumpkin pickers in a field at Harbes Family Farm on Sound Avenue in Mattituck.

After a farmland preservation bill that sounded the alarm of some environmental groups was pulled earlier this summer, Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski believes he has the support for an altered version to help sustain the county’s depleted drinking water protection purse.

An original draft of the bill called for splitting the spending of drinking water protection funds 50-50 between farmland and open space, as the county’s land preservation purchases currently don’t distinguish between the buying of one or the other.

Farmland, Mr. Krupski (D-Cutchogue) stated in a News-Review opinion piece over the summer, is “critically important and food production must not be trivialized as so few things are produced in this country.”

At the time, he said, 95 percent of the county’s land preservation dollars spent through the Drinking Water Protection Fund -— a 0.25 percent sales tax that Suffolk County voters approved in 1987 to tax themselves — went toward open space preservation as opposed to farmland.

But environmentalists argued that pursuant to the original 1987 referendum, the proposed changes were out of line since voters OKd the original program firsthand, and amending it would require another vote.

Mr. Krupski’s amended bill — which was tabled at last week’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee meeting -— makes no mention of setting aside a certain percentage of land purchases for open space or farmland. It does, however, set a certain threshold that parcels must meet in order to be appraised by the county, a step necessary before legislators vote on buying them up.

“If [the land] doesn’t rate to a certain level, we shouldn’t even spend the money appraising it because it’s never going to get bought,” said Mr. Krupski, who also is a farmer. He added that the average appraisal — many of which the county contracts out — costs between $2,000 and $3,000. And those that aren’t contracted out, “jam up the whole system.”

Attention to Suffolk’s land purchases through the Drinking Water Protection Fund have come to a fore in the past year after the county bonded out against future revenues and subsequently used nearly all of the funding. While land was able to be purchased for historically low dollar values, Suffolk County, Southampton and Riverhead Towns were just a few municipalities that borrowed to buy now, rather than later.

Southold — where Mr. Krupski previously served as Town Councilman before running for legislator earlier this year — decided to forego such a program because “once you’ve used it up, you have no flexibility,” he said.

As of Oct. 7, 26 parcels were in contract, had accepted offers or were in negotiation, totaling $19.9 million in land preservation commitments using drinking water protection funding. Available for future negotiation was a balance of $365,010 — though EPA Chair Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) noted in an interview that $3.7 million in revenue from 2012 should be coming in before the end of the year.

Mr. Krupski believes he has support for the new bill and interviews with members of the EPA committee confirm it at least has the support to get out of committee. Legislators Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) and DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) all support the current measure.

“Obviously, it’s significantly different from the original bill, and those changes were appropriate given the historical interest in preserving the development rights of farmland in the past,” Mr. Gregory said.

Though Ms. Hahn said the proposed thresholds favor farmland more than open space — which are measured on two difference scales.

While Mr. Krupski disagreed, since the bill was tabled at last week’s committee meeting it remains to be seen what, if any, changes, remain to be made.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and one environmentalist who protested the original bill, said that while the new incarnation isn’t worth making a fuss over, he questions what it will do to help the county’s ability to purchase much more land.

“The amendments make it less offensive,” he said. “But we don’t see any need for the legislation. The county is cautiously buying open space and farmland, as it always has, applying the criteria environmentalists and farmers agreed upon.

“At the moment, he seems to want to improve the mechanisms for acquiring land — or protecting land we don’t have money to buy. Let’s work on funding those mechanisms.”

Mr. Krupski and Ms. Hahn both said discussions are being held to generate future revenue for open space purchases, though both were hesitant to release any details until proposals are finalized.

“Obviously, we need to go in a different direction,” Mr. Krupski said.

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

10/09/13 12:00pm
10/09/2013 12:00 PM
DANIEL GILREIN COURTESY PHOTO | A female deer tick.

DANIEL GILREIN COURTESY PHOTO | A female deer tick.

Suffolk County is one step closer to better managing its growing tick population and the resulting health concerns.

The county Legislature passed a law Tuesday requiring Suffolk County Vector Control to aggressively address the increase in cases of tick-borne disease.

Approved 16-0, with one abstention, the bill requires county Vector Control, which is charged with controlling the spread of insect-borne diseases, to submit an annual plan to combat their occurrence. Outlined in the plan should be the measures being taken, work to be done and an analysis to determine the program’s effectiveness, legislators said.

The measure has the support of County Executive Steve Bellone, who was represented by a deputy executive at Tuesday’s meeting and now will sign the bill into law.

In recent years, Vector Control has focused mainly on mosquito-borne illnesses, such as West Nile virus, said county Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), the bill’s primary sponsor. But an individual is 300 times more likely to contract Lyme disease than West Nile virus, according to a press release from Mr. Schneiderman’s office.

Lyme disease is now the most widespread vector-borne disease in the U.S., but cases are often under-reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Most of us have been impacted in some way by tick-borne disease,” said county Legislator Al Krupski, a co-sponsor of the measure. “This is a problem that seems to be a recent phenomenon and the quicker we act on it to try and address it the better.”

Vector Control officials have about a year to develop a plan, which will be due next October, Mr. Schneiderman said. County residents will not benefit from the plan until it goes into effect in 2015, he said, adding that funding for the plan will be considered in the 2015 budget.

“But I don’t think [the budget] should be driving the train here,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I think public health should be the main consideration. We’ll figure out what we should be doing and then let’s figure out how to pay for it.”

Mr. Schneiderman said he envisions a comprehensive plan that begins by studying the number of deer, rodents and ticks in the county, to better understand the role each plays.

“We don’t really have a handle on how many ticks there are or where they are,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “They are going to have to start getting counts. That is what Vector Control does with mosquitoes — they have a really good handle and hopefully they will be able to do the same thing with ticks.”

With data in place, he said, a viable plan will follow. He said simply focusing on deer, the target for tick control among many local communities, will not be enough.

“I think a real tick-control program has to go way beyond deer,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “It’s going to get into rodent control, clearing high grass areas and maybe even controlled burning in certain areas. There are a lot of things the plan could include.”

Mr. Krupski said he “would like to see [vector control] focused on more deer control, and to letting people do more effective deer control. Right now what can be done legally is just not effective.”

Some residents have voiced concern that the plan may include aerial spraying, as is done for mosquito control, Mr. Schneiderman said.

“I don’t honestly think that it will,” he said. “There is no product out there that will just kill ticks and I don’t think that is going to happen.”

Both legislators said they will be working closely with representatives from Vector Control as they piece the plan together.

After being bitten by several ticks so far this season and “luckily” not getting sick, Mr. Schneiderman said this new legislation is just the beginning of his work on the issue.

“I am not stopping here,” he said. “My next step is to try to convince the state that this is a health emergency. I want to assemble the people together to make that case to the state so we can get the door open for funding. And I want to correspond with our senators and Congressman Bishop to try and get federal attention to this issue.”

cmiller@timesreview.com