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.

07/11/13 8:00am
07/11/2013 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A memory and a roadside attraction at Reeves Farm in Aquebogue.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A memory and roadside attraction at Reeves Farm.

Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper and 1st District county Legislator Al Krupski have been engaged in a public battle in recent weeks over Mr. Krupski’s draft of legislation that would give farmland preservation a guaranteed 50 percent of whatever land protection money the county has at its disposal, which these days isn’t much.

In keeping with his public persona, Mr. Amper wrote an opinion piece, published in this newspaper last month, in which he accused the legislator of a nefarious scheme to undermine the county’s tried-and-true land preservation program. He went as far as to suggest that Mr. Krupski deserves the name “Korruptski.” In a response published the following week, the legislator took a more low-key approach and discussed the need to preserve active farmland.

All of this ignores the geopolitical forces at play. The East End has only two representatives in the 18-member Suffolk County Legislature, crucial numbers given that when new legislation is laid on the table the first thought that comes to many lawmakers’ minds is, “How does this benefit my district?” When the topic is farmland preservation, the answer for 16 representatives is, “It doesn’t.” To be fair, there would be no county farmland program without the support of non-farming communities, who realized that losing productive, valuable agricultural land would be a blow to the entire county, not just a few East End towns.

Mr. Krupski’s bill would upset the political equilibrium that gives all of Suffolk, particularly the West End towns that dominate the Legislature, a shot at open space buys, even if for only a tiny parcel.

Putting the politics and strident criticism aside, the Krupski bill raises an important and timely question: What lands should be protected going forward?

Mr. Amper has led the opposition to allowing greenhouses to be built on preserved land, a position we share. It’s true, the days of the old-time farmer riding a tractor through row crops are all but a memory, and growers must have the flexibility to respond to a changing market. But preserving open space is a key component of county and town farmland programs.

Mr. Amper also correctly points out that some farms have fallen into uses that no one imagined when the county created the nation’s first ag preservation program in the 1970s. Some wineries, for example, are little more than catering halls; others are open-air saloons. And when objections are raised, we’re often told that the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which has the power to override local land use regulations, sets virtually no limits on what commercial activities can occur on farmland.

The Krupski bill forces the issue of how much money should be invested in new farmland preservation projects and what new restrictions, if any, should follow. It’s not a question of restricting farm operations; it’s a matter of better defining which farms fit in with the public protection goals.

07/03/13 8:00am
07/03/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farmer Phil Schmitt (left) and his sons Matt (center) and Phil Jr. loading boxes of cabbage onto a flatbed at the family’s Riverhead farm in 2011. Phil Schmitt says most food safety issues have come out of West Coast and large farm operations.

Land preservation does not pit farmland preservation against open space protection. It’s about hard work and a commitment to preserving the character of our community, towns, county and island for future generations. It’s about quality of life.

In the 1970s, Suffolk County led the way by starting the farmland preservation program. Why? Because the people had the foresight to realize the importance of agriculture to Suffolk County. The seal of the Suffolk County Legislature, symbolically, is a plow.

Over the years, the towns and county have borrowed and spent millions to achieve the goals of protecting open space and farmland. Open space was prioritized for scenic and recreational qualities and habitat and sensitive wetland areas also were protected. Acquiring a critical mass of land is crucial to the preservation of meaningful wildlife habitat. These areas also provide for the active and passive recreational activities and the access to the water that we all enjoy.

Farmland preservation is critically important and food production must not be trivialized as so few things are produced in this country. We all appreciate food quality and safety. Without active farmland we would have no choice but to become dependent on foreign nations for our food, which could be of questionable safety.

The value of locally produced food cannot be minimized. Fruits and vegetables picked at the prime of ripeness provide not only great flavor and meals, but also are at their peak of nutritional value. The health benefits of locally grown produce cannot be refuted.

My bill would not prioritize open space preservation over farmland protection, but rather give them equal footing. A benefit of farmland protection is that the government pays less per acre, doesn’t have to fence, clean or police the property and it stays on the tax rolls. The landowner is forever responsible for the stewardship.

Another goal of the legislation is to insure that the money spent is well spent. The Suffolk County Planning Department has a rating system in place for both farmland preservation and open space acquisition. The professional planners rate available parcels, and following their recommendations we should acquire the very best properties that reach a higher standard. The land should reach a certain threshold before the county invests in appraisals, etc. The designated portion of the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection money for acquisition has been heavily borrowed against leaving little to spend. Let’s make sure we preserve the highest quality open space and the best soils.

I’ll be happy to work with anyone and everyone to find a different funding source to continue the efforts to protect today’s land for tomorrow’s generation. My long record of land preservation in Southold, both in open space and farmland protection, tells the whole story.

My 28 years as an elected official have been spent saving both open space and farmland. I helped to make the difficult decisions about how to focus preservation efforts and prioritize spending our always limited resources. I look forward to bringing this commitment of preserving the best to the county level.

In 100 years my name and those in all the current and past preservation efforts will be forgotten. But the people who live on Long Island will benefit from and appreciate the hard work and resources that we used to preserve both open space and farmland.

Al Krupski is the Suffolk County legislator for the 1st District.

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

05/06/13 6:00am
05/06/2013 6:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A vote to expand Sunday bus service is expected to take place at the County Legislature’s general meeting May 7 in Hauppauge.

Suffolk Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone are rolling out new legislation aimed at bringing year-round Sunday bus service to the East End. The measure would extend service for the S92 and 10C routes.

The proposed expansion comes on the heels of a pilot program launched two years ago that introduced Sunday and holiday service from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, according to Mr. Schneiderman.

New York State recently increased funding for Suffolk transit, giving the county the opportunity to provide Sunday bus service year-round, officials said. The legislation allocates $1.1 million additional state funding toward expanding the service.

In addition to the state-provided funds, the legislation would also direct the county Department of Public Works to apply for federal matching grant funding through the Job Access Reverse Commute program, with the goal of receiving more than $2 million to cover the cost of the expansion.

The measure is co-sponsored by Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue).

“Many businesses on the East End, including in my North Fork legislative district, rely on public transportation to get workers to their jobs, especially during the summer season,” Mr. Krupski said in a press release issued this week.

Aside from the benefits the additional service could provide residents, officials say the new legislation could potentially bring environmental and economic improvements to the county.

“This resolution is a step forward to expand bus service while cutting our deficit,” Mr. Bellone said in a statement. “Expanding bus service helps take cars off the road and provides opportunity and access for thousands of Suffolk County residents.”

The bill, which has already passed the Legislature’s public works and transportation committee, will be voted on Tuesday during the county Legislature’s general meeting in Hauppauge.

If approved, the plan would be continued as a pilot program for one year. The Department of Public Works would then be required to report on the success of the pilot program to base the feasibility of continuing the program beyond the one-year pilot period.

cmurray@timesreview.com

03/15/13 10:25am
03/15/2013 10:25 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO |  The inside of the trailer for homeless sex offenders place outside the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The inside of the trailer for homeless sex offenders place outside the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

In February the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a law to redistribute about 40 homeless sex offenders who were housed in trailers in Riverside and Westhampton.

The plan was to spread the sex offenders out, one per shelter, at county-run facilities.

However, according to a Newsday special report, the county doesn’t have nearly enough facilities to comply with the new law.

“The county only has four shelters for single males and six that house male and female singles, according to figures reviewed by Newsday from the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate homelessness,” Newsday reported.

To read the full story, click here: Suffolk lacks enough sex-offender shelters

Previous coverage from the News-Review:

Sex offender plan approved; Riverside trailer to shut

02/05/13 5:55pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The inside of the trailer for homeless sex offenders place outside the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a law Tuesday evening that will redistribute the 38 homeless sex offenders currently housed in construction trailers in Riverside and Westhampton to shelters across the entire county.

The new plan will spread the sex offenders out, one per shelter, at county-run facilities, where they will be monitored more closely by county police.

Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke and Parents for Megan’s Law director Laura Ahearn, who crafted the plan with County Executive Steve Bellone, first pitched it to the Legislature’s public safety Committee in Hauppauge last Thursday morning.

Ms. Ahearn was back before the entire Legislature Tuesday, urging members to approve the plan.

“For seven years we have talked about this,” she said. “This community protection plan is the solution. It’s not perfect and you can poke holes in it, but it’s the best in the nation.”

Homeless sex offenders had been housed at the same two trailers since 2007, even though the original plan was for them to rotate throughout the county. The Riverside trailer was located next to the Suffolk County Jail.

Under the new plan, sex offenders will no longer reside at the trailers and officials promised they will not be shipped to shelters that serve families.

Chief Burke also said last week that the department’s intelligence database will be updated to include information on the activities of the more than 1,000 sex offenders throughout the county, which can be cross-referenced and easily searched by officers in the field.

Officers will check in with the homeless sex offenders each night to ensure that they are staying where they are assigned, he said.

“They’re gonna know that we know where they are,” he said at the committee meeting.

Chief Burke said the department expects costs of the new program to be significantly less than the $4 million the county is currently spending to house the sex offenders on the East End, since the department will be utilizing police personnel who are already in the field.

Ms. Ahearn also unveiled her group’s new eight-point plan, which includes hiring two teams of retired police officers to verify addresses of [non-homeless] sex offenders and verify the work addresses of Level 3 sex offenders. Offenders at lower levels are not required to report their work addresses to police.

She said 60 percent of Level 3 offenders don’t currently report their work addresses, even though they are required to by law.

Enforceability in the five East End towns, which all have their own police departments, would depend on local police chiefs signing on to the county’s plan, said Chief Burke. He said the county’s resources and intelligence will be made available to any other police department that signs on to the plan.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Flanders Riverside Northampton Civic Association president Brad Bender said the time had come to rid the East End of the burden of housing all the county’s sex offenders.

“You have an opportunity to take responsibility,” he said, addressing the entire Legislature. “It is easy to do nothing, but these are your residents. Like a leper colony, you’ve chosen to ship them to us.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said her only major concern with the plan, which she supported, is a loophole that could allow the county to revert back to the trailer plan.

“They should be decommissioned to make sure there is never a way that we will fall back on this again,” she said.

Legislator John Kennedy (R-Smithtown), who said legislators only received the plan at 12:30 p.m.Tuesday, was among a small group of legislators to voice concern with how quickly the bill was brought to a vote. But once role was called, the faction all voted yes.

“I don’t like the way this was handled, but I am going to support this so it passes unanimously,” he said.

gparpan@timesreview.com

01/30/13 10:32pm
01/30/2013 10:32 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | About 50 people attended a community forum on the county’s homeless sex offender trailers in Riverside and Westhampton Wednesday night at the county center, where speakers criticized the county for not removing the trailers after seven years.

Suffolk County’s new plan for dealing with sex offenders will be presented to the county Legislature’s public safety committee at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and it could be approved as early as next week, according to South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone directed the county police department to develop “a comprehensive approach to better protect our communities from sex offenders” on Jan. 2, after failing to meet his own goal of eliminating the two homeless sex offender trailers in Westhampton and Riverside by the end of 2012.

Those trailers continue to draw concern from East End residents and officials, who say the county’s entire homeless sex offender population is being dumped on one town.

That was evident at a community forum hosted by Mr. Schneiderman (I-Montauk) at the county center Thursday night, where about 50 people gathered and vented their frustration at the county’s failure to remove the two trailers after seven years.

Mr. Schneiderman said he had spoken to Mr. Bellone the day before the meeting and had gotten some snippets of the new sex offender plan, which will be presented at Thursday’s committee meeting by Suffolk Police Chief James Burke and Laura Ahearn, Executive Director of Parents for Megan’s Law.

Mr. Schneiderman said he had hoped the new plan would have been ready before Wednesday’s forum, but it wasn’t. Mr. Bellone was not present, sending a member of his staff instead.

“The county executive said this new proposal would have the most intense monitoring of sex offenders anywhere in the country,” Mr. Schneiderman said. Mr. Bellone had originally planned to enact a plan the county legislature created in 2011, calling for the creation of six mini-shelters throughout the county, to replace the two trailers on the East End, which house about 40 homeless sex offenders, most of whom are not from the East End, Mr. Schneiderman said.

But Mr. Bellone felt it would take time to build these mini-shelters and each one would be met with intense opposition from neighbors, Mr. Schneiderman said.

So instead, he asked the police department to come up with a new plan that addresses not only the 40 or so homeless sex offenders but also the approximately 1,000 sex offenders who aren’t homeless in Suffolk County.

Mr. Schneiderman said the new plan could be voted on by the full Legislature Tuesday.

“The county executive said that if it doesn’t pass, he is willing to do the mini-shelters, but it is going to take time to build them,” he said.

Bill O’Leary, a forensic psychologist who worked with sex offenders and other criminals in conjunction with the police, said at Wednesday’s meeting that the average cost of putting a homeless sex offender in one of the trailers is $3,000 per person per month, whereas the average cost to house an ordinary homeless person is $309 per person per month.

“This is because of all the residency restrictions [placed on sex offenders],” he said. Living in the trailer hinders attempts to reduce recidivism in the sex offenders, he said.

“The better I do my job, the better chance someone won’t get hurt later,” Mr. O’Leary said. “I fought against the trailers because it compromises my ability to do my job. Instead of being able to get what they’re supposed to get from treatment, most of the ones sent back to jail are from the trailers, and are homeless. They are not getting anything from therapy, because they are worried about where they are going to sleep that night or where they are going to get food.”

Amy Davidson, who lives in downtown Riverhead, said she has two kids and worries about the proximity of the trailer at the jail parking lot to downtown Riverhead.

“I would like my kids to be able to ride their bikes to Ralph’s Italian Ices and know they are safe,” she said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said it will be difficult to get the 18-member county Legislature to give up the trailers, because only two of the 18 represent the East End.

“The Town of Riverhead did a $104,000 budget transfer to increase patrols on Main Street,” Mr. Walter said. “Main Street is by far the heaviest patrolled area in the town, and that is in no small part because of this sex offender trailer.”

Mason Haas of Jamesport said the county is paying about $1.4 million a year to house the sex offenders in the trailers.

“This program is not working,” he said. “It needs to be fixed.”

tgannon@timesreview.com