10/25/13 11:00am
10/25/2013 11:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed changes to the county's farmland preservation bill that would include more agritourism uses on preserved parcels. Pictured is Reeves Farm on Main Road in Aquebogue.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed changes to the county’s farmland preservation bill that would include more agritourism uses on preserved parcels. Pictured is Reeves Farm on Main Road in Aquebogue.

Amendments to the county code could allow more activities on preserved farmland, as elected officials say opening up uses on the land would permit farming operations to thrive long-term in the face of constantly creeping suburban sprawl.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed changes to the county’s Farmland Preservation Law that would permit uses such as U-pick operations, larger farm stands and processing facilities that create locally crafted goods such as wine or potato chips.

“Suffolk County has a great agricultural heritage,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue). “It’s part of our culture and, just as importantly, it’s a huge part of our economy.”

Mr. Krupski is a farmer himself, one of hundreds in the county who have propelled Suffolk to lead the state in terms of agricultural sales volume. A U.S. Department of Agriculture census completed in 2007 showed the county tallied over $240 million agricultural sales that year, an increase of $40 million – or 20 percent – from five years earlier.

But legislators have still been seeking ways to help the industry grow over the long haul. The process started with implementation of the county’s farmland development program nearly 40 years ago – in addition to town-run Community Preservation Fund programs that have been active since the late 1990s.

The next step is maintaining the farming industry itself, Mr. Bellone said.

“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 (D-Babylon) wrote in a statement.

The legislation itself would apply to land purchased in part or in whole by Suffolk County for the purpose of farmland development. According to numbers provided by Southold Town, that could affect 83 parcels comprising over 1,700 acres. In Riverhead, according to town figures, more than 1,750 acres on 54 parcels have been purchased in conjunction with the county since 1998 alone. However, whether or not specific parcels would be able to take advantage of the new allowances, depend on easements on each specific purchase, and local zoning would still apply to any county regulations.

The legislation would double the allowable size of farm stands on preserved land from 500 square feet to 1,000. Processing facilities would be permitted on site, also limited 1,000 square feet in area when combined with the size of a farm stand. Up to 49 percent of goods processed on site could come from other farms on Long Island.

Agritourism regulations would be eased on preserved farmland as well, allowing U-pick facilities, crop mazes, hayrides and educational tours.

Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca said 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.”

After one public hearing about the proposed changes earlier this month in Riverside, two more are scheduled for November: on Nov. 8 at 2 p.m. and Nov. 19 at 9:30 a.m. Both meetings will be held at the W.H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge.

10/15/13 9:00am
10/15/2013 9:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO  |  County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county's fiscal situation.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county’s fiscal situation.

New York state’s highest court has blocked a Suffolk County ballot referendum to combine the county’s Comptroller and Treasurer offices, upholding lower courts’ rulings that the county improperly added an amendment to the referendum.

The county’s plan would have consolidated the offices of the Treasurer, Republican Angie Carpenter, and current comptroller Joseph Sawicki. While Mr. Sawicki — a Republican from Southold — and Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone praised the merger as a way to cut costs and trim down government, noting that Suffolk County is the only county in the state with both a Comptroller and Treasurer.

But Ms. Carpenter and others had argued the merger was politically motivated as a way to force her out of office and allow Mr. Sawicki to continue to serve past his term limit. Ms. Carpenter ran against Mr. Bellone for his seat in 2011.

The County Legislature had approved the referendum in July, which would have been voted on this November. But last month, a New York Supreme Court judge threw out the measure, saying the county improperly altered the language of the referendum. The original referendum stated the move would save the county $1 million, while the changed version instead claimed the merger was “for the purposes of streamlining and improving government efficiency.”

The court ruled that the change altered the previously stated intent referendum. The county appealed the ruling, but a state appellate court denied the claim. On Monday, the New York Court of Appeals upheld that lower court ruling, refusing to hear the appeal.

Mr. Bellone slammed the ruling, calling the court’s decision “outrageous.”

“A supermajority of the Suffolk County Legislature voted to put the referendum on the ballot and the opponents of reform know that an overwhelming majority of voters support it,” he said. “While the referendum will not be on the ballot, the issue is alive this November because voters can choose between legislative candidates who support improving efficiency and those who want to maintain the status quo.”

psquire@timesreview.com

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

09/13/13 3:30pm
09/13/2013 3:30 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | County Executive Steve Bellone (center) with Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen (from left); Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski; Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment; and town Councilman John Dunleavy at the town’s sewer plant Monday.

Riverhead Town is in line to receive $8.09 million from Suffolk County to help ease the pain of funding state and federally mandated upgrades to its main sewer treatment plant near Indian Island County Park, which are expected to cost up to $22 million.

The plant, built in 1937, has already been upgraded twice, most recently in 2000, to meet previous state Department of Environmental Conservation requirements, said Supervisor Sean Walter.

The deadline for completing these additional required upgrades is January 2014 but the town is expected to apply for an extension.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced at a press conference Monday that Riverhead Town — which must now upgrade both the level of treatment it provides and the capacity the plant can handle — had been unanimously recommended by the county’s sewer infrastructure committee to receive the award.

About $28 million in grants and loans were announced Monday, with Riverhead grabbing the lion’s share. The money comes from the county’s voter-approved 1/4 percent sales tax, which is used for environmental programs.

“These are projects that have gone though the process and have been approved, the engineering is done. They are ready to go,” Mr. Bellone said, describing Riverhead’s project and others slated to receive grant money as “shovel-ready.”

In addition to the grant, Riverhead’s sewer upgrade also qualified for $4 million in county loans.

Mr. Bellone also said that the privately developed 19-unit apartment project at downtown Riverhead’s former Woolworth building had qualified for $800,000 in grants.

The county had about $33 million left over in the sewer stabilization portion of its voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax program, which is used for drinking and surface water protection. County officials decided to use that money on sewer upgrade projects, Mr. Bellone said. Only about $8 million will remain in the fund, Mr. Bellone said.

“That’s why it was important for Riverhead to get in on this, because it’s not going to be available next year,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), whose district spans the North Fork.

The awards still need to be approved by the county Legislature, Mr. Bellone said, and a bill that would allocate the money is being introduced today, Thursday. The Legislature will then vote at its Oct. 8 meeting.

Riverhead is seeking to upgrade the capacity of its sewer plant on Riverside Drive from 1.2 million gallons per day to 1.4 million.

The town is also looking to upgrade its ability to remove nitrogen from the treated effluent that is discharged into the bay by about 75 percent, officials said.

Riverhead sewer district superintendent Michael Reichel said the Town has about $10 million available through the district’s remaining fund balance and state grants. The county’s $8 million grant would leave the town about $4 million short of the total it needs to upgrade the facility.

Mr. Reichel said the town has submitted to take out a $4 million low-interest loan through the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation.

“We’ve made applications to them,” he said. “We’ve cleared their hurdles for financing.”

Mr. Walter — who did not attend Monday’s event due to a family emergency — later said he was “grateful” to the county executive for clearing the funding.

“You’re going to see us move very quickly now,” Mr. Walter said. “We hope to have the bid specifications issued by the next [Town Board] meeting or the first meeting in October and we hope to award a contract for this job early next year.”

Mr. Krupski noted that the town has all its permits in place to start the work.

“This is shovel-ready money,” he said. “It’s brick and mortar, it’s not for planning or ‘Someday I’d like to do something; I have a dream.’ This is real money that’s going to have a real impact today. And that’s important.”

The town also has approval to use the effluent from its sewage treatment plant as fertilizer for the county golf course next door, Mr. Krupski added.

“They just have to hook into the existing irrigation system,” he said.

Riverhead also will be looking for grant money to offset the cost of upgrading its Calverton sewer plant, which expected to cost another $20 million, Mr. Walter said.

For that project, the town has applied for grants from a different program, the state’s Regional Economic Development Council.

“We didn’t want to be competing with ourselves,” Mr. Walter said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/09/13 11:11am
09/09/2013 11:11 AM
PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO  |  When the Riverhead Sewer District is able to upgrade its facility off Riverside Drive, the water being currently treated at the plant would then be pumped through a new, high-tech filtration system before reaching Peconic Bay.

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | When the Riverhead Sewer District is able to upgrade its facility off Riverside Drive, the water being currently treated at the plant would then be pumped through a new, high-tech filtration system before reaching Peconic Bay.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post reported the town sewer district will be receiving money from Suffolk County, however the measure still must go to a full vote of the county Legislature next month.

County and town officials are getting set to announce today that Riverhead Town is in line to win the lion’s share — $8.09 million in grants and up to $4.05 million in loans — of $26.39 million for funding for economic development projects throughout Suffolk.

The money would go toward the state-mandated, $20 million upgrade to the town’s sewer plant, which discharges into Peconic Byy near Indian Island.

However, resolutions to fund the grants, which are being introduced at Thursday’s meeting of the Legislature, won’t go to legislative vote until Oct. 8, county officials said. (See editor’s note above.)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, county Legislator Al Krupski, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and  Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment are making the accouncement at a 3:30 p.m. press event at the town sewer plant.

Five communities are in line to receive funding for projects, with Riverhead being the largest recipient, according to Mr. Bellone’s office.

As previously reported in a New-Review cover story, which was later published online, town officials had admitted they didn’t have the money to upgrade the plant by the the state’s January 2014 deadline.

And they were pinning their hopes on the county grants, which they applied for in June.

As reporting in May, the town sewer district spent about $1 million drafting plans for the upgrade in 2009. Those plans involve converting and repurposing a number of existing tanks at the plant as a way to contain costs.

The sewer district currently has about $2.1 million available through a state grant, $700,000 set aside in a nitrogen-mitigation fund and a remaining district fund balance that can be applied toward the upgrade, town officials had said.

That still left the district about $12 million short of what’s needed.

Check back at riverheadnewsreview for full coverage.

08/26/13 1:22pm
08/26/2013 1:22 PM

mosquito-web

Aerial spraying of mosquito control pesticides will be taking place over a number of North Fork marshesTuesday, county officials announced Monday.

Suffolk County’s vector control division of the Department of Public Works plans to treat parts of several salt marshes throughout the county by spraying by helicopter in order to control mosquito larvae, officials said.

The department will use a “low altitude, large droplet liquid application,” of Altoside, which is a brand name for the insecticide, methoprene.

The spraying is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 27, from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the various locations.

In Riverhead Town, spraying is planned for marshes near Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue, Millar Farm in Aquebogue (north of Cases Creek), Pier Avenue in Northville, and a site listed as “Aquebogue Farm.” It was not immediately clear where that last marsh is located.

In Southold Town, spraying is scheduled for Great Hog Neck in Southold, Kerwin Boulevard in Greenport, Pipes Neck Creek in Greenport and Pipes Cove in Greenport.

Officials say that if weather conditions prevent the scheduled work, spraying will be continue the next suitable day.

08/23/13 12:00pm
08/23/2013 12:00 PM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Route 24 in Riverside, where a new 'Main Street' is envisioned.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Route 24 in Riverside, where a new ‘Main Street’ is envisioned.

A plan to create a walking trail through Suffolk County parkland to the banks of the Peconic River is now in line to get $15,000 downtown revitalization grant, town and county officials announced Friday.

The trail comes as part of a larger vision to create a true Riverside business district along Route 24 and the traffic circle.

The 5 1/2-foot wide, 1,000-foot long trail will be created using permeable natural stone material and run from Route 24 sidewalk to the riverfront, across the river from the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center, said county Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who announced the award, which was recommended by members the Suffolk County Downtown Revitalization Citizens Advisory Panel.

The county Legislature must still approve the grant recommendation, and the money would go to Southampton Town, officials said.

The trail is planned for a 14-acre wooded area purchased by Suffolk County in 2011 for $2.4 million.

The news comes on the heels of Southampton Town, with support from neighboring Riverhead, applying for a grant to fund the construction of a footbridge that would span the river, connecting the trail to downtown Riverhead.

EDITORIAL: RIVERSIDE PLAN WILL NEED SUPPORT

“I am happy to see we are moving forward with this very important grant from Suffolk County,” Vince Taldone, president of the Flanders Riverside and Northampton Community Association, said in a statement. “Along with substantial financial support from Southampton Town, this Suffolk County money will fund the construction of the first phase of the town’s long planned Riverside Maritime Trail. That trail is the first step in developing a waterfront park and revitalized commercial center in Riverside.”

Mr. Schneiderman, who in May suggested Southampton Town apply for downtown revitalization grant, said he’s confident that the trail will full legislative support.

“The trail will encourage park use by providing access to the scenic Peconic River,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

An agreement between Southampton Town and the county will see the town maintain the trail.

The trail project could be completed within nine months, officials said.

At a FRNCA meeting in June, Mr. Schneiderman unveiled a 3-D computer graphic “vision” for the area near the Riverside traffic circle.

The vision calls for creating a new downtown commercial area for the long-beleaguered Riverside hamlet just east of the traffic circle, with three-story mixed use buildings on the south side of Flanders Road, across from McDonald’s; a restaurant at the former Riverboat Diner property; a supermarket near where the Budget Host Inn is; as well as the walking path and footbridge.

Mr. Schneiderman’s plan also showed a realignment of the traffic circle as well as one small sewer plant to serve just this small business district.

He has said other small decentralized plants could be built elsewhere in the future if the business area grows.

mwhite@timesreview.com