Land preservation in Suffolk County started long before 1998, when voters in the five East End towns authorized a 2 percent real estate transfer tax to support a Community Preservation Fund.
Back in the ’80s, the county and its 10 towns set up an account with drinking water funds that was used to pay for land preservation purchases.
But some of the money allocated from that fund to Southold Town was never used and sat in the account for decades, waiting for someone to “find” it, said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski.
That is, until last year, when an employee in the county’s budget review office discovered $1.2 million that had been set aside for Southold Town’s land acquisitions and was still available. The county and town now plan to use that “found” money to purchase and preserve nearly 26 acres of creekfront property in Laurel, officials said.
“This was quite a process,” Mr. Krupski said.
The western side of Brushes Creek, off Peconic Bay Boulevard, has already been developed with homes and side streets, Mr. Krupski said. But the plan to buy six parcels from property owners on the eastern side, using a combination of CPF money and the previously forgotten funds, will prevent any more homes from going in.
“This starts the preservation effort on a nice creek connected directly to Peconic Bay,” Mr. Krupski said, adding that future land preservation purchases could target nearby farmland.
Southold Town land preservation coordinator Melissa Spiro said the six parcels will cost $2.13 million, but officials said about $1.2 million of that purchase price is covered by the recently discovered funds. The town and county will split the remainder of the cost, Mr. Krupski said.
That means county money will cover 79 percent of the overall purchase, leaving Southold Town to pay the remaining 21 percent, Ms. Spiro said.
“It’s giving us that 79 percent of the money to spend somewhere else,” she said.
Ms. Spiro said the land purchase will prevent future pollution from septic systems, fertilizers or storm runoff related to development. She added that trails could someday be cleared at the creek and that only light recreation, such as hiking or biking, would be allowed on site.
“It’ll remain in its natural state and be managed by the town and county,” she said.
However, a small chunk of property where there is an existing residence won’t be purchased and will remain privately owned, Ms. Spiro said.
The town and the homeowner will share a driveway that provides access to the creek and will work out an arrangement for its use once the sale of the rest of the property has closed.
On Tuesday, Aug. 23, the Southold Town Board will host a public hearing on the purchase, Ms. Spiro said. She thanked Mr. Krupski for finding the funds to purchase the land along the creek, which had already been included on the town’s land preservation wish list.
“He was instrumental in putting the county side of this together,” she said.
Photo: The eastern edge (at right) of Brushes Creek in Laurel may soon be preserved after $1.2 million in county funding set aside decades ago for land preservation purchases was recently rediscovered. (Credit: Paul Squire)