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Editorial: The NFEC has worked hard for the North Fork

The North Fork Environmental Council has done the region a world of good, identifying critical areas that should be preserved and then working tirelessly to make it happen.

Its list of accomplishments is long — from fighting the construction of nuclear power plants in Jamesport, to advocating for preservation of precious farmland, to a lengthy effort to keep houses from being built on Robins Island, a jewel that sits in the Peconic Bay between New Suffolk and Conscience Point, Southampton that is today privately owned and in good hands.

This year the NFEC is celebrating its 50th anniversary and we want to congratulate the council for its work advocating for what makes the North Fork special and unique. Many of its early leaders, including Veronica Wacker of Cut-ch-ogue, worked very hard to identify those areas that were worth saving, and then did the hard work to make it happen.

Southold and Riverhead, and those of us who love this place, owe the NFEC a large measure of gratitude. The council saw the Peconic Bay system as an extraordinary ecosystem, unique on the East Coast, that, above almost anything else, had to be kept as pure as possible; they saw some of the nation’s best farmland being lost to development and advocated for preservation.

Suffolk County’s farmland preservation program, in which the county buys the development rights from farmers so they can continue to farm, and later the Community Preservation Fund, are the byproducts of the group’s advocacy. 

The many public figures in both towns who supported these goals should also be commended. Their advocacy at the government end turned goals into policies. 

Consider this: the Community Preservation Fund, passed in 1998, has poured more than $1 billion into open space preservation. And the county’s program has spared thousands of acres of farmland — considered some of the best in the country — from being built on, which, in many ways, opened the door to the wine industry when the economics of potatoes and cauliflower failed.

In the 1970s, when two nuclear power plants were proposed for the Jamesport Long Island Sound front, opponents sprang into action. It took years of efforts to get the plans scrapped. The idea that Jamesport farmland could have been home to two huge nuclear reactors today sounds almost beyond belief. The land on which the plants were to be built was later eventually acquired by New York State and is today the Hallock State Park Preserve, fully open to the public.

Many residents of the North Fork over the years have pushed hard to — as much as possible — save what’s left. We are so lucky on the North Fork; while part of Long Island, we are distinct and different from the rest of it in so many ways.

We saved what could be saved. Many groups, individuals and elected officials over the years deserve praise for this, the NFEC among them. More work must be done to complete the task. We cannot afford to let our guard down.