Suffolk County lawmakers are urging the passage of state legislation that would permit development for agricultural uses on protected farmland.
Suffolk County lawmakers are urging the passage of state legislation that would permit development for agricultural uses on protected farmland.
More than a dozen farmers, most from the East End, spoke at a Tuesday public hearing in Hauppauge in support of a proposed Suffolk County law that would sidestep a New York State Supreme Court ruling that deems development on protected farmland illegal.
Jeff Rottkamp, owner of Fox Hollow Farm in Baiting Hollow, had been preparing to join Suffolk County’s farmland preservation program. But those plans changed in September, when a New York State Supreme Court judge deemed development on protected farmland illegal.
Special permits and so-called hardship exceptions, which allowed farmers to develop preserved farmland, have been deemed illegal, according to a New York State Supreme Court ruling. READ
On April 2, East Enders will celebrate an important milestone: The Community Preservation Fund will have generated over $1 billion and preserved more than 10,000 acres of open space and farmland. Approved by voters in 1999, the CPF uses a small tax on real estate purchases to preserve land and protect drinking water.
It is arguably the most successful land preservation program in the country. (more…)
County legislators voted overwhelmingly last week to let Suffolk voters decide the fate of a plan that would eventually replenish the Drinking Water Protection Program, which has so far been tapped twice for money to balance the county budget. If approved by voters, the plan would also allow the county to continue dipping into that program for several more years. (more…)
Suffolk County could find itself being called to court as early as this week, as environmental groups consider if and when to take legal action after the county officially adopted its 2014 budget, which some say illegally pilfers from funds reserved in the county’s Drinking Water Protection accounts.
County Executive Steve Bellone signed a $2.7 billion spending plan last Monday, after the Legislature decided to use nearly $33 million from the county’s sewer stabilization fund, a reserve account created when Suffolk County taxpayers first approved the Drinking Water Protection Program via referendum in 1987. The fund comprises one of several dedicated revenue streams created by the sales tax — another being open space preservation, for example — which is one-quarter of one percent.
While representatives of some environmental groups said last week they were considering taking legal action, the only one that decidedly said it will litigate – the Long Island Pine Barrens Society – could do so later this week.
Richard Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, said he would be meeting with the organization’s legal team Wednesday, Nov. 27, to determine which of the county’s moves would trigger the legal action.
Suffolk voters last agreed to renew the tax in 2007 — approving a ballot measure to maintain the tax through 2030. The recent plan laid out by the county intends to start paying back into the sewer stabilization fund – which is used to offset spikes in sewer rates – in 2017.
Bill Toedter, president of the North Fork Environmental Council, said Monday that his organization’s board of directors will vote at its December on whether to join the litigation, and would be more likely to join with other groups than file suit on its own.
“Because of the wording on the referendum … voters never would have approved additional quarter-percent sales tax if they felt that legislators, on a whim, could change it,” Mr. Toedter said.
An opinion of the county attorney’s office, provided by a spokesperson for Mr. Bellone, pointed to case law — considered analogous with Suffolk County — that held that “The New York Court of Appeals has endorsed the statement that ‘laws proposed and enacted by the people under an initiative provision are subject to the same constitutional, statutory, and charter limitations as those passed by the legislature and are entitled to no greater sanctity or dignity.’”
Two weeks ago, freshman Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski introduced legislation to alter Suffolk’s Drinking Water Protection Program to favor farmland preservation over open space.
It was a dumb-headed rookie error that threatens both. Here’s why.
1. For the past 25 years the Drinking Water Protection Program has been protecting both farmland and open space. Environmentalists and farmers have worked together to assure public support to fund these worthy goals with the result that we have protected more than 30,000 acres to benefit everyone. This bill pointlessly pits one objective against the other for no purpose.
2. What makes the Krupski proposal even worse is that the DWPP is nearly out of money, so his proposed legislation would create two sides scrambling for the leftover crumbs when they should be maintaining a productive alliance by seeking a new funding stream to keep protection of both farmland and open space moving forward in the region.
3. Worst of all, the Krupski measure seeks to change the DWPP by an act of politicians, when the existing DWPP was created through a public referendum which promised that any changes in the law could only be made by a new public referendum. So Krupski is undermining the whole democratic process that was designed and intended to put the public in control of the preservation program — not the politicians. Mr. Krupski has been in office for only a few months and already he’s running roughshod over the people who elected him. If he wants to subordinate drinking water protection to subsidizing agriculture, he and his friends in the county Legislature should put the matter to a vote. That’s what democracy is all about.
Mr. Krupski, a farmer himself, is also working on legislation that would permit more activities on land from which the public has purchased the development rights. He wouldn’t even talk to us when we asked about this. He claims that 95 percent of land purchases over the years have been for open space purchases and not for farmland. That’s just false. We’re seeing farms stripped of their productive soils, replaced by concrete and glass structures — not to produce food, but rather plants for Walmart. Then there are the wedding factories, and on and on. If the legislator wanted to run for president of the farm lobby, he shouldn’t have run for county Legislature. Maybe we should call him “Korruptski.”
Then, as the TV ads say, “But wait! There’s more!” The Long Island Farm Bureau — the agriculture lobbying group that says it told Mr. Krupski the DWPP legislation was a bad idea — flip-flopped and played politics by coming out in favor of the bill they say they discouraged him from introducing! They needlessly entered a fight they didn’t need. Almost all the farms that have sought county protection have received it. So now, Long Island’s leading environmentalists have come out against Mr. Krupski and the agriculture lobby to demand rejection of the bill and restoration of public control over the Drinking Water Protection Program. And more than 80 percent of Long Islanders consider themselves environmentalists.
As the name suggests, the Drinking Water Protection Program was created to buy open space that sits atop Long Island’s underground drinking water supply. That water supply was the first to be designated a sole source aquifer by the federal government, meaning that there is no other viable source of drinking water for the Island’s three million people except for groundwater. That groundwater also feeds our rivers, lakes, bays and harbors. By protecting open space, our water is not polluted by sewage, pesticides, fertilizer or toxic chemicals. On the other hand, farming is contaminating our drinking water and surface waters with fertilizers, pesticides and more. And we can’t seem to get the agriculture lobby to change its ways. Nobody wants the Drinking Water Protection Program to become the Drinking Water Pollution Program. So what’s to be done?
I suggest the following:
First, the Suffolk County Legislature should kill the Krupski bill.
Second, we should all sit down and decide on a new source of funding for land preservation, to be voted on by residents and taxpayers.
Third, we should insist on alternatives to the pesticides and fertilizers that scientists have shown are poisoning Long Island’s water.
Legislator Krupski and the agriculture lobby need to join with the rest of Long Island to find the way to productive farming AND clean water.
Mr. Amper is executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, an environmental education and advocacy organization.
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.”
Spring is in full bloom, and the region’s grasses and hardwoods are greening up accordingly. But some pine trees are not, and experts say it’s due to the salt carried inland during Sandy.
White pines, indigenous trees popular in landscaping across the North Fork and all Long Island, are still showing the aftereffects of October’s superstorm. For worried homeowners who fear their decorative pines might be dead, experts say most of the salt-burned trees should rebound in time.
“This is the worst I’ve seen in quite a while,” said Melissa Daniels, president of the Long Island Nursery and Landscaping Association. “It is going to be worse in areas close to the road and close to the shores.”
Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, says discoloration of the white pines’ needles is either orange-brown or yellow, depending on the amount of salt exposure.
“The fact the homeowners are observing damage far away from any body of water is not surprising,” Mr. Amper said. “Salt spray can be carried way inland by high winds.”
The further your pine is from the coast, the more yellow, rather than brown, the needles will appear, he said.
Ms. Daniels said this winter’s blizzards didn’t help the pines, either.
“They were using more salt than they normally would on the roads, and that splashes tree bottoms,” she said.
Some smaller shrubs, such as arborvitae, rhododendrons and mountain laurel, were also affected by the salt spray, Ms. Daniels said.
“We didn’t have a lot of rain with the storm, which would have washed it out,” she said. “You really had to have watered them after the storm.”
If white pines are displaying the brown or yellow burning effect, there isn’t anything for landowners to do but wait, the experts say.
“My short advice: Be patient,” Mr. Amper said. “Pine trees are extremely resilient. They look a lot worse than they feel most of the time.”
Most white pines will shed half their needles this year, Mr. Amper said. “You would see the first signs that the needles are being restored next year, but the tree won’t be fully restored until the spring of 2015.”
“Wait it out until the fall and see if they send out any new growth,” Ms. Daniels suggested, before starting to dig up and discard damaged pines.
“We haven’t had to replace any yet,” said Hugo Rios Jr., landscaping manager for Hugo Rios Masonry and Landscaping in Riverhead, though Mr. Rios said many of his clients are not in immediate coastal areas.
“Some of the trees were really yellow. They dropped the needles that were yellow, and now we are starting to see some green come through,” Mr. Rios said. “They seem to be getting better.”
Mr. Amper said that if a property owner sees bark beetles in a pine tree, that’s a sign the tree has probably died, and “only then is cutting it down justified.”
There are a variety of bark beetles and other trunk-damaging pests in white pines.
“For the most part people do not see the actual insects themselves, but rather the evidence of past or current attack,” said Dan Gilrein, entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension. Bark beetle damage usually happens after the tree been subjected to some other stress or injury, such as salt spray or flooding, he said.
One example is the black turpentine beetle. Adult beetles are dark reddish-brown to black, and about one-third of an inch long, Mr. Gilrein said.
“One sign of attack is the resulting ‘pitch tubes’ and sap flow one sees on attacked trees,” he said. “As for the salt-damaged white pines, we suggest homeowners re-examine the trees’ growing conditions, perhaps bringing in a consulting arborist if needed, and provide the best care possible particularly during this year of recovery.”
The protected Long Island Pine Barrens areas stretching from eastern Brookhaven Town to Southampton Town are made up predominantly of pitch pine, an indigenous tree that is extremely resilient to salt spray, Mr. Amper said. The Pine Barrens lost more trees to high winds than to salt spray.
“If there is another storm, people should know to turn their sprinklers on, and water the salt out of the ground [and off the trees] if they can,” Ms. Daniels said. “If you are going to replant trees and live near a shore area, I would not recommend replacing them with a white pine.”