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Krupski: Don’t slash farmland preservation funds

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) is advocating for the county to avoid slashing a proposed $100 million farmland preservation initiative that was unveiled just over a month ago by County Executive Steve Bellone.

The legislature’s Budget Review Office has recommended cutting that amount by more than half, according to a letter Mr. Krupski emailed Supervisor Scott Russell on Sept. 2. The 100 for 10 Farmland Preservation Initiative would benefit East End towns, including Southold, which has spent millions on preserving farmland through its Community Preservation Fund over the years.

At an Aug. 3 press conference at Garden of Eve in Riverhead, Mr. Bellone said the county plans to invest $100 million over the next 10 years to preserve remaining at-risk farms all across the county. Many other local politicians, farmers and land preservation experts joined him to celebrate the announcement.

According to the project description, the project would have “minimal impact” on the county’s operating budget. It notes that Suffolk’s 560 farms help anchor tourism and employ more than 4,600 people while generating $226 million in annual sales.

“The preservation of farming in Suffolk County is absolutely critical to our region’s future,” Mr. Bellone said Aug. 3. “And that means it is incumbent on us to do everything that we can to preserve the farmland that we have against the ever increasing development pressure.”

The goal of preserving 10,000 acres is picking up an effort that dates back to 1970 when a Nassau-Suffolk Comprehensive Plan Summary first recommended the preservation of 30,000 acres of farmland.

“Most of the unprotected farmland really is in Southold and Riverhead towns,” Mr. Krupski said at a town work session Tuesday.

He clarified at the meeting that funds would only be used for development rights purchase reforms. When Mr. Russell asked about “reconciliation” between county programs and easements, Mr. Krupski said that’s a “completely different issue.”

“I’ve spoken to almost all the members of the capital budget work group about this and we’d like to see this restored, so I think that there’s a good chance of having that money restored to the capital budget,” Mr. Krupski said of the $100 million initiative.

Board member Louisa Evans asked if Mr. Krupski could offer an estimate for how much county money would be used in Southold, and Mr. Krupski said he didn’t know.

“I don’t know. It’s available,” he said. “I mean, it’s always been available, but it’s available and then it wouldn’t have to compete with open space purchases, which is of now, county-wide.”

Mr. Russell agreed to write a letter of support for the initiative, following Mr. Krupski’s appeal Tuesday. Mr. Krupski has reached out to other towns for letters of support as well.

Mr. Bellone emphasized local pride in the county’s “rich, diverse, agricultural heritage” in an emailed statement to The Suffolk Times.

“I believe it is important for the legislature to support this new investment to demonstrate Suffolk County’s real commitment to the long-term future of local agriculture and ensure that rich, viable farmland will be here for generations to come,” he said.