By Stephen J. Kotz
This Friday you will be hosting your annual environmental roundtable. What are some of the key environmental issues facing the East End this year?
In prior years, we had been almost solely focusing on issues of land preservation. Two years ago, things turned very abruptly to surface water issues. How do we protect our bays, our rivers? Then there is the issue of how are we going to protect our aquifer. So I think that will continue to be a hot topic. What I like to do at the roundtable is let the various stakeholders discuss what they are most concerned about, so until we are there, we don’t know what is going to come up. I’m sure deer culling will come up. I am also going to address the mute swan issue. The DEC is working on regulations to eradicate the mute swan.
You said you anticipate that water quality will be a topic of interest. You are working with Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, a Lindenhurst Democrat, on passing legislation that seeks to drastically reduce the amount of nitrogen entering surface and groundwater. How is that process going?
We are assembling all the stakeholders, starting to get input from them on what are some of the positive things they would like to see and what are some of the things they don’t want to see. We met with the environmental folks, farmers, the development community. Now we’ve added village and town officials because they hold the constitutional privilege of setting zoning and whatever we do they must be supportive of it. We’ve also added water providers like the Suffolk County Water Authority and Nassau County water districts. In some parts of the county, the issue will be how fast can we get off septic systems and we’ll look for ways to extend sewer districts. But that requires money and where can we get the money to do that. We’ll also be looking at new technologies we could use to help improve water quality.
The five East End towns have been able to preserve a great deal of land, thanks largely to the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) that you and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. helped create. Do you see any ways in which you would like to see the CPF legislation evolve or be changed to address any new needs.
I think Mr. Thiele and I are always looking at where do we go next. Change is always on the table, but we have to remember why we created that fund: to preserve land. As less land is available, it comes under development pressure. We’ve looked at things like stewardship, but we can’t let our guard down. We have to make sure we are preserving as much land as we possibly can because before long it’s going to be challenged by development.
Farmland preservation has also been a priority of the CPF. Are there other ways outside of simple preservation that you believe the state or local municipalities can help farmers maintain viable businesses.
Farmland is critically important. There are issues we are looking at. We want to make sure that farmland is available for people who still want to keep it open for farming, not have people use it for grazing purposes or whatever. This will come up during the roundtable. We will have discussion about how people can keep it in farmland.
You recently became a member of a newly formed bipartisan environmental caucus, the New York State Caucus of Environmental Legislators, which will be affiliated with the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. What does the group hope to achieve?
The environmental caucus helps identify those individuals within the state that as a group will make our voice heard on the issues well beyond the borders of Long Island but New York State. By working with the national association, we increase the collective ability to better preserve our lands and waters.
What hopes do you have for this environmental roundtable? What do you hope will be accomplished?
This event has been the place to be for anyone who is interested in government and the environment and it is growing in the number of officials and people who are concerned about our government. We come out of most years with a new agenda to focus on, and often, as a result of that, we are able to get some funds. We need forums like this that allow people to get things off their chest. One thing they do is they bring people together to help resolve their differences. The environmental folks are not always in harmony with the development or agricultural community, and the roundtable allows those people to do a little venting and then it allows us to bring them together.
New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle will host his annual environmental round table on Friday, February 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center on East Main Street in Riverhead.