by Karl Grossman
Leaders of environmental and civic organizations in Suffolk County, at the last meeting of the Suffolk Legislature, took on the bloc of Suffolk legislators who are highly critical of the county’s farmland, open space and drinking water preservation programs and are pushing for a moratorium on acquisitions.
“We taxpayers in Suffolk County have consistently voiced our opinion that we want preservation and not development,” said Bonnie Goebert, chair of the Southampton Citizens Advisory Committee. “Tourists don’t come here to shop in another national chain. Tourists come here to marvel and what we have…far-reaching vistas, the vineyards, the abundant waterways, the magnificent beaches…Tourism is our industry, if not our destiny, not more development and more office parks. Short-term fixes and knee-jerk reactions to the recession should not guide usage of our land preservation funds.”
Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, said, “We’re at a very critical juncture here…Land protection in all of its forms is…infrastructure that supports our economy. It’s infrastructure that supports agriculture…When you look at this program, this isn’t just a land preservation program for something nice to drive by. It fuels our local economy.”
“I have the feeling the devil may be loose in the legislature!” Jim Gleason, vice president of the East Moriches Property Owners Association, declared.
The anti-preservation program bloc on the legislature, consisting of Democrats and Republicans and including the panel’s presiding officer, William Lindsay of Holbrook, cite economic conditions for their stance.
Highly critical of them is Legislator Edward Romaine of Center Moriches who after the testimony of the civic and environmental leaders at the legislative session February 7 in Hauppauge commented that “I’ve been here a long time and I’ve never seen anything like this. I always thought land and water preservation was part of Suffolk County government. This is what the people of Suffolk have over and over again said they want. I’m going to fight this like hell.”
Mr. Romaine’s district includes Shelter Island, the North Fork, Riverhead and eastern Brookhaven Town.
MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, held up a $10 bill and said: “We’re talking about our money, not yours. This is what we voted for you to do with our money. We want open space, we want clean water. This is the way you achieve it. You don’t achieve it by stealing from that fund to solve short-term problems.” Tourists come “to visit what we have in abundance because we had the vision to do it, to preserve open space, to protect our drinking water, which has never been in more peril, ever. And if we don’t do something now, it will be too late for us to do it later. So I ask you: keep your hands off my money.”
Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, added: “The public put this money up for a specific purpose. It can’t be used for any other purpose.” He scoffed at the notion that “if we merely stopped protecting drinking water and preserving open space somehow or other the recession would miss us.”
Shelley Corman, political action chairperson of Encore Atlantic Shores in Eastport, said: “In these troubled economic times, borrowing from one program to help fund another is certainly tempting but borrowing from Peter to pay Paul is never really a good solution.”
Marilyn England, president of the Open Space Council, said: “Open space is critical to supporting not only our natural environments but our economy, our way of life. Please do not make a decision that we will all regret and that will burden future generations.”
Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister said “open space and surface water quality…are intrinsically connected…Where goes our groundwater, there goes our bays.”
John Rooney, board member of the North Fork Environmental Council, said that on environmental protection “Suffolk County is a leader, not just in the region but in the nation. So I ask you, please, do not forget that. Do not forget what the people have been saying over and over for 40 years…Do not divert from the very progressive and useful road that we’ve been on, and think of our grandchildren.”
And Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said: “It’s the public’s program, it’s the public’s money, it’s the public’s agenda, and the public loves this program. That’s why so many people are here today.”
Did the anti-preservation bloc of legislators listen? That remains to be seen.