County Will Re-direct $30 Million to Land & Water Protection
Environmentalists Win Three-year Legal & Legislative Battle
June 4,2014 – Suffolk County has agreed to restore $30 million dollars taken from the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program after environmentalists waged a three-year battle to reclaim money intended to preserve open space and protect the underlying water. The funds were taken from the voter-approved program by former County Executive Steve Levy, in 2011 and current County Executive Steve Bellone, in 2013.
The Long Island Pine Barrens Society challenged the “raids” in two lawsuits and in February, with support from Group for the East End a petition campaign was launched, aimed at placing a Proposition on the ballot that would require the county to return the money and not use it for other purposes in the future without a new referendum. They argued that the funding, which authorized the collection of ¼ cent in sales tax could not be altered except by another referendum.
But weeks after Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced that his administration would make water protection its top priority, he reached out to environmentalists with an offer to restore the funding and advance a Charter Amendment referendum, this November, to assure that the Drinking Water Protection Program would not be altered in the future, without voter approval by subsequent mandatory referendum.
“This is a good faith effort on the part of the County Executive and County Legislature to right a wrong and begin the process of restoring drinking and surface water quality,” said Pine Barrens Society Executive Director, Richard Amper. He praised the pro bono legal team and the “legions” of Suffolk residents who collected signatures on a petition to put a Proposition on the November ballot which would require Suffolk to return the money taken and prohibit any recurrence
All of Long Island’s water comes from underground, and contaminants such as nitrogen from sewage and fertilizers, pesticides and toxic chemicals have been polluting groundwater for many years.
Funds taken from the Drinking Water Protection Program will come from $29.4 million in bonding. The settlement would permit limited county borrowing from the Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund which helps control sewer rates but can’t be used for land preservation or other water quality programs.
Robert DeLuca, President of the Group for the East End, which joined the Pine Barrens Society in the petition campaign and who helped hammer out the fund restoration deal said, “Every resident of Suffolk County should feel good about this settlement and not just for its environmental benefits. What this agreement demonstrates is that no matter how difficult the challenge, government can and does rise above the status quo, when it is moved by an organized, mobilized citizenry that acts with purpose, passion and persistence”
The agreement will be accomplished through a Stipulation of Settlement agreed to by the county and environmentalists which requires return of the funds and enactment of a new Charter Law to prevent future unauthorized use of Drinking Water Protection Program funds. “We want to thank all of our supporters and petition carriers for participating in this exercise in democracy,” Amper said, “We could not have succeeded without them.”
News Conference, Agreement Signing & Rally. Blydenburgh County Park 102 New Mill Road, Smithtown, Wednesday, June 4 at 1 p.m.. Enter park from the north side.