The Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund has never been just about protecting agriculture, or even farms and open space. At its heart, the program that went into effect in 1999 has always been about protecting a way of life the rest of Long Island lost long ago to suburban sprawl.
Through the CPF, purchasers of most properties within the county’s five East End towns pay a 2 percent tax, with the money going toward purchasing and protecting area woods, fields and farms. Some of the money can also be used to maintain properties and protect historic structures.
The CPF has been hugely successful in ensuring this region looks nothing like the rest of Long Island. It was overwhelmingly reauthorized by East End voters again in 2009. But now there’s more work to be done to protect the character that identifies the East End. While this has traditionally gone hand in hand with protecting farmland and open space, the waters that surround them have degraded over time.
What that has cost Long Island, including the East End, is evident, as the number of fishermen and baymen who once earned their money on the water has dwindled to just a relative few.
There are economic and other reasons why fishing has been on the decline (no different from farming) on the East End, but chief among them is our estuaries are stressed out and there haven’t been many clams, oysters, scallops or lobsters for anyone to fish and build a career on. The science is clear: The problem with the health of our waterways can be linked to nitrogen, which causes algal blooms resulting in brown, red and rust tides that muscle out nutritious plankton, destroy eelgrass and ultimately, decimate shellfish populations.
The sweeping Long Island water quality bill that failed in Albany last spring did so in part because there is no real funding mechanism in place to help develop, implement and maintain the type of denitrificaiton systems that prevent huge amounts of nitrogen flowing from our septic tanks into the aquifer and ultimately, surface waters. It must be noted that fertilizers from farms, many of which will remain in agriculture in perpetuity thanks to the CPF, contribute greatly to the nitrogen loading of area bays and the Sound. But it’s not the 1970s or 1980s anymore, when cash flowed from a state and federal government still enthusiastic about the landmark Clean Water Act passed in 1972.
It’s up to us to clean up our waters.
Legislation being pitched by Assemblyman Fried Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that would dedicate 20 percent of CPF revenues to clean water efforts deserves the full support of East End residents, who would ultimately have to approve such a measure through a referendum.
Environmentalist Richard Amper suggests that half of that amount should be set aside and made available to any of the five towns that contribute to CPF to pay for local water quality projects with regional significance. This provision should be included in any draft legislation.