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Year in Review: Preservation money could fight pollution

BARBARA ELLEN KOCH PHOTO | New legislation could help preserve the East End's surface and ground waters.
BARBARA ELLEN KOCH PHOTO | New legislation could help preserve the East End’s surface and ground waters.

Water quality on the East End became a focus in Albany this year, when legislators and the governor agreed to allow some money once dedicated solely for open space preservation to be used for anti-pollution programs.

A new law, sponsored by Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), passed earlier this month, allowing each of the five East End towns permission to allocate up to 20 percent of Community Preservation Fund revenue to water quality protection.

CPF was established in 1999 and has protected more than 10,000 acres of land, investing more than $1 billion raised through a 2 percent tax paid by real estate purchases in the five East End towns.

The new legislation also extends the life of the CPF Fund to 2050. Without the extension, the program would have ended in 2030.

To allot money from the fund for water quality initiatives, each town must devise and approve a plan and hold a public referendum on the issue.

The original assumption of the CPF, according to Mr. Thiele, was that by protecting the land, the water would remain clean. But it has become evident that in spite of that effort, “The legacy of existing development and land uses continues to increase nitrogen loadings to the East End’s waters,” the assemblyman said.

The new law would allow funds to be used for programs addressing:
• Wastewater treatment improvements.
• Aquatic habitat restoration.
• Pollution prevention.
• Operation of the Peconic Bay National Estuary Program.

It’s estimated that money ticketed for water protection programs could amount to $2.7 billion between 2016 and 2050.