Shelter Island Reporter Editorial: Action on clean water

BARBARA ELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Saving our most precious natural resource continues to be a battle.
BARBARA ELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Saving our most precious natural resource continues to be a battle.

Coming into focus
At a recent social event, Councilman Jim Colligan was speaking informally to some constituents about the glacial pace government normally employs.

Mr. Colligan said that the present Town Board is prepared to change that. One way of achieving a more streamlined way of doing business is to focus on key issues, rather than take in every suggestion and recommendation, beat them to death in endless work sessions and then hold up fingers to gauge the wind of public approval or disapproval.

One glaring example of a government in aspic was the “dark skies debate” from a couple of years ago, where an attempt to put together a simple municipal lighting law resulted in months — yes, months — of histrionics, ad hominem attacks and dire predictions that if passed, the law would curtail citizen’s rights.

The future of the Republic was hanging in the balance, some board members would have you believe.

But there might be a change coming. A positive example of the board acting and not dithering is creating a plan for legislation to take up to 20 percent from the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) and put it toward clean water initiatives. CPF revenue is generated by a 2 percent tax that buyers pay on real estate purchases. Until now it has been spent solely on preserving open space.

A law has been crafted to allow the town to use a percentage of CPF funds for water projects and will be the subject of a public hearing, slated for July 16 at Town Hall. If passed — and there seems to be no opposition by board members — the law will be put on the November ballot as a referendum for the voters of Shelter Island to decide.

With the availability of clean water in the aquifer and surrounding our Island in jeopardy, this legislation is a progressive step, taking action instead of thumb twiddling or bemoaning our fate that doom is inevitable.

We applaud the board for working quickly and efficiently, and especially Town Attorney Laury Dowd for putting together the draft legislation.

If the voters approve the law in November, up to $440,000 annually could be used on the Island for wastewater improvement projects, aquatic habitat restoration, pollution prevention and helping to fund the the Peconic Bay National Estuary Protection Agency, the regional effort for clean water.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (Sag Harbor-I) was the driving force that created the CPF in 1998, a program that has preserved more than 300 acres of land on the Island. For all five towns on the East End, more than 10,000 acres have been saved from being paved over.

Mr. Thiele is also the author of the new legislation that will extend the CPF through 2050, and allow towns to use a portion of what is collected for water quality improvement. He has been creative, and just as importantly, he has acted.

Our assemblyman gets things done.