Record Investment in Environmental Protection;
Nearly Equivalent to the Size of Town of Huntington Over Last 50 Years
Suffolk County Report Highlights Success of Open Space and Farmland Preservation Past, Present and Future
Levy Joined by Past County Executives, Environmentalists Makes Push for Renewed Future Partnerships
Hauppauge, NY – Flanked by environmentalists and a former Suffolk County Executive alongside a freshwater pond preserved in 2005, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy today reviewed the multi-decadal success of the county’s open space and farmland preservation programs – which have been among the most aggressive and proactive in the nation.
In releasing a new report “A Commitment to Our Future: Investing Today to Preserve Tomorrow” Levy noted that over five decades, Suffolk County has preserved as open space, farmland and parkland more than 58,000 acres – which is nearly equivalent to the entire Town of Huntington.
“This represents a preservation investment of more than $800 million dollars since the 1970s, with the overwhelming support of the public, and over half that amount has been invested during this administration,” said Levy.
“Regardless of economic conditions or which party has been in office, Suffolk County’s commitment to our drinking water, our waterways, our vast open spaces and our active farmlands has been second to none in this nation.”
Strong History of Preservation
Levy recognized the efforts of past administrations in the report, beginning with the creation of the Farmland Preservation Program by John Klein; a $60 million Open Space Program initiaved by Peter F. Cohalan; the ¼-cent sales tax for preservation proposed by Michael LoGrande; the up-front borrowing created by Patrick Halpin, enabling the county to compete in the race against development; and the establishment of a Multifaceted Preservation Program by Robert Gaffney.
Levy was joined by former Executive Halpin at a press conference where they feted the environmental activism of not-for-profit partners in preservation including The Group for the East End, The Nature Conservancy, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, The Peconic Land Trust and the Long Island Farm Bureau.
Through the various acquisition program that began in 1976, Suffolk has preserved 32, 351 acres at a cost of $816 million, Levy noted. These figures do not include the acres acquired by the county for parkland, largely in the 1950s and 1960s through capital programs, which, when added to the later purchases total more than 58,000 acres.
|Program||Year Program Started||Total Acres since program inception||Total $ Spent since program inception|
|Open Space Preservation||1986||4,944||$82.9M|
|Old Drinking Water Protection||1987||14,060||$226.2M|
|South Setauket Woods||1995||50||$2.4M|
|Land Preservation Partnership*||1997||560||$14.7M|
|New Drinking Water Protection*||2000/Amended 2007||1,801||$183M|
|Multifaceted Land Preservation*||2002||1,195||$104.1M|
|Save Open Space*||2004||755||$61.6M|
|TOTAL (through 2010)||32,351**||$816.8M**|
|*Acquisitions include parkland/open space as well as farmland PDRs (Purchase of Development Rights). Acreage inclusive of certain properties acquired in partnership with other municipalities as tenants-in-common.
**Totals do not include County parkland acquisitions acquired primarily through capital project funding prior to 1986. It is conservatively estimated that Suffolk County has acquired a total of 58,000 acres, including those parcels obtained prior to 1986.
Source: Suffolk County Department of Planning
Former County Executive Michael LoGrande, in a statement, noted he has worked for or with every Suffolk County Executive and praised the county’s “…seamless commitment to protecting open space for the last half century. Taking a phrase from Robert Frost: ‘Whose woods these are, I do not know…’ well in Suffolk the answer to the poetic question is that more than likely they are owned by the people of Suffolk County!”
Former County Executive Patrick Halpin recalled early significant acquisitions during his administration, including Orient Point Preserve, Hampton Hills and Huntington’s Froehlic Farm.
“Executives stand on the shoulders of our predecessors,” he noted. “Suffolk has had seven county executives, and each one has thought that we need to be stewards for the future as well as managers for the present.”
Continued Commitment in Changing Conditions
The Planning Department report detailed how the county’s commitment to preservation has been maintained despite changing conditions, and outline challenges to preservation today – chief among these being the declining availability of large, privately owned tracts of land that were mainly acquired in the late 1980s through the late 1990s.
“It was not unusual during this period for the county to close on several hundred acres – even 1,000 acres and in one instance, an entire island – in a single acquisition,” the report noted. “Today, much of the ‘low hanging fruit’ has been picked.” The report notes that today there are fewer than 25 undeveloped parcels of land over 100 acres.
For example, in 1987 the average acres per closing was 120 acres; in 1997 that average per closing was 35 acres, and in 2007 the average acres per closing was 12.
Levy noted that, in working with the County Legislature in 2004, the acquisition process was modified in several ways to give greater priority to those lands most environmentally significant. These changes include:
- Use of Master Lists to allow planning steps for assemblages of smaller parcels within a larger watershed or environmentally sensitive tract;
- Establishment of the Environmental Trust Review Board, a bi-partisan board of legislators and professionals to review appraisals and authorize offers based on environmental criteria.
During the press conference held alongside Gould’s Pond in Lake Grove – a 5.5 acre tract which includes wetlands and a freshwater pond and was purchased by the county in 2005 – Levy lauded the environmental community which has supported the county’s aggressive preservation efforts, often joining as not-for-profit partners.
“The success of our programs going back 50 years would not be possible without the encouragement and commitment of not-for-profit environmental organizations who have worked with us every step in the way to identify our needs and help us react to changing conditions,” said Levy.
Organizations including The Nature Conservancy, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, The Peconic Land Trust, The Long Island Farm Bureau and the Group for the East End were cited by Levy for “outstanding leadership” – and were equally effusive about the county’s five-decade history of preservation.
“What an extraordinary record Suffolk County has achieved over these decades, and it is because of a collective continuity of purpose shared not only by government and the people but by the not-for-profits that support environmental conservation,” said Stuart Lowrie of The Nature Conservancy, who cited a 2010 study by The Trust for Public Land that put the value of Suffolk’s preserved properties at $2.7 billion a year to county residents.
Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment noted it is nearly 25 years to the day of the passage of the $60 million Open Space Bond Act proposed by then-County Executive Cohalan. “We’ve been on this journey for 25 years and we see that we have accomplished a lot. Open space preservation is the single-most meaningful program to allow our county and our island to be livable, sustainable and beautiful, and it is a legacy of public support for environmental protection.”
Joe Gergela of the Long Island Farm Bureau recognized “those people who decided to preserve their land over the decades: the farmers, the landowners, the developers.” He also cited the impact of the agriculture, horticulture and landscape industry at nearly $1 billion to Suffolk, “…and when you couple that with vineyards and tourism, preservation provides a major economic engine.”
Renewed Partnerships Needed
Levy and the environmental advocates called for increased preservation partnerships from towns, as East End Community Preservation Funds rebound, and from New York State.
“Even during a down economy, even as partnerships dwindled, Suffolk has not wavered on its investment in open space preservation, including a $77 million investment in 2010,” Levy noted. “Because it is what the people want. Our open spaces, clean water and farmlands are what makes Suffolk one of the most desirable places in the nation to live, and our efforts over these last 50 years will be realized by the generations to come,” Levy noted.
“For success to be obtained, none of us expects the County to go it alone. Rather all levels of government, the Towns and the State of New York as well as the federal government will have to be better partners in this process with Suffolk County,” said Bob DeLuca, Group for the East End.
PHOTO: Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy today was joined by environmental preservation advocates and former County Executive Patrick Halpin to highlight the successes of an Open Space Protection and Farmland Preservation Program “that is second to none in the nation on a county level.” Over the past 50 years, Suffolk has preserved more than 58,000 acres as open space, farmland or parkland – roughly the size of the entire Town of Huntington. Pictured (l-r) alongside a county-preserved Gould Pond in Lake Grove: Robert DeLuca, Group for the North Fork; Frank Beyrodt, Long Island Farm Bureau; Joe Gergela, Long Island Farm Bureau; Adrienne Esposito, Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Stuart Lowrie, The Nature Conservancy; County Executive Levy; former County Executive Patrick Halpin.