Long Island official floats plan to save farmland Suffolk County executive proposes to buy development rights

March 08, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. -- Stung by criticism that he has failed to protect dwindling farmland from development, Suffolk County Executive Robert Gaffney says that he planned to revitalize a farmland preservation program that was started in the 1970s.

In his annual state of the county address here to the Suffolk legislature, Gaffney said he would propose "a significant increase" in spending to buy development rights to farms on the East End, where nearly all of Suffolk's remaining 33,000 farm acres are located.

"More must be done to protect working farmland, or an important part of Long Island's history and economy will be lost," Gaffney said.

The farmland preservation program, which began in 1976, currently covers about 6,000 acres. Once the county buys development rights from the farm owners, the land may be used only for agriculture and property taxes are lowered.

While Gaffney gave no dollar amount in his address and did not specify how much more farmland the county hopes to acquire, he said afterward that he would propose more than tripling, to about $5 million annually, the amount the county spends on rights purchases.

Gaffney, a Republican in his second four-year term, also said he would propose a method to speed up land purchases in the core of the state's 100,000-acre Long Island Pine Barrens Preserve.

The Presiding Officer of the Legislature C. Stephen Hackeling, Republican of Huntington, said he supported more farm spending. "The farmland program is a good program," he said.

But some environmentalists were skeptical about Gaffney's pledge. "Pine barrens, farmland and open space acquisition are off more than 75 percent over the past two years," said Richard Amper Jr., executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. "Mr. Gaffney's promises are just that. All of us are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward a preservation effort that has nearly ground to a halt."

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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