Residents of the Town of Riverhead, you and I have what it takes to shape the future of our community, ensure our rural quality of life, and continue to protect our critical, natural resources. Your vote to approve Proposition One in November will extend the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund to 2050 and provide a new option, namely use of a portion of the funds for water quality improvements.
We all value clean water. We drink it, we bathe in it, we swim in it and we eat food that comes from it. We have an obligation to protect our drinking water and surface waters for the next generation. As data emerge which identify threats to our clean waters, scientists and engineers have been working on solutions. Approval of Proposition One would provide a source of funds to implement some of these solutions, but only at the elected Town Board’s discretion.
Further, approval of the November referendum may also be, in my opinion, the only viable path toward the goals of land preservation and improving water quality — goals that are not mutually exclusive.
Connecting the emergence of the need for water quality improvement to a predictable, guaranteed revenue stream, which the CPF provides, is a creative and effective way to address this most important issue. While this is a good first step in addressing our regional water quality concerns, I will continue to advocate for a revised structure of the CPF. With more than 15 years of revenue data, it is clear that the North Fork will continue to be at a financial disadvantage, although we remain steadfast in our commitment to land and water protection in the face of continued strong development pressures.
While not understating the significance of the opportunity to use a portion of the fund for water quality improvement projects, the CPF in Riverhead has been, to date, primarily about farmland preservation. Riverhead Town has done a tremendous job in respecting its heritage which is rooted in farming. Working farms define our community and with farmland preservation as the cornerstone of our comprehensive plan, it remains an integral part of our vision for the future.
From the onset of the Peconic Bay Region CPF, our town took very seriously the state mandate to give farmland preservation the highest priority, and we have rarely deviated from that. According to a 2015 report by the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, Riverhead has over 15,000 acres of farmland, more than any other town, and has, with the cooperation of landowners, and in partnership with other levels of government, preserved almost 49 percent or approximately 7,500 acres of farmland, again, more than any other town.
The county’s report continues, “…the highest priority farmlands are those concentrated in the towns of Riverhead and Southold…these lands are the most essential to the current agricultural industry of Suffolk County because this is where the majority of the remaining farmland is and where the most land with undeveloped prime soils is found.”
This translates to…there is still much work to be done. By approving Proposition One, our community will have the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment and stand by our decisions to protect our farmland as well as our water resources.
Let’s look forward to a rebounding economy that will bring the needed revenues to support our preservation program and implement those water quality improvements, all of which are critical to our health, our economy and our quality of life now and for future generations.
There is no fancy slogan here, just a simple fact…you have what it takes to protect what we value about our community, its rural character, its farmland, and its abundant natural resources. You have what it takes to protect our clean surface and drinking water at no cost to you. Yes, you have what it takes…it takes your YES vote for Proposition One located on the reverse side of the ballot on Nov. 8.
Barbara Blass is a former Riverhead Town Councilwoman and former longtime chairperson of the Riverhead Planning Board. She lives in Jamesport.