County legislators decided on Tuesday to partner with the Town of Riverhead and spend a total of $18.3 million in a partnership to purchase just over 300 acres at the North Fork Preserve — a tract of land East End Legislator Ed Romaine called “Suffolk County’s last great park.”
The decision came after over a dozen East End residents and six organizations spoke Tuesday morning in support of the measure. It also capped off nearly $30 million in land acquisitions the county Legislature approved on Tuesday.
“I’m sure you know this, but most people who come out here are your constituents,” said Supervisor Sean Walter of Riverhead. The town set aside $500,000 in community preservation funds to partner with the county. “This is one of those opportunities where you can go back to your district and say, ‘Listen, we as a legislative body are working to preserve that for you.’”
to Riverhead Town Board members last month, which are slated to include an RV camping area, kayaking on a pond, picnic areas, ball fields, and walking trails, among other things. However Romaine said that due to the county's current fiscal situation, it could be up to 10 years until any improvements are made.
The legislature voted 14-3 to approve the measure, with presiding officer Bill Lindsay, D-Holbrook, and Legislators Jack Eddington, D-Patchogue, and Ricardo Montano, D-Central Islip, voting to reject the measure. Legis. Vivian Viloria-Fisher, D-East Setauket, was not present. County Executive Steve Levy co-sponsored the measure and voiced his intent to sign it soon after it passed.
Acquisition of the 306-acre North Fork preserve has been the subject of discussion for reasons beyond preservation for years, as a potential site for the county’s trap and skeet shooting range.
A study completed in March of 2009 listed the North Fork Preserve as one of 15 tracts in Suffolk County explored as an alternative site. The study — and the committee formed to conduct the study — was commissioned by the Legislature with the very task of exploring trap and skeet range alternatives, and found the North Fork Preserve “worth further consideration.” Of the 15 sites studied, eight were considered worth considering in the future while seven were rejected.
But Riverhead leaders have , stating that beyond the problems it would cause local residents, the town's use of community preservation funds would make a trap and skeet a non-permitted use under the state law which created the CPF.
Legis. Kate Browning, WF-Shirley, attempted to hold off a vote to approve the measure in order to more fully explore the possibility.
"It's amazing that South Haven Park (where the county's trap and skeet is currently located) has all the exact same things as the North Fork Preserve might have — campers, family fun — yet it's OK to have a trap and skeet in Yaphank," she said.
Romaine said that tying together the North Fork Preserve purchase and moving the trap and skeet is "foolhardy."
"I have no questions Legislator Browning is fighting for her constituents, but we can't do this as an either-or," Romaine said. "This is our opportunity to vote for our last great park."