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With Tighter Open Space Funds, Green Groups to Make 1 Last Plea

With county legislators considering a re-evaluation of how they make open space purchases, environmentalists are expected to push for closing of outstanding offers.

After the county's Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee discussed last week re-evaluating how the county makes its open space purchases moving forward, environmentalists are planning on making a showing at Tuesday's County Legislature meeting to express their support for continuing the program after a re-evaluation — and to make sure agreements the county has already entered into are finalized.

On Jan. 30, county Director of Planning Sarah Landsdale and Division of Real Property Management Director Pam Greene spoke before the committee, informing its members that because the county will no longer be able to bond for open space purchases — resulting in a pay-as-you-go program — exactly how the county measures its open space expenditures should be modified.

"It's coming to a critical juncture," Greene said.

Legis. Kara Hahn, D-Setauket, is the chair of the EPA Committee, and said on Monday evening that she plans on laying legislation on the table Tuesday outlining her proposal for the county's new open space evaluation policy, which would start with a six-month pause on evaluating open space parcels. However, she said it was still being drawn up and would likely not be final until Tuesday afternoon.

No problem, says one open space advocate. Just as long as those with offers outstanding get paid, should they accept.

"The county has already entered into negotiations," said Dick Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, on Monday. "They have to finish, or else nobody will do business with them again."

According to Greene, the county currently has about $15 million in outstanding open space offers on the table, and in the past, roughly half the offers have been accepted, and half rejected.

The balance the county will have to spend on open space for 2012 and 2013 are respectively $4.5 million and $5.3 million, as much of the quarter-cent sales tax revenue will go toward paying off debt service on previous purchases. A 2007 referendum called for an accelerated land purchasing program that borrowed against future revenue.

Legis. Lou D'Amaro, D-Huntington, said that in light of the low balance the program faces in the future, it would make more sense to pause those open space negotiations that are currently in talks right now, should the legislature decide to re-evaluate its open space purchasing process.

"There may be 20 other properties coming down the line right now that are vitally important beyond this particular property we're considering today," said D'Amaro, the vice chair of the EPA Committee.

Considering the vast sums the county has been spending on land at times - a November purchase for active recreation at the — some legislators have , and possibly using the funds to offset the county budget.

Amper said he and other environmental advocates — likely members of the Long Island Farm Bureau and the — are concerned a pause in evaluating the parcels might give some a window to shut it down completely.

Hahn said Monday that the balance — $4 million to $5 million — "wouldn't be worth the fight. It's not a lot of money in the big picture."

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