Intuition could have told us what East Hampton Town's comprehensive open space plan finally put into words last year: We have entered what may well be the "final chapter" in the town's long history of land preservation.
At the rate vacant property is being subdivided and, as it is called, "improved" in East Hampton, "it is reasonable to expect that all major tracts of land will be committed to one particular land use or another within the decade," the plan states.
The four environmental proposals on this year's East Hampton ballot represent the best chance to protect remaining open space and the environmental quality that makes the East End so desirable.
Locally, East Hampton voters will be asked to approve a $5-million bond for open space and farmland preservation. The town's last $5-million bond, passed in 1985, resulted in the preservation of more than 250 acres, representing prime agricultural lands, threatened wetlands, and pine barrens.
It is crucial that we make the financial commitment now to back up the plan we have put in place to guide the future of our remaining open space. Voters have approved bonds for land purchases six times in the past 15 years in East Hampton. We are confident they will do so again.
Gov. George Pataki's $1.75-billion Clean Water, Clean Air Bond Act would also directly benefit the East End, by providing some $15 million for planning and cleanup throughout the Peconic Estuary. Other benefits would come indirectly, with $100 million slated for parks and historic preservation statewide, $150 for land acquisition, and hundreds of millions more for projects to upgrade water and air quality statewide. Another $200 million is earmarked toward the Long Island Sound, a cleanup that would certainly be of benefit here.
Critics of the bond - and there are many - want the state to trim rather than add to its debt. They argue that some of the targeted projects could be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis. But pay-as-you-go can turn much too easily into put-off-for-later. The bond act will help the state guarantee its long-term commitment to improving the environment, and it comes at a critical time. With environmental initiatives on the ballot from Suffolk County and four out of the five East End towns, the Clean Water, Clean Air Bond Act would crown the most ambitious environmental momentum in years.
East Hampton learned long ago how to make its own environmental dollars go further by seeking partnerships with the state and county - Culloden Point is recent proof. Approval of all of this year's environmental proposals could insure (and finance) such partnerships for decades.
It almost goes without saying, then, that we support Southampton Town Proposals Four, Five, and Six and both of the two Suffolk County proposals that would assure more money from its drinking water protection program is used for the purpose intended - which is to acquire land for groundwater protection.
One of the Southampton proposals, Four, would amend the existing budget cap law to make it somewhat more flexible and allow the town to use operating funds to help "finance important land acquisitions." Another proposal, Five, is similar to East Hampton's $5-million bond issue for the preservation of open space and agricultural lands. Number Six allows the town to go beyond the budget cap if spending is for the preservation of open space and agricultural lands.
Both county proposals on the ballot would amend the drinking water program, but they differ by how much. Proposal Three, introduced by citizens' initiative, would require that all funds be spent directly on land acquisition. The county's own version, Two, would allow 10 percent of the money to go toward tax stabilization. In addition, $55 million in current surpluses would go directly toward land purchases and county parks.
We favor the citizens' proposal, which has more teeth, but voting for both would help assure that our drinking water is protected..