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Suffolk Legislature reauthorizes LI aquifer-protection commission

Lawmakers vote to extend the commission despite advocates’ complaints too many water suppliers are voting members.

The Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection during

The Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection during a meeting in November 2017. The Suffolk legislature has voted to extend the life of the panel by another five years. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Suffolk legislature voted on Tuesday to extend the life of the Long Island Aquifer Protection Commission for another five years, despite complaints that it has failed to develop an effective management plan with legal powers to protect the water supply.

The lawmakers voted 16-2 to reauthorize the bicounty commission, which was due to sunset at year’s end, after Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the environment committee chairwoman, withdrew a motion to table the measure.

Hahn said she and bill sponsor Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), have agreed to meet with key stakeholders to pursue regional management options while the commission continues its work.

The votes came after community water advocates criticized the commission for having too many water suppliers as voting members. They also said the new resolution removes the commission’s original mandate to create a management entity to regulate groundwater resources on a regional basis.

“Long Island’s water supplier community has hijacked LICAP, and made it its own fiefdom,” said Charles Bevington of Water for Long Island, calling it “an all-out effort by the supplier community to suppress any attempt at regulation.”

“I get that LICAP needs a lot of work, it’s not perfect,” Spencer said, adding it has made significant progress and too much tinkering could threaten its future since the Nassau legislature must approve an extension. “It’s alive and breathing. We need to mend it, not end it.”

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), said critics are too single minded in their opposition, believing “it’s my way or no way and nothing good can come of that.”

Jeff Szabo, chief executive officer of the Suffolk Water Authority, also defended the creation of the commission as a historic bid to protect the groundwater on a bicounty basis. He handed each of the 18 lawmakers more than 1,000 pages of reports, meeting minutes and other work the volunteer commission has completed in the last four years.

In that time, Szabo said, the commission has created programs for education and done outreach on issues like conservation. The commission has also created an islandwide data system for tracking pollution and details of water quality at every public well site across both counties.

He also said a water-management plan should be completed by year’s end with the help of $200,000 in new funding in the recent state budget.

Lawmakers also voted overwhelmingly to create a new public information officer post in the district attorney’s office for Sheila Kelly, after an effort to table the resolution failed on a 9-9 vote. Justin Meyers, the district attorney’s chief of staff, said no salary has been set for the job, which can pay up to $106,000 a year. Meyers said Kelly will not make a “six-figure salary.”.

Since January, Kelly has made $78,613 annually doing the same work under the job title of legislative liaison, a 17.4 percent-pay hike from her prior job as assistant to the police commissioner before Timothy Sini was elected district attorney.

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