The five East End towns have agreed to adopt new rules and regulations for the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund, continuing a years-long effort to standardize how money can be spent on purchases and maintenance of preserved land.

The rules should answer "95 percent of the questions that come up about stewardship," said State Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor).

Thiele, State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), county and town leaders and environmental groups announced the changes last month. All five towns approved local resolutions to abide by the new regulations.

"It's very specific," said Richard Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society. "The focus is back to where it was intended to be, on purchasing land. And the limited stewardship expenses that can be charged have been agreed to by the towns."

More than $682 million has been spent and 6,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land have been protected by fund acquisition since 1998, according to the Peconic Land Trust. Each town receives its own money via a tax on real estate purchases and is responsible for purchases and stewardship.

Talk of stricter rules and regulations started in 2008, when it was discovered East Hampton had used millions of dollars in its fund to pay for general shortfalls -- later repaid -- prompting investigations by the district attorney and the state comptroller. A November 2010 comptroller's report found Southampton Town improperly used its portion of the fund to make $664,647 of excessive payments in lieu of taxes to special districts.

The town will vote next week to transfer land already purchased by the town outside of the fund into the fund's acquisitions to make up for the shortfall.

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