Unease over a park lease
Shooting for a lease
One of the matters expected to come up for a vote in the Suffolk County Legislature’s general meeting on Thursday has to do with the Peconic River Sportsman's Club.
This private shooting club is on the docket because it makes use of park land, through a lease last renewed in 1998 and set to expire in May 2025. A new resolution from County Executive Steve Bellone and Legis. Al Krupski would get an early start on extending that lease to May 2050.
The measure sailed through the Environment, Parks & Agriculture Committee last week, but some environmentalists are not happy about the prospect of lush public land being rented away again so soon, for so long.
"I'm deeply troubled by this proposal," John Turner, senior conservation policy advocate for the Seatuck Environmental Association, said in an email to The Point.
"The first lease should never have happened years ago," Turner wrote, arguing there is "nothing more sacred than public parks held in the public trust."
Bellone spokesman Jason Elan told The Point that the Sportsman’s Club came to the county to renew its lease.
"They plan events years in advance which is one of the reasons they asked for the extension," Elan said in a text. "We seek to extend or renew leases all the time, and they’ve been there for many years and have been a good steward of the land."
The resolution notes that state law gives the county power to renew this lease, and "it is in the interest of the County to continue to permit the use of the subject premises by the Club for the purpose of providing hunting, fishing, boating and other outdoor sporting-related activities."
The club did not return a request for comment in time for this newsletter, but its website says that although the club is private, "we open our facility to the public to promote the shooting sports in competition, education and safety training."
It is known for hosting firearms training for State Police and the FBI, as well as local police, and the site highlights its archery and firearms shooting ranges and licensed game preserve.
"We are dedicated to strict adherence of, and follow environmental practices that protect and preserve our land and water," the site says.
That’s beside the point to Turner, who questions why Suffolk leaders are moving to accommodate the club four years before its lease expires. "The character and intent of the lessee doesn't matter," he wrote, "it’s the action of turning over parkland owned by the public to a private party."
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Nassau’s free money could be politically costly
When Nassau County Executive Laura Curran proposed spending $100 million in federal COVID-19 bailout money on $375 checks for most of the county’s households, she put the legislature’s GOP majority in a bind. They can’t be seen as blocking cash for voters, yet they don’t want to be seen as supportive of Curran.
But with the election just two months away, the GOP legislators can slow-play the process of approving the checks in the hope that as few voters as possible will get them by Nov. 2.
The question is whether they’ll stall, and if they do, whether Curran can make them and her own GOP opponent, Bruce Blakeman, pay for the move by convincing residents the GOP held up their loot.
And that question will likely be answered this week, when the GOP caucus decides whether to put the checks on the agenda for consideration at Monday’s committee meetings.
The checks would go automatically to families earning less than $168,900 annually, and to families earning between $168,900 and $500,000 who can show COVID-related financial hardship.
When Curran first proposed the payments in May, Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello went after Curran while supporting the concept, saying, "After using the first $100 million of COVID relief money to pay for already budgeted county operations, the county executive has finally figured that the relief/stimulus funds should be provided to our overburdened taxpayers and small business owners."
Blakeman did not respond to requests for comment but has argued that the plan is a "political stunt to buy votes" and said cutting property taxes would be a better use of the money. That likely isn’t legal, though, for the same reason Curran’s original plan, now modified, to send the checks to everyone who has a STAR exemption isn’t legal: because the U.S. Treasury Department said governments can make cash payments to individuals with the aid, "provided the recipient considers whether, and the extent to which, the household has experienced a negative economic impact from the pandemic," which her original plan did not do.
It’s that mix-up that the spokesman for the legislative majority, Chris Boyle, chose to highlight Wednesday when asked about the GOP’s timing on the checks, writing in an email, "After the county executive had to change her initial plan because she failed to get guidance, and after the failures in the assessment rollout, the Majority is going to do its due diligence to make sure that this is not just another botched initiative."
So the checks will almost certainly go out. The question is when. And the answer will mostly depend on how the GOP weighs how voters will feel about Curran once they get the checks, and what they’ll feel about the GOP if they’re made to wait.
— Lane Filler @lanefiller
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Avoiding conflicts can be a moving target
Gov. Kathy Hochul has generally given the impression that no favoritism will result from her husband William’s preexisting role as senior vice president and general counsel of the gambling and hospitality corporation known as Delaware North.
"My husband was a federal prosecutor for 30 years, so even when I was in Congress, we were well-accustomed to keeping our work very separate," Hochul said last month before taking office. Since then she has expressed interest in altering the way the ethics commission known as JCOPE works and said there are "recusals" in place to cover any concerns.
One source of those concerns may have resolved itself — partially and for the moment.
The firm was operating food-service facilities along the New York State Thruway on a $39 million contract from 2006 to the end of 2022. But recently the authority that runs the 570-mile superhighway and collects its tolls began shutting down concessions, including those Delaware North was running, to commence reconstruction of its rest areas, effectively putting those sites and their future in the hands of a consortium called Empire State Thruway Partners.
The rebuilding officially commenced a few weeks ago. "A new travel experience is on the horizon for customers as this long-anticipated project to redevelop the Thruway’s 27 service area gets underway this month," Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll said in July.
"This expansive project will modernize the buildings and amenities, provide diverse and healthy food options … and enhance the amenities for the commercial trucking industry."
That still leaves Delaware North as concessionaire on a separate $10 million, 20-year contract with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation due to end Dec. 31. Under it, the company runs a food, beverage and gift-shop concession at the Niagara Reservation, part of Niagara Falls State Park. The firm began operating there at least a decade before the current contract commenced.
Of course, nothing prevents Delaware North from future state business. Meanwhile, the type of legal gambling Delaware North conducts — as it did at Jake’s 58 in Islandia before Suffolk OTB’s takeover this year — is controlled by the New York State Gaming Commission, which also comes under the purview of Hochul’s executive branch.
The year-to-year changes in the circumstances of any business show why any advisory opinions from the appropriate ethics panel, JCOPE, could hinge on the granular details of whatever the relevant individuals do. That differs with the individuals or the couple involved.
— Dan Janison @Danjanison