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Opinion

Uncertainty reigns

Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), NY Assembly member

Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), NY Assembly member and Chair of Committee on Local Governments on Nov. 22, 2019 in Manhattan. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Daily Point

How long will good fortunes last?

August data shows that money continues to pour into the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund from coronavirus-related East End home sales, but one of the architects of the law that established the CPF says the pace will not continue much longer.

"There were a lot of deals over the summer that closed in August," State Assemb. Fred Thiele told The Point. "What I’m hearing from real estate lawyers and brokers is that there’s still deals in the pipeline that will close in the next month or so, but as far as new deals, things are starting to slow down a little bit."

The fund, fueled by a 2% tax on East End real estate sales, took in $11.16 million in August, an 85% increase compared to $6.02 million in August 2019. For the year, the fund has taken in $72.26 million, 37% more than the $52.82 million raised through the first eight months last year and the highest such total in the fund’s 21-year history.

Thiele said the influx raises an interesting policy question: The CPF was established to fund land preservation, but legislation two years ago from Thiele and State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) following a voter referendum allows 20% of the fund’s money to be spent by the five East End towns on water quality projects, like septic system upgrades.

"It’s a legitimate policy question for the towns to have to determine whether that percentage for water quality might go up in the future," said Thiele, an Independence Party member from Sag Harbor. "The demand for water quality improvement projects is scaling up while the land preservation component, I don’t want to say it’s completed, but we’re certainly well along with that."

Thiele said there are "very few" parcels of more than 100 acres on the CPF list, and that most of what remains to preserve are "infills" — parcels that complete or connect previously preserved spaces.

"There are a lot of years left on those," he said.

The biggest recipients among the towns have been East Hampton and Southampton, whose CPF funds have netted $20.87 million and $42.47 million, respectively, so far this year. The real winner, of course, is the environment.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Talking Point

Anti-vax groups' mission in the spotlight

The controversy over the federal government’s aggressive approach to finding a COVID-19 vaccine has put a new spotlight on a group long thought to be on the political periphery.

Two Long Island activists with the anti-vax movement told The Point Thursday that their groups, made up of people who question the safety of or science behind vaccines or who believe they should have the choice of whether they or their children should take a vaccine, have gained momentum as some people question the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Now, more people pay attention to their message, said activists Rita Palma and John Gilmore.

"It’s always been a persuasive challenge," said Palma, a Blue Point resident. "Now the wall is down, the conversations are happening … The doubt, the fear is most definitely there … We’re just really on our same mission but we’ve got a lot more people listening and taking it credibly."

While Gilmore points to recent concerns expressed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden regarding the integrity of the federal approval process for a COVID-19 vaccine, the views and goals of anti-vax advocates diverge from those of elected officials and top scientists.

"The top priority at this point is to prevent a mandatory COVID vaccine for anybody," Gilmore said.

Palma, who heads My Kids, My Choice, and Gilmore, a Long Beach resident who heads the Autism Action Network, have long opposed vaccines and vaccine requirements for students. Both fought hard against New York’s decision to drop a religious exemption to the vaccine requirement. Both hope to restore the religious exemption and to broaden the state’s medical exemption.

For the next month or so, the pair is focused on the upcoming State Senate and Assembly elections. The goal, Palma said, is to help Republicans regain the Senate majority, because Republicans have been more in tune with the movement’s thinking. The activists have started to raise money, hold events and use social media to advocate for those who share their views.

"I need results for my people," Palma said.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Burning it down

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Final Point

Nassau PD’s eye in the sky

Information on the use of drone surveillance by Long Island law enforcement agencies is sorely lacking, but that hasn’t prevented the devices from taking to the skies.

There were at least six June protests on Long Island in which Nassau County Police Department drones appear to have been present, according to an analysis of flight records obtained through a records request.

The records cover May 26 to June 20 and include start and end times and a latitude and longitude, but no description of why the drones were flown or what they did.

To scratch toward an answer, we did an analysis using social media posts, news reports, and interviews with protesters that matched location data and flight times to recent Long Island social justice protests.

That includes on June 13, when the drone log includes flights at a march’s end in Baldwin. There were matches at the sites of large events, like when protesters took to Sunrise Highway on June 4. Some appeared to be flying during smaller ones, as when small groups marched into the night in Mineola on June 1.

The Suffolk County Police Department has not fulfilled a similar records request. The NCPD declined to answer questions about the deployment of drones. "For security reasons, the Nassau County Police Department is unable to provide further details with regard to deployment of our resources," spokesman Richard S. LeBrun said in a statement.

Read more about the drones, New York City’s effort to make more of their police tech info public, and pending state legislation addressing police use of the technology, here.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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