Most local weekly newspapers take a well-deserved break between Christmas and New Year’s Day, but one of the great things we’ve realized after five years of putting a monthly newspaper to bed the last week in December is that we are able to take the time to dive in to a flurry of year-end legislative activity that could have real impact on our lives in the year ahead.
Despite the glum news on the coronavirus front this month that has cast a shadow over year-end celebrations, there’s been a lot of progress this year on major initiatives to enhance the things that make the East End great, while protecting us all from the ravages of climate change. We have a lot to celebrate.
Tops on our list is the governor’s signature on several pieces of legislation shepherded through the state legislature by our local Assembly and State Senate members, and at the forefront of those pieces of legislation is the law enabling us to create Community Housing Funds in each of the five East End towns.
We’re expecting the towns to spend the next several months deciding what they will do with the funding if it is approved by voters in a referendum on next November’s ballot, and there’s a lot that they can do.
From outright buying land to build affordable housing to providing incentives for homeownership to helping residents retrofit existing buildings on their propertyies to provide desperately needed housing for people trying to hang on to a sustainable life here, the options are many, and the public will have a chance to have a say in how each town chooses to address these issues. The next few months are a critical time to make your voice heard, either by volunteering to help draft housing plans or by weighing in when the public is asked for input.
Two other bills signed by the governor in the waning days of 2021 should prove a boon to both the East End economy and to our energy resiliency.
The oyster industry has been booming in the Peconic and Gardiners’ bays since the state first allowed Suffolk County to lease bay bottom land to oyster farmers a decade ago, and with new changes to that legislation, these farmers will now also be able to grow kelp, a super food that also plays a vital role in cleaning our local waters, and in capturing atmospheric carbon, one of the primary drivers of climate change. This tweak to state law comes just as the industry is ready to build on its success in farming oysters.
Another bill, allowing local municipalities to buy power directly from renewable energy companies (which is then transmitted to their homes through the LIPA grid) will be a game-changer in dampening our reliance on fossil fuels. It’s a complicated issue, made super-dense by the regulatory web behind Long Island’s energy infrastructure. We hope Riverhead and Southold towns take heed of this innovative idea that Southampton Town has been at the forefront of implementing for four years now.
We’re heartened to see Suffolk County take some proactive measures at years’ end to keep our communities safe, including the widespread implementation of police body cameras, and the inclusion of fentanyl test strips in Narcan opioid overdose kits that are distributed to the public at county trainings.
While Suffolk County Police do not patrol the East End, their implementation of body cameras sends a message to local police departments that this is the future. Body cameras keep both civilians and the police safe. The biggest stumbling block to implementing police body cameras, other than the will to do so, is funding. This is a problem that can be solved.
Harm reduction measures like providing access to fentanyl test strips were once highly controversial because they do make it easier for people to safely use illicit drugs.
But the deaths from fentanyl poisoning on the North Fork this past summer brought home the true cost of our failure to seek innovative ways to curb the dramatic increase in synthetic opioid-related deaths we’ve seen over the past decade.
Very few people who die of fentanyl poisoning even knew that it was fentanyl they were being exposed to, cut into their drug of choice. Providing drug users with this tool to keep them alive also gives communities a second chance to help survivors seek treatment.
As with this pandemic that we hope is winding down, prevention is always the best medicine. Stay safe out there. There’s much to be excited for in this new year.