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Health Dept. drops $2K fine for Douglaston beekeeper

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The Douglaston homeowner who was surprised last month when he was threatened with a hefty fine over his beehive will not have to pay up, but he said the city’s position on the matter is a tough pill to swallow.

Tip Sempliner received a notice of violation when a city Department of Health inspector came by his home and claimed the TimesLedger Newspapers cartoonist and inventor did not have a proper water dish near the honeybee hive that one of his employees keeps at the front of his property.

The notice called for Sempliner to attend an administrative hearing, where he faced a possible fine of up to $2,000.

Sempliner claimed hive-owner John Bettingill had put water near his hive and estimated there were several millions of gallons of water in Little Neck Bay behind his home. The department agreed to withdraw the summons once the story started making headlines.

Last week, Sempliner received a letter from the DOH saying the notice of violation had been withdrawn, but warned him that another would be issued if the same conditions remained upon a second inspection.

“It’s a stupid letter. It’s saying, ‘You’re guilty and we’re withdrawing it,’” said Sempliner.

Bettingill said he took an interest in apiary before it was even legal in New York City, and by the time the DOH legalized it last year he had already taken a class and was set to order supplies to build his own hive.

Sempliner said Bettingill recently added an additional story onto the hive, and the two are patiently awaiting the day they can harvest a sweet bounty of honey.

Sempliner said the apiary rules are vague at best, and he was told they were designed to prevent rooftop hives in urban areas such as Brooklyn from swarming to find water sources.

The DOH, which requires owners to register their beehives, said there are about 90 registered hives throughout the five boroughs.

The department said bees are docile when they are swarming and advised that if they become a nuisance, New Yorkers should call 311.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 11:30 am, October 12, 2011
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