Mastic Tree Clearing to Resume After Judge’s OK

Tree clearing at a 100-acre wooded lot in Mastic is expected to restart Monday morning after a state judge lifted a restraining order issued last week.

The move by state Supreme Court Justice William G. Ford Friday afternoon clears the way for construction of a long-contested solar farm on the property to begin.

Tree clearing on the southern end of the property had started Wednesday, with several acres cleared until Ford issued a temporary restraining order stopping work at the site on Thursday.

Opponents, including residents near the site on Moriches-Middle Island Road, the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization and the Pine Barrens Society, have said clear-cutting one of the largest privately held forest lands in Brookhaven violates town code. They said solar farms should be built on cleared land or rooftops first.

But developer Gerald Rosengarten said the solar farm is the “least impactful” use of the Mastic land, which is zoned light industrial and could be cleared for warehouses.

“We are very pleased that this baseless temporary restraining order was lifted by the court the very next day,” Middle Island Solar Farm spokesman Michael Woloz said. The company received a building permit for the solar farm from Brookhaven Town on Wednesday.

The building permit allows Middle Island to start the first phase of a three-phase construction plan for the site. That first phase allows the developer to clear 20 acres of the planned 60-acre development. Town officials had been working on a land swap with Middle Island to develop on the Brookhaven Town landfill, but talks have stalled.

MaryAnn Johnston, president of the civic group, said any clearing will devastate precious woodlands near the headwaters of the Forge River.

“Even if we ultimately prevail in court, he [Rosengarten] will already have destroyed the woodlands,” Johnston said Saturday. “Once he pulls the tree roots on the site, none of the pitch pines will regenerate and these important pine barrens will be forever lost.”

State officials led by Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) had sought to preserve the site and more than 800 acres in Shoreham, where another solar farm was planned, by making them part of the protected core of the pine barrens. The measure passed overwhelmingly in the legislature but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed it in December.

By Mark Harrington, Newsday 

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