Since the Jan. 11 meeting in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office, Brookhaven Town, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission and Long Island Region 1 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation staffers have been or will be methodically scrutinizing and vetting appropriate land parcels that can be used for solar as an alternative to cutting down trees in the pine barrens, as well as identifying land for preservation.
The meeting was arranged after Cuomo’s veto of preservation bills at the end of December, submitted by Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) advocating additions to the central pine barrens and core preservation area that included the 100-acre Middle Island Solar Farm in Mastic and the property in Shoreham surrounding the shuttered nuclear plant.
The governor’s meeting attendees included Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper, Brookhaven Town attorney Annette Eaderesto, Brookhaven Town division of land management open space coordinator John Turner, and John Pavicic, executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission. It was a one-hour gathering with four of the governor’s executive staffers, two from Albany and two from Cuomo’s Manhattan office, as a way to plan a sound solution that would encourage renewable energy and at the same time protect the pine barrens, which overlies the source of pure drinking water.
“The object of the game is to prevent the loss of one environmental resource to another,” said Amper. “We don’t want to destroy pine barrens to obtain solar energy. The strategy is inspired by the governor’s comments, that is, looking for a solution and the solution appears to be identifying all the pine barrens we would like to have preserved and the most appropriate sites for solar. That’s what the governor was suggesting when he wanted his staff to review all the sitings.”
Amper said they would have a list by the beginning of March.
Pavacic said the commission was involved with the process and would probably discuss the issue at their Feb. 28 meeting. “We’ve been talking with Brookhaven Town, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, the DEC and staff with the governors office, so we are reviewing those potential items,” he said. Pavacic said the commission, which is headquartered in Westhampton Beach, meets in locations on a rotating basis, including town halls and at the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge.
New York State DEC issued this email statement: “The executive budget proposes additions to the Pine Barrens and we look forward to working with the Legislature on land preservation on Long Island.”
Turner, who sat in on the governor’s meeting, said the town was taking the governor’s veto message very seriously but was heartened by the last paragraph, where he took ownership and provided a pathway forward of preserving. The town was compiling a list of appropriate sites.
“He didn’t veto the bill and say that’s that,” Turner said. “The governor spoke, we listened, regarding placing solar in appropriate places and being aggressive in renewable energy and at the same time protecting the land and water resources of the county.”
Cuomo’s Manhattan office did not return a request for comment at press time.
Cuomo made a highly visible 2014 campaign push on Long Island at the Bourne Mansion in Oakdale, pledging to reduce nitrogen pollution and improve water quality in local areas that was to include funds for a new sewer collection system and wastewater treatment plant to connect parcels in the beleaguered Forge River watershed.
After vetoing Englebright’s and LaValle’s bills, which had been unanimously approved by the Legislature, Cuomo stated: “I remain optimistic that a solution can be reached in the coming months that will satisfy all involved. Accordingly, I am directing my administration to work with the bill sponsors and other interested stakeholders to formulate a plan to add a commensurate amount of land to the Central Pine Barrens Area and the Core Preservation Area and to advance that plan in the 2018 budget.”
Cuomo’s state budget bill, meanwhile, championed pine barrens preservation of all 800 acres of the Shoreham property, which protects the acreage surrounding the closed nuclear plant.
The 100-acre Middle Island Solar Farm in Mastic, whose phasing plan was approved by Brookhaven’s planning board on Jan. 8 and sits between two preserved parcels, was not included.
MISF managing partner Gerald Rosengarten was asked if he would consider another site from these lists or placing part of his project on one of these alternate sites, if appropriate. So far, Brookhaven Town has reached out and offered alternatives, but he has nixed them.
Rosengarten responded with this statement: “We believe that developing solar and saving trees is absolutely possible in the context of the Middle Island Solar Farm and we have urged the town to work with us to accomplish that goal. We are now and have always been very open to a discussion with the town on the remaining phases of this project. We had been negotiating with the Town of Brookhaven on locating 20 acres of solar at the town landfill, but the property does not seem to be available. We remain open to good faith negotiations with the town, which will enable a solar farm on our property AND increased land preservation by relocating a part of the solar acreage to another site.”
Van Brunt, Juzwiak and Russo attorney Eric Russo, who is representing Rosengarten, said that the phasing plans were proceeding.
“The town board accepted the decommissioning bond last Thursday and all documents have been filed with the planning division for review and conditional site plan approval for construction,” he said.
By Linda Leuzzi, Long Island Advance
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