More than a month ago, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and three others trekked across a parcel of land in Shoreham where National Grid plans to demolish 350 acres of a surrounding forest to build a solar farm.
Taking in the rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife around him, Englebright thought up a different, less destructive use for the land.
“I’d prefer to see this as a state park,” he said.
On March 22, a proposal to turn Shoreham-Wading River Forest into a state park was officially written by Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who had accompanied Englebright that day.
Signed by 20 representatives from various civic associations and environmental groups across Suffolk County, the proposal aims to protect and preserve the more than 800 acres of land, owned by National Grid, that surrounds the permanently closed Shoreham nuclear power plant.
“The approximately 820 acres of undeveloped vegetable land at Shoreham constitutes one of the top four unprotected natural areas remaining on all of Long Island,” Amper wrote in the proposal. “Given its size, location on the shoreline of Long Island Sound, and ecological/environmental attributes, the Shoreham property strongly merits acquisitions as New York’s next ‘great state park.’”
Recreational proposals included are a “shore-to-core-to-shore” hiking trail tying the Long Island Sound coastline with the Pine Barrens forests; a number of hiking trails lacing throughout the woodlands; and the mile-long beachfront for surf casting fisherman, beachcombers and swimming.
The letter was sent to Rose Harvey, commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, in Albany, where it currently awaits approval. As of press time, there was still no response.
If approved, the proposed state park would be included in legislation put forth by Englebright.
“It is an incredibly valuable ecological property — it has an importance for all of Brookhaven Town and this entire region,” Englebright said, noting the parcel’s rare plant species, large variety of woodland birds and significant watershed and clean water supply potential. “The parcel is a museum piece of our island’s natural history heritage, and its ecological and natural system benefits are immense.”
Since a solar farm on the site was proposed by National Grid last June, it’s attracted much community opposition.
According to the project’s fact sheet, the solar farm would generate up to 72 megawatts of solar energy, provide power for more than 13,000 homes and raise millions of dollars in tax benefits.
“We think it’s a false choice,” Amper said. “It’s like saying, we have to destroy the environment to preserve it, which is just stupid.”
Amper recognized solar as an important renewable energy in combatting global warming, but said panels should be installed on roofs and parking lots rather than ecosystems.
“The land is so valuable, environmentally, that it should be preserved,” he added. “It’s just an extraordinary treasure that has largely gone unappreciated because of this abandoned nuclear plant, a white elephant on the landscape.”
Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) has long been against the deforestation of the Shoreham site, and said turning it into a state park would be a win-win.
“There’s a dearth of recreational resources on Long Island, and so to have the public be able to access this property, take in its beauty, experience it, enjoy it, swim in the Long Island sound, boat, hike …,” she said. “We don’t want this property to be developed.”
Andrea Spilka, president of Southampton Town Civic Coalition, who was among the 20 names on Amper’s proposal, echoed Bonner’s sentiment.
“[The site] is probably one of the last waterfront forests we have on Long Island,” Spilka said. “I’m a firm believer in not developing and not cutting down trees to set up solar, so to me, a park where people can go and enjoy the natural beauty that we have is a worthwhile cause. And, certainly, the alternatives are not good.”
Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, said he didn’t think twice before signing the proposal.
“It just seemed like such a travesty and tragedy to consider that the only way we could have a renewable future was to eliminate this really unique, environmental parcel,” Bail said.
The Long Island Pine Barrens Society is holding a bus tour of the property Tuesday, April 18th, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-369-3300.