DEC acquires 6.8 acres of Conscience Bay Watershed property

DEC acquires 6.8 acres of Conscience Bay Watershed property

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Outlined in yellow above is land recently acquired by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Photo from DEC

A local family is doing their part to preserve open spaces.

At a press conference held Nov. 20, it was announced 6.8 acres of private land belonging to Harvey Besunder in the Conscience Bay Watershed area was sold to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition provides a buffer area to filter out contaminants, protects wildlife habitat and increases the region’s resilience to coastal storms. This will provide greater protection to the bay and Long Island Sound, according to DEC Region 1 Director Carrie Meek Gallagher.

The boulder plaque honoring the Besunder family who sold the property to New York State Department of Conservation. Photo from DEC

“These types of acquisitions are a priority for the agency right now where we already have an existing landholding, and we’re adding on to existing holdings that protect watersheds, protect habitat and buffer coastal resiliency,” Gallagher said before the Nov. 20 press conference, where a boulder plaque honoring the family was unveiled.

The property is an addition to the existing 52-acre Conscience Bay-Little Bay State Tidal Wetland, which was purchased from multiple property owners by the DEC in the late 1970s. It doubles the size of the marsh and upland portion of the state property.

Besunder and his wife, Arline, purchased the property located at the intersection of Dyke and North roads in Setauket in 1991 from a family member, according to the husband. He said originally the hope was to build a new house for the family. However, after purchasing, Arline was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while going to law school, and with so much going on, plans for building never came to fruition. From the beginning, the Besunders’ children, Alison and Eric, recognized the environmental value of the land.

“When I took the kids to see it — they were obviously much younger — and both of them said the same thing, ‘You shouldn’t build on this. It’s too beautiful. Just let it be the way it was,’” Harvey Besunder said. “That’s the way it turned out, and we’re all thrilled that it’s going to be preserved.”

Arline Besunder died eight years ago, and her husband and children decided to sell the property to the state and preserve the land to honor her. Harvey Besunder said the family was thrilled the state was interested, and the process began two years ago when he met with a DEC representative and told her he would rather sell it to the state than to a developer.

Alison Besunder, who now lives in Brooklyn Heights, said she has memories of walking around the property and remembered it being a beautiful and relaxing place to be, epitomizing the area for her.

“It’s very meaningful for me personally that my family could give back to have that land preserved, given it’s so rich in history and environmental-wise as it’s part of the wetlands — a big part of the property is wetlands,” she said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) praised all involved.

“The goal of protecting the chemistry and ecological integrity of the Setauket Harbor is greatly advanced by this land purchase at the core of this complex estuary,” Englebright said. “Governor Cuomo [D} deserves our appreciation for enabling the DEC to make such wise use of Environmental Protection Fund resources that were placed into the state budget. Additional congratulations and thanks go to the Besunder family and the Stewardship Initiative of the Long Island Sound Study.”

The acquisition of the Besunder property extends the waterfront along Conscience Bay where there is a walking path, freshwater wetlands, red cedar forest, osprey nest and nearly pristine mudflats and shellfish beds, according to Gallagher.