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Brookhaven

A scene from Steiner's Woods. Photo from Beth Dimino

By David Luces 

A nearly 30-year fight to protect 10 acres of land known in the Sound Beach community as Steiner’s Woods has finally come to an end. 

On Dec. 20, Town of Brookhaven purchased the land for $5 million, effectively preserving the site as open space. 

“Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.”

— Beth Dimino

The stretch of land, situated near Lower Rocky Point Road in Sound Beach, had been owned by Robert Toussie for over 25 years. The Brooklyn-based developer proposed to build up the site as Villages on the Sound, a 15-home development clustered on the northern portion of the property near the bluff, with a single access road extending northward from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

For years, the proposed plans have been marred by environmental and logistical issues raised by town officials and community members. 

Local residents have voiced their concerns the development would have led to more vehicular traffic on existing narrow roads that were already overburdened in the neighborhood. The property also serves as protection for Scott’s Beach, and residents have argued development could have led to negative environmental impacts due to stormwater runoff into the Long Island Sound. 

The woods serve as a natural drainage site and water recharge basin for the surrounding communities, according to an environmental analysis conducted by the town in 1989. If development went through, the town would have spent close to $2 million to mitigate stormwater runoff from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

Sound Beach resident and retired science teacher Beth Dimino, who lives adjacent to the property, is glad the town was able to purchase the site. 

“The woods provide natural drainage in the community,” the Sound Beach resident said. “Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.” 

The 1989 environmental report also stated the trees support the environment and also protect the community from winds from hurricanes and rainstorms. 

Dimino said she has to give credit to Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). 

“She understood the problem and understood the concern of the community,” Dimino said. “I told her it would cost millions to mitigate the water drainage issue. We are indebted to her — she has helped save the environment in that area and it’s going to help preserve the wildlife.”

“The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

— Bea Ruberto

Bonner said this has been a long process, one that started before she took office. 

“This is a win for the community and the Town of Brookhaven,” Bonner said. “It’s a beautiful parcel of land and it’s great that it won’t be developed.”

Bonner said her office has received many positive phone calls from residents who are happy with the recent news. 

Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto said the community is elated about the news. 

“I’ve been involved for the past ten years,” she said. “The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

Ruberto said if development went through they would have had to instead fill the ravine, located in the vicinity of Steiner’s Woods, which serves as a drainage point. Filling that would have led to issues of water runoff that normally flows into the area.  

“They would’ve had to mitigate the stormwater and it would’ve cost millions of dollars,” she said.  “If it could be done.”

Bonner points to the advocacy done by local residents and the town as the reason the property was able to be preserved.

“This has been a total group effort,” the councilwoman said. “It’s nice to finally put this to bed.”

The LIPA plant as seen from Harborfront Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

A New York State Supreme Court judge approved the Town of Brookhaven’s settlement with the Long Island Power Authority over the Port Jefferson Power Station’s tax assessment. 

In the agreement signed Dec. 14, the $32.6 million tax assessment on the power plant will be reduced by around 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years to $16.8 million, starting with the 2017-18 tax year.

It’s a not-so-final finale to what has become years upon years of grinding legal battles and anxiety over what will happen to local taxes should LIPA, which claimed its power plant has been overassessed by hundreds of millions of dollars for nearly a decade. LIPA’s lawsuit wanted its assessments reduced by
approximately 90 percent.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement the settlement will benefit Brookhaven in the form of lower electric bills.

“This deal puts an end to the uncertainty of this plant over the course of nine years and gives finality to this issue,” Romaine said. “I have always believed that all property assessments should be fairly based on property value.”

Brookhaven officials said that without a settlement, taxpayers faced the potential of being liable for $225 million to LIPA, and the power authority has said LIPA customers will save a total of $662 million by 2027.

“It was a reasonable settlement, one we can justify to our 1.1 million customers,” LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone said.

While this settlement promises savings for Brookhaven residents, the agreement has made Port Jefferson residents, especially those living close to the two red-and-white smokestacks, question what their taxes will look like in the near future. In October the Port Jefferson School District released a series of slides showing they annually received a $17 million payment through LIPA’s tax payments, but this would be reduced to $13.8 million by 2027. While Superintendent Paul Casciano said he and his staff are still reviewing the impact of the settlement, he sees the outcome could be even worse. He expects school programs will have to be cut in the next few years, with tax increases for residents.

“It’s going to affect the tax base,” the superintendent said. “Even if our budget was voted down, there’s a high likelihood that residents will see a
double-digit increase in their tax rate.”

The settlement will also require the district to amend their plans for the 2019-20 budget next year.

Falcone said the school district already enjoys lower annual school taxes at $6,273 compared to neighboring districts calculated at little more than $10,000 based on 2015 tax data.

“It means they will go from a ‘great deal’ to a ‘good deal,’” Falcone said. “They’re still going to have the lowest taxes of their neighborhood.”

The CEO added that it was unfair for the rest of LIPA customers to have to subsidize the Port Jeff school district through their higher bills.

“I think at some point you have to say what’s fair for those 1.1 million other customers because they pay their school taxes, too,” he said.

The Port Jeff superintendent said the village has been conciliatory about letting a power plant operate within its boundaries, whereas other places in Brookhaven would have barred the plant from existing in the first place.

“Are you, as a Brookhaven resident, really going to make out on your LIPA bills? I doubt it,” Casciano said. 

In April Port Jefferson Village board passed its 2018-19 budget of $10,642,146, about $233,000 up from last year’s budget. The new budget included $107,000 in reserve funds in anticipation of the glide path agreement with LIPA resulting in reduced payments.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she agrees with the settlement, and it could lead to more use of the plant. In 2017 the facility was only powered on for 41 days, or 11 percent of the year, according to LIPA officials.

Falcone said the Port Jeff power plant operates based on the electricity needs of residents.

“This is an important step we made today to stabilize our tax base moving forward and the viability of any opportunity to repower our power plant,” Garant said in a press release.

The settlement also comes after big wins for LIPA in the courts against the towns of Huntington and Brookhaven, and Port Jeff Village, allowing LIPA to move ahead with its effort to challenge its assessments. Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has publicly asked New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to enact legislation that would protect residents taxes should LIPA get its way in court.

“Are you, as a Brookhaven resident, really going to make out on your LIPA bills? I doubt it.”
— Paul Casino

PSEG Long Island customers pay power plant taxes through monthly surcharges on their electric bills, but LIPA owns the electric grid and has agreements with National Grid for the power plants in both Port Jefferson and Northport. In 2009 LIPA challenged both the towns of Brookhaven and Huntington saying it had been overassessed for years, especially since the Port Jeff plant runs for so little time.

The Port Jefferson School District along with the Northport-East Northport school district and Huntington Town filed a lawsuit saying LIPA had made past promises not to challenge the taxes levied on their power plants, but they were dealt a blow in September when a state Supreme Court judge ruled LIPA “made no promises” about challenging the taxes levied. 

Garant and other Port Jeff Village officials have expressed past desires to renovate the power plant once the tax assessment issue was settled.
In September the village board advocated for the refurbishment and repowering of its base-load plant to update its decades-old technology and to justify the property’s tax assessment.

This is despite Cuomo setting a goal for 50 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources
by 2030.

Falcone said they do not currently have any plans to run the plant more or do any renovations to plant that has been there since the 1940s. 

Through being used so little and with the push for more green energy, residents have questioned how long LIPA will keep the plant running. The LIPA CEO said the plant will continue to operate for the next seven years, but in the future could be upgraded or transformed into some other space used by the power authority, such as a storage facility or a new, modernized facility.

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and Trustee Robert Sweeney listen to parents’ concerns at a board meeting. File photo by Erika Karp

Mount Sinai School District’s $25 million bond failed to pass Dec. 11 with a vote of 664-428.

Members of the school board walked dejectedly through the halls of the elementary school Monday night after learning of the results.

“There was so much misinformation on Facebook,” board Trustee Edward Law said immediately after the votes were tallied. “I feel like we had an open and transparent process.”

Some residents in community Facebook groups said they were concerned about rising taxes in the Mount Sinai area. Others criticized the district’s use of its finances in the past, specifically the June New York State comptroller’s audit which said the district had amassed millions of dollars in its unrestricted fund balance, higher than the legal maximum of 4 percent of the district’s overall budget. 

“I feel like we had an open and transparent process.”

— Trustee Ed Law

District officials said they have made efforts to create a rainy-day fund that could support them in the case of an emergency, but they have said they would be establishing a capital reserve of $750,000 to reduce that fund balance, which could go toward additional capital projects in the future. 

In May, residents voted 787-176 to use $5 million of the district’s capital reserve funds for a project that renovated the high school’s turf football field and track, replaced a portion of the high school’s ailing roof and created new fencing around the perimeter of the school campus.

This new bond would have borrowed $2.1 million to finish repairs for the high school’s roof, which teachers and district officials said was causing water damage in rooms throughout the building. 

“The board has to decide their next step,” said Superintendent Gordon Brosdal.

Trustees said they were unsure if they could propose another, smaller bond.

“This was a bare bones bond,” Law said. “Though this wasn’t a lesser bond, I don’t think we could go any tighter.”

Trustee Peter Van Middelem said while many of the board member’s children are in school, the actual application of the bond would have gone to supporting both the longevity of the school buildings and the children just entering elementary school.

“The irony is this wasn’t about our own kids but the kids in kindergarten,” Middelem said.

Mount Sinai’s next board meeting is Dec. 19 at 8 p.m. in the Middle School Auditorium.

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When done drinking a bottled water or soda, we usually make a conscious effort to get it into a recycling bin. No further thought given, our good deed is done. We’ve recycled the plastic bottle rather than throwing it out to sit in a landfill.

The photos released that clearly show the Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling facility was nearly buried in mountains of collected recyclables from the residents of Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington townships this August are shocking. It should serve as an alarming wake-up call.

This is a direct result of China implementing its National Sword policy to ban the import of recycled plastics. The visual impact of recyclables piling up like trash, and learning some items are now being sent to the landfill, have led us to the conclusion this is an issue that requires careful thought and attention.

We, and we’re sure many of our readers, have lived with the presumption our recycled plastic bottles, aluminum cans and used paper were sorted, cleaned and reformed into reusable materials locally. However, we were blissfully unaware that China imported nearly half of the world’s recyclables to turn into raw goods through its manufacturing economy.

Now, with changing international trade policy, shipping our recyclables — or honestly, still household garbage — halfway around the world is no longer an option. Suffolk County’s townships are struggling to figure out a new way to handle the piles of debris. Finding a new market for these recycled raw materials will pose an obvious challenge. Striking a balance of recycling items beneficial from a fiscal and economic viewpoint while weighing environmental impact is a challenge on the horizon as well.

One of Brookhaven’s recycling staff suggested Suffolk residents need to be more discerning. Get back to the basics of checking plastic bottles for a number inside a triangular arrow on the bottom and rinse all containers out first. It will help improve the value of the recycled material we are trying to sell in a drastically reduced global market.

It’s a good first step. But we need take it one step further.

The most direct way we, as individuals, can help provide a solution to the problem is to cut back on our dependency on one-time use items. It’s been said for years, but we truly need to start regularly grabbing a refillable water bottle rather than a disposable. Think about taking up the “hipster” trend of using Mason jars to store food. Go back to old-fashioned, but traditional Pyrex to store leftovers instead of limited-use thin plastic containers.

These small changes may seem hard at first, but we have proof it’s possible. Sure, every Suffolk resident balked at the idea of paying 5 cents for a plastic bag at retail stores when the policy was implemented in January. In less than a year, it’s seemed to have had a dramatic effect in changing behaviors. Many shoppers now simply carry their own reusable canvas and plastic bags.

Permanent change is necessary if we don’t want to be buried up to our necks in trash on Long Island. Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) has predicted a “garbage crisis” within the next seven to eight years as Brookhaven looks to close its landfill. Let’s be part of the solution, and not the problem. Let’s focus on using reusable products, not recyclable or disposable.

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We get it — if you read our newspapers or just about any other media that cover Long Island, you’ve heard enough over the past decade about the legal battles going on between several school districts and townships versus Long Island Power Authority.

If you feel like you’re on LIPA overload, we have some significant news — a major development occurred in the cases last week. A New York State Supreme Court judge determined that the 1997 Power Supply Agreement between National Grid, which owns the power plants, and LIPA, which transmits that electricity to customers, did not contain any language, or “promise,” that prevented the utility companies from seeking to have taxes they pay on the power stations reduced.

The good news is this decision may signal there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to this endlessly drawn-out court battle. We fear the positives may end there.

LIPA has said that its intention in filing these lawsuits is to be able to reduce energy bills for its customers, as it hopes to pay out less in property taxes. On its face, the company’s goal appears to a good thing for residents of Huntington and Brookhaven townships, who will likely see a reduction in their monthly electrical bills should LIPA be victorious, except for the residents in Northport and Port Jefferson, who will see a property tax increase. These odds seem an increasingly likely fact in recent weeks as courts have ruled twice  in LIPA’s favor.

However, these legal battles have been waged for nearly a decade, racking up what we can only imagine are substantial legal bills from lawyers hired to represent the municipalities and the school districts involved. Then adding in fees paid for a third-party mediator when sit-downs begin in September, we find ourselves asking, “At what cost?”

We hope to find out just how much taxpayers’ money has been spent on legal fees for the duration of the saga, so keep an eye out for that. And for what? The “Hail Mary” play that a court would determine the 1997 PSA had implied a legally binding promise that LIPA wouldn’t seek a reduction in its property taxes.

It was such a risky play for Brookhaven Town and Port Jefferson Village that those two municipalities have agreed to settle the cases out of court to avoid exposure to the risk of years of back pay should the issue actually end up in a trial loss for the two entities. Still, why did it take Brookhaven and Port Jeff until 2018 to finally reach a settlement while legal fees kept accruing?

All of this can also be looked at against the backdrop that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set a goal for 50 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. Who’s going to pay for the solar and wind producing plants necessary, for example, to get on track in reaching that goal? We don’t think we’re going out on a limb in speculating that at least some of that cost will fall on LIPA’s customers.

While we’d like to think we’re inching closer to a day when we no longer have to report on legal issues pertaining to LIPA, a positive resolution for all stakeholders is going to take significantly more work. In reality, it should have been resolved long ago.

Cedar Beach waters in Mount Sinai run into the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Suffolk County has signed off on joining New York State in suing the Environmental Protection Agency for dumping dredged materials in Long Island Sound.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) announced last summer the state would be taking legal action against the EPA after in 2016 the agency moved to increase the number of open water dumping sites in the Sound from two to three, despite a call from state government leaders of both New York and Connecticut in 2005 to reduce and eventually eliminate the practice of dumping in the Sound.

The Eastern Long Island Sound Disposal Site, now a permanent open water site for the disposal of dredged materials, is midway between Connecticut and New York, and less than 1.5 nautical miles from Fishers Island, which is part of Southold Town and Suffolk County, despite technically being in Connecticut’s waters. The disposal site is in an area that had never before been used for open water disposal.

Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who represents Southold, Riverhead and communities in eastern Brookhaven, initiated the legislation directing Suffolk County to join the action against the EPA.

“This is another step in a decades-long fight to try and get the EPA to play by the rules,” Krupski said. “The Long Island Sound is threatened by pollution, warming waters and acidification, and the last thing that should be done is to dump potentially toxic substances into the estuary.”

Legislators Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) joined Krupski in sponsoring the legislation authorizing the county to join the lawsuit.

“For more than the 30 years, leaders from both shores of the Long Island Sound have invested heavily on a cooperative effort to restore its life and majesty,” said Hahn, the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee. “As such, the decision by our neighbor to the north to dump potentially toxic pesticides, heavy metals and industrial by-products into the Sound is nearly as dumbfounding as the Environmental Protection Agency’s willingness to allow it.”

Cuomo made the case against expanded dumping when the lawsuit was announced.

“We will continue to do everything in our power to protect New York’s environment, and with the EPA’s unfathomable and destructive decision to turn the eastern Long Island Sound into a dumping ground — now is the time for action,” Cuomo said in 2016. “We will establish that this designation not only poses a major threat to a significant commercial and recreational resource, but that it also undermines New York’s long-standing efforts to end dumping in our treasured waters.”

Last year, Brookhaven and Southold towns joined the lawsuit, which contends the EPA failed to adequately investigate alternatives to open water disposal and overestimated the need for the new site. It also alleges the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan, which was approved by the EPA, violates the Ocean Dumping Act and Coastal Zone Management Act, and cited a “failure to address environmental impacts on the Long Island Sound.” The body of water was designated an Estuary of National Significance by the EPA in 1988 and is recognized as an important economic engine for Suffolk County and all of Long Island, supporting both recreational and commercial businesses and contributing billions of dollars to the regional economy.

“We’re here to send a very strong message — that we are opposed to dumping in the Sound,” Romaine said during a press conference Aug. 28 at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. “The State of New York and this governor, Andrew Cuomo, has done a great service to this state and to the residents of Long Island by working to enjoin, in the court, the EPA from allowing continued dumping in the Sound.”

Holtsville Hal did not see his shadow this year, forecasts winter to come to an end soon

Brookhaven's famous groundhog, Holtsville Hal, predicted an early spring on Groundhogs Day. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

The snowflakes stopped falling moments before Brookhaven’s famous groundhog offered this year’s prediction — it was a good omen of what is to come.

More than 100 residents cheered as the famed Brookhaven Town groundhog Holtsville Hal did not see his shadow, an indicator that spring would come early this year.

“I’m happy,” said Dan Losquadro (R), Brookhaven superintendent of highways. “We love winter
here on Long Island. We love the kids to be able to play in the snow, but we don’t want winter
to last any longer than it has to.”

Hal made his 22nd annual Groundhog Day prediction at Holtsville Wildlife and Ecology Center Animal Preserve at 7:25 a.m., as per tradition, according to the master of ceremonies Wayne Carrington.

Tradition says that if Hal — or, as he’s known in the Town of Brookhaven as a throwback to
the classic Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day,” the Great Prognosticator of Prognosticators
— sees his shadow when he wakes from hibernation, the community is in for six more weeks of winter.

“So he exited the ground, not a creature was stirring and not a shadow was found,” read
Losquadro from a large scroll to the cheers of onlookers. “I cannot tell a lie, my prediction so
accurate does not come from the sky. I saw what I saw in a blink of an eye.”

Those who attended were treated to free hot cocoa to warm up and celebrate the good
news. Both Losquadro and Carrington asked residents to make donations to the ecology
center to help support care for its animals and programs.

Mike Voigt joins Brookhaven’s Brew to Moo program to continue recyclying brewing waste for good causes

Rocky Point Artisan Brewers owners Mike Voigt and Donavan Hall partnered with Town of Brookhaven to send spent grains to be recycled at local farms. Photo from Mike Voigt

Rescue animals at Double D Bar Ranch can thank Rocky Point Artisan Brewers for their full bellies.

The brewery has entered into a partnership with Town of Brookhaven, called Brew to Moo, in which spent grains are sent to feed abused or unwanted farm animals at the Manorville ranch.

“I think the program is wonderful,” said 51-year-old Mike Voigt, the owner of Rocky Point Artisan Brewers, which he founded in 2008 with Donavan Hall. “I’d like to get involved and actually go see the animals. It’s terrible to throw out the grains, so to see it get put to good use is fulfilling.”

Spent grains from Rocky Point Artisan Brewers waiting for a Town of Brookhaven pickup. Photo by Mike Voigt

A byproduct of brewing is literally tons of spent grains left behind from hops, barley, oats or whatever is used to make the beer, which in many cases gets tossed in the trash. While the grains have reduced caloric content, they can provide protein and fiber that can supplement corn for livestock feed.

Voigt, who said he’s typically handed over his grains to friends whenever needed, heard about the program through Port Jeff Brewing Company, and reached out to the town to get involved. Rocky Point Artisan Brewers is now the third local brewery or distillery to link with the town in its efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, along with the Port Jeff brewery and BrickHouse Brewery in Patchogue, which was the first to get involved. Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said he expects Patchogue’s Blue Point Brewing Company to get involved as the fourth partner once the organization has moved into its new
headquarters on Main Street at what was formerly Briarcliffe College.

“Breweries spend a lot of money getting rid of the leftover grains, because it is now garbage, but we’re in the interest of looking for ways that we can reduce our waste, recycle it, and reuse that which we recycle,” Romaine said. “We’re picking up the spent grains that breweries would typically have to pay a carter to take away, and then we’re taking that spent grain to farms to feed the animals. It’s a way to continue to promote reusing and recycling. We shouldn’t be a throw away society.”

Since the program launched in August 2017, approximately 50 tons of spent grains have been fed to the rescue animals at Double D Bar Ranch on Wading River Road.

“Breweries spend a lot of money getting rid of the leftover grains, because it is now garbage, but we’re in the interest of looking for ways that we can reduce our waste, recycle it, and reuse that which we recycle.”

— Ed Romaine

Rich Devoe, the operator of the ranch, which is a nonprofit organization, said the roughly 400 animals living at the ranch never go hungry, but having a steady source of food from the two breweries will allow him to substantially shrink the food bill. Typically, he spends $175,000 a year on feed. Now, Devoe will be able to save $100,000 of that, and spend its donations and money from his own pocket elsewhere, like on barn repairs and fencing. He called the arrangement “great” and “very important.”

“We’ve even had breweries from outside of the town calling us asking to get involved that we’ve had to turn away,” Romaine said. “Seeing what owners like Mike Voigt are doing is tremendous. This is a model that responsible business will want to enter into with the town.”

Voigt has made good use of the brewery’s spent grains since before Brew to Moo came about. The owner provided more than 1.8 tons to Hamlet Organic Garden in Brookhaven to be composted.

The 21-year Rocky Point resident has been a seller at the Rocky Point Farmer’s Market since its inception in 2012, which is where he met Sean Pilger, a manager at the garden since 2006. Voigt sells most of his beer at the farmer’s market because he said he wants to maintain a local feel.

“The beer doesn’t leave Long Island,” he said. “I like to sell it locally.”

Romaine said he sees the new partnership as enhancing nature rather than disrupting it. Voigt said he is hoping other businesses can continue to get behind that mantra.

“Who wants to throw it out?” he said of the spent grains. “I’m rather small, but seeing this go anywhere instead of in the garbage is a good thing. It takes no more effort to put it in a can and have the town pick it up than it takes to throw it out. I wish the program was larger — it would make sense — and I hope more breweries on the Island get involved.”

The Shoreham power plant on North Country Road provides peak power to the community and payments in lieu of taxes to the Shoreham-Wading River school district. Photo from Jason White

A Brookhaven organization recently saved energy in the most literal sense, and a reliable revenue stream too.

The Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency (IDA) announced Nov. 27 it prevented the shutdown of an electric-generating plant in Shoreham, which provides peak power to the community and is expected to contribute $852,000 in property taxes or payments in lieu of taxes, commonly known as PILOTs, to the Shoreham-Wading River school district this year.

Brookhaven’s business arm has entered into a new, 20-year PILOT agreement with owners of the 90 megawatt, jet-fueled facility located on 10 acres of land on North Country Road, leased by the Long Island Power Authority. The facility’s previous PILOT and power purchase agreement between LIPA and Brookhaven expired this past August after 15 years.

In the proposal for the PILOT, which became the adopted policy when it was approved by the IDA in January 2017, projected gradual benefits range from $1.2 million in its first year to $1.7 million in its 20th.

The partnership began in September 2016 when members of J-Power USA — owners of the facility since 2010 — realized the expired pact would bring about a 33 percent reduction in revenue and a 50 percent reduction in economic benefits. The members were also told by LIPA representatives that the nonprofit would not be involved in negotiating a new PILOT.

“We wanted to see if Brookhaven would be able to offer a new PILOT that would  allow us to remain financially viable and our agreement has removed that big uncertainty,” said Jason White, director of asset management at the J-Power Shoreham branch. “Our facility uses General Electric combustion
turbines and while it doesn’t operate a lot, it’s important to the electric grid for stability purposes. It’s maintained so that it can respond very quickly if it’s called upon.”

White said although there had to be consideration to disassemble the power plant and move off Long Island in the case an agreement couldn’t be reached, it wouldn’t be a simple process, and the facility’s six
employees live close by.

“Our preference all along was to continue to operate the plant site and to continue to be a contributor to the local community,” White said.

By securing the power plant’s place in Shoreham, revenue is boosted for the school district, which relies heavily on it as a source of both energy and property tax revenue.

“I am pleased that we have been able to close on this new agreement with J-Power,” said Frederick Braun, chairman of the IDA. “Had we been unable to keep this plant from moving off Long Island with this new agreement, the Shoreham School District and other taxing jurisdictions would receive no payments at all, resulting in an even larger loss to those taxing jurisdictions.

The school district, which included the finalization of $852,000 in PILOT revenue in its Revised and Lowered Expenditure Budget & Tax Levy in October, approved the agreement in a resolution during a board meeting last Jan. 10.

“Be it resolved that the Board of Education of the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District supports the proposed financial assistance contemplated by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency in connection with the J-Power Peaker Plant,” the letter read.

Lisa Mulligan, the IDA’s chief executive officer, said she had been in contact with the district’s board of education since meetings began with J-Power “as they were the most impacted by this.”

“We didn’t want to pursue something if they were not interested in it,” Mulligan said. “But the board wrote to us and told us they were … I think it’s important to bring money into the school district and also provide this power to residents when it’s needed.”

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim has approached Gryodyne LLC about a shared sewer plant on Flowerfield property in St. James. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Suffolk lawmakers have taken the first step toward preservation of nearly 41 acres in St. James as open space.

The county legislature voted at its Nov. 21 meeting to approve a bill introduced by Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) for an appraisal of part of the Gyrodyne LLC property in St. James, also known as Flowerfield, that runs along Route 25A. The property contains freshwater wetlands and adjacent wetlands that feed into the Long Island Sound, Mill Pond in Stony Brook and Stony Brook Harbor.

“I am greatly appreciative of my legislative colleagues’ support for our effort to preserve 41 undeveloped acres of the former Gyrodyne property,” Hahn said. “With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County. I am hopeful that the owner will understand the property’s overall environmental significance and its potential to negatively impact surrounding ground and surface waters, traffic safety and overall quality of life should it be developed.”

The bill, which now goes to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for his approval, allows for the county’s planning division to assess the owner’s interest in selling the tract to the county for open space purposes. An interest by Gyrodyne would mean the county could follow its initial outreach by obtaining a real estate appraisal and additional legal and environmental reviews that are required for a potential sale from the company to the county. According to county law, if sale of the land parcel can be negotiated, funding will come from the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program.

“With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County.”

— Kara Hahn

While preservation of the land is being considered, a conceptual development plan from Gyrodyne was approved by the Suffolk County Planning Committee Aug. 2 and was met with resistance from Stony Brook and St. James residents.

Over the summer, the property’s owner submitted an application to the Town of Smithtown to construct a 150-room hotel with restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings totaling 128,400 feet and two long-term care buildings that would have a total 220 assisted living units on the property. Many in the area raised concerns about the amount of traffic that would empty out onto Route 25A and Stony Brook Road if an exit to the Brookhaven street was made accessible on the east side.

Trotta said he’s not completely against development as he realizes the community needs businesses such as the proposed assisted living facility. However, Trotta said he understands the community’s concerns about traffic and would like to see a good amount of the property preserved. 

“It’s always about balance,” he said.

Trotta said he believes Gyrodyne will be willing to work with the community.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have it appraised and get into discussions with what the community wants, what can we put up with traffic-wise and meet somewhere in the middle,” Trotta said.

At a Nov. 15 Smithtown Planning Board meeting, Gyrodyne representatives said their own traffic studies proved residents had sound reason to be concerned about increased traffic and pointed to six local intersections that needed improvement. The results were submitted to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Transportation in October 2017 but have yet to be reviewed. Conrad Chayes Sr., chairman of the Smithtown Planning Board, concluded the board would hold off on a decision until an environmental impact study is completed by the town, which he said may take up to a year.

Hahn said the commercial development of the land would “fundamentally change the character of the Stony Brook and St. James communities.”

“Each of us, regardless of which side of the Brookhaven-Smithtown border you reside on, is threatened by this project moving forward,” Hahn said. “For that reason, Legislator Robert Trotta and I put forward legislation to preserve these environmentally and historically important parcels from being destroyed.”