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Northport power plant. File photo

At the Long Island Power Authority’s July 24 board meeting, Larry Kelly, a trial attorney, described at a public comment session how LIPA in 2006 and 2007 instituted what he called “the largest tax fraud” he’s seen in his 35 years as a lawyer, according to Huntington Town councilman, Eugene Cook (R).

Cook has independently asked New York State’s Public Service Commission Chairman John Rhodes in a letter dated Aug. 6 to review and “forcibly address” the issues. 

According to Cook, Kelly alleged that LIPA used the tax system to extend tax exemptions and reductions to Caithness power plant, which was awarded a contract to build a new 350-megawatt power plant in Yaphank, and then used those low taxes to argue in court that National Grid’s four aging power plants on Long Island were overassessed.

“I also request the PSC review LIPA’s ‘unclean hands’ in the Northport filings, and the impact that should have on LIPA’s continued operations,” Cook’s four-page letter concluded. The letter was sent on a town letterhead, but was not signed by other town board members, the supervisor or the town attorney.  

Councilman Eugene Cook

The term “unclean hands” is a legal defense which essentially references a legal doctrine that states a plaintiff is unable to pursue tax equity through the courts if the plaintiff has acted unethically in relation to the subject of its complaint. 

The allegations are surfacing just weeks after closing arguments were presented July 30 in LIPA’s tax certiorari case with the Town of Huntington for the year 2014. It is unclear how the allegation could potentially impact the outcome of the case as post-trial deliberations continue. The unclean hands defense was not part of the town’s defense, according to the Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta, who offered no public comment on the allegations.  

Kelly, a Bayport resident who ran for a New York State Supreme Court judgeship in the 2018 election, is unaffiliated with Huntington’s case, but said his obligation as a trial lawyer is to act as a steward of the law. 

LIPA did not respond to email requests for comment on the public allegations. 

A LIPA press release dated Jan. 25, 2006, stated that the Caithness plant in Yaphank would include a $139 million payment in lieu of taxes agreement with $100 million over 20 years going to Bellport’s South Country school district. 

LIPA’s 2019 Property Tax Reduction pamphlet, which is publicly available and published on its website, highlights the value of Caithness plant in contrast to the Port Jefferson, Northport and three other plants. On page 14 of the report, LIPA stated that in 2016 Caithness paid $9.7 million annually in taxes, while the Northport plant paid “eight times” as much in taxes, or $81 million, and Port Jefferson paid “three times” as much in taxes, or $33 million.  

The report also stated on page 14 that LIPA reimburses National Grid under its contract more than it earns in power revenue, a sum that factors in property taxes. 

“Those losses, the amount by which costs exceed the value of power, are paid by all 1.1 million electric customers,” the report said. It indicated that LIPA’s goal for filing tax challenges in 2010 against Nassau County, the Town of Huntington, the Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Port Jefferson “in an attempt to obtain a fair tax assessment on the four legacy plants.” 

In a telephone interview, Kelly referred to a Feb. 15, 2012 meeting with the Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which recorded a Caithness representative explaining that “LIPA pays the PILOT to Caithness who then makes the PILOT payment to the IDA, and then they get a check back from New York State which is then returned to LIPA.” 

The minutes further stated, “This is the only power plant on Long Island that the ratepayers are not paying any real property taxes net out of pocket for the first 10 years, resulting in a saving of $80 million.” 

Kelly and Cook, in presenting the allegations publicly and to the commission, claimed that Bellport’s school district, South Country, which Cook said in his letter is comprised of 40 percent minority populations, were shortchanged tax revenue that could have funded school programs. Representatives from the South Country school district did not respond to email and telephone inquiries about their tax revenue from Caithness. 

The Public Service Commission has said that it has received and is reviewing the letter from Cook. It offered no other response to questions related to its potential response.

Northport power plant. File photo

The Town of Huntington and Long Island Power Authority have finally made their opening statements in a court trial that has been more than eight years in the making.

Huntington town officials, LIPA and National Grid are presenting their arguments over the proper tax-assessed value of the Northport Power Station beginning Feb. 25 before Justice Elizabeth Emerson at Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead.

LIPA filed its tax certiorari case over the assessed property tax valuation of the Northport plant in 2010 seeking to reduce its annual taxes by 90 percent, in addition to repayment of all taxes it claims to have overpaid since 2010 — currently more than $550 million.

It doesn’t differ all that much from when you grieve your property taxes, but this is on a much bigger scale.”

— Nick Ciappetta

Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta said all parties have agreed to start with the bench trial, decided solely by Emerson, by challenging the taxes paid on the plant in 2014.

“Even though they have filed petitions to challenge every year beginning in 2011, they have to file petitions individually for each year,” the town attorney said.

Ciappetta said that the burden of proof to demonstrate that the Town of Huntington tax assessor’s assessed value of the plant was incorrect lies with the utility company. LIPA will need to provide documents and expert testimony that convinces the judge that Huntington was in error, according to the town attorney.

“It doesn’t differ all that much from when you grieve your property taxes, but this is on a much bigger scale,” Ciappetta said.

LIPA started the trial with its opening statement and by calling on two expert witnesses for testimony Feb. 25. The Huntington town attorney said he expected the utility company to call on two additional expert witnesses to the stand to testify on its behalf before the town responds.

“We feel good about our position and that LIPA will not be able to sustain their burden,” Ciappetta said. “They have an appraisal that makes the plant seem as if it is worthless. That plant is vital to Long Island’s power grid.”

The Huntington town attorney said the town’s legal arguments will highlight how the Northport Power Station is unique given its “ideal location” and several factors, including its ability to operate based on either gas or oil, and is believed to be fundamental to meeting electrical demands during severe weather events.

We feel good about our position and that LIPA will not be able to sustain their burden.”

— Nick Ciappetta

The trial is open to the public and any who wish to observe the proceedings or listen to the arguments are welcome to the Riverhead court room, located at 1 Court St.

LIPA did not respond to request for comment on the ongoing court proceedings.

Ciappetta previously stated although the Town of Brookhaven settled its case with LIPA earlier this year, he does not believe that agreement will have any impact on Huntington’s case.

While six months of mediation between the town, LIPA and National Grid under their hired third-party arbitrator attorney Marty Scheinman has not yet resulted in a settlement, it remains a probable outcome according to Ciappetta.

“There’s always the possibility it will settle,” he said.

The court trial proceedings, if not wrapped up this week, will continue in April.

Northport power plant. File photo

New York State and town officials are renewing their calls for changes to be made to Long Island Power Authority’s operations as the trial over the tax-assessed value of Northport Power Station is slated to begin Feb. 25.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) reintroduced legislation Jan. 31 that called for LIPA to be restructured so that eight of the utility company’s nine board members would be elected by public vote, among other changes.

“I don’t believe LIPA’s board as it exists offers any protection to the citizens of Long Island,” he said. “I think it needs to be scrapped and replaced.”

““I don’t believe LIPA’s board as it exists offers any protection to the citizens of Long Island.”

— Jim Gaughran

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) has partnered with Gaughran to sponsor the bill in the state Assembly. The concept of the ratepayers protection act was first introduced in February 2017 by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Thiele, co-sponsored by a coalition that included state Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport). Those early bills failed to ever make it the Legislature’s floor for a vote.

Currently, LIPA’s nine-member board of trustees consists of five individuals appointed by the governor, two selected by the president or majority leader of the state Senate, and two chosen by the speaker of the Assembly.

The proposed ratepayers protection act calls for the state Legislature to create eight districts roughly equal in population size based on the last U.S. Census by May 1, 2021. A resident of each district would be elected to LIPA’s board to serve a two-year term as trustee, with the first elections to be held in December 2021. Candidates on the ballot would not be chosen by the political parties, and those elected would not be paid but could be reimbursed from the state for their related expenses, according to the draft.

In addition, the proposed legislation would require LIPA to hold public hearings before making future rate changes, give residents 30 days advance notice of the hearing and hold the event in the county it affects — Suffolk or Nassau. It would prohibit the utility company from increasing its rates to offset any losses from energy conservation efforts.

“I promised the residents of his district once elected, I was going to hold one of my first town halls on this — a town hall in Northport to drill down and deal with the issues of LIPA,” Gaughran said.

He will hold a town hall-style forum 10 a.m. March 16 in Northport High School’s auditorium with town and school district officials present to answer questions and review various options moving forward with LIPA, including the ratepayers protection act.

“We are encouraged to hear this legislation is being reintroduced, as it will provide the oversight and transparency needed to restore residents’ confidence in LIPA — ensuring that the best interests of the ratepayers are served,” Huntington spokeswoman Lauren Lembo said.

Huntington’s town board also voted unanimously Jan. 29 to petition its elected officials to amend state law to allow the Town of Huntington and Northport-East Northport school district access to the state’s Electric Generating Facility Cessation Mitigation Program funding in case LIPA is successful in getting the Northport power plant’s annual taxes reduced, as well as to put more money into that state fund. This bill also failed to find sufficient support to pass the state Legislature last year.

We’ve reviewed the Brookhaven settlement and found it to be irrelevant to our case.”

— Nick Ciappetta

The tax certiorari case is slated to begin trial Feb. 25. While the town and Northport school district have entered nonbinding mediation with five sessions being held to date, according to Lembo, an agreement has not been struck.

In contrast, the Town of Brookhaven formally settled its lawsuit with LIPA over the Port Jefferson power plant Dec. 14 agreeing to decrease taxes on the plant 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years.

“We’ve reviewed the Brookhaven settlement and found it to be irrelevant to our case,” Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta said. “The Brookhaven agreement has nothing to do with the Northport power plant.”

Ciappetta cited what he believes are several key differences between the Northport and Port Jeff stations: Northport’s output capacity is four times larger, it is a dual-fuel plant that is capable of operating on both natural gas and oil, and that its operation is vital to helping maintain the state’s power capacity requirements.

Gaughran said he is willing to review and support any state legislation which may aid Huntington and Northport in their ongoing legal battle with LIPA and National Grid.

“It’s clear that everyone has to continue to fight this,” he said. “We can’t be preparing to lose. Everyone must continue to fight — it’s too important.”

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The Port Jefferson Power Station may soon be repurposed. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Village of Port Jefferson is soon putting a lengthy legal battle with Long Island Power Authority in its rearview mirror, though the future of the property that houses Port Jefferson Power Station is still on the road ahead.

Bob Foxen, chief executive officer of Global Common LLC, a company dedicated to establishing energy partnerships and projects beneficial to its clients, was contracted by the village to study alternative future uses for the site. He presented options to the village board of trustees during a brainstorming session at a public meeting Sept. 17.

“I guess the goal is to try, to the degree possible, to make the people of Port Jefferson whole, or close to whole, assuming they lose some tax revenue,” Foxen said during his presentation.

Village Mayor Margot Garant expressed an interest for the village to formulate a plan of action for the site.

“Once we have our tax grievance settlement behind us, or we know that we’re at kind of a pause, the next question is ‘Now what?’” she said. “We want to advocate for a repurposing of the site to keep us viable on the grid.”

The village is among the municipalities preparing to imminently announce settlement terms with LIPA to resolve near-decade-long litigation regarding the property tax assessment of the plant, which the utility has argued is too high based on decreasing energy demand. Port Jeff has advocated for the refurbishment and repowering of its baseload plant to update its decades-old technology and to justify the property’s tax assessment.

By 2027, the power purchase agreement between LIPA and National Grid expires, and to resolve the tax certiorari challenges, LIPA negotiated with the village a nine-year “glide path” for tax revenue reductions to coincide with the agreement expiration, according to village attorney Brian Egan. The glide path includes gradual percentage reductions in assessed valuation on the property, deeming baseload repowering an unlikely future outcome. In addition, Caithness Energy LLC’s 2014 plans to construct a new 600-megawatt plant in Yaphank were revived temporarily by Town of Brookhaven’s town board this past summer, though the expiration of the company’s special-use permit for the site has put the plans back in doubt. If constructed, the Yaphank plant would further cloud the future of the Port Jeff plant.

Foxen admitted the options he brought ready to present during the meeting were dependent on Caithness II never getting off the ground, an outcome that is very much in doubt. The options also consider New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) stated goal from 2016 that 50 percent of the state’s power come from renewable sources by 2030.

The consultant suggested turning the site into a 200- to 300-megawatt plant powered by peaking units or smaller energy generation systems capable of firing up only in times of high demand, as its best option. The units operate using gas or liquid fuel, though they are viewed as efficient supplements to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which can’t handle demand on their own.

“I think it does help support renewables,” Foxen said of peaking unit plants, adding that financing the work needed to repurpose the site in this way would be hard to establish without a new power purchasing agreement with LIPA. Village officials are set to meet Sept. 20 with representatives from private Finnish company Wartsila to discuss the feasibility of installing peaking unit technology at the Port Jeff plant.

Foxen’s other brainstormed options included establishing the village as a municipal electrical utility, meaning it would assume control of energy distribution from the plant to customers to power homes, though he called the option costly and time consuming; and taking over energy distribution and limiting it to private customers at a reduced rate for businesses in specific industries that have high-energy demand, like data storage centers, for example, which could even be housed on the vacant site.

“It would be kind of an interesting magnet for a data center or somebody like that — saving money on energy might be a draw,” Foxen said.

Northport school district residents read and fill out letters to state and federal elected officials. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Northport-East Northport school officials are asking their residents to call on elected officials for immediate help finding a resolution to their seven-year legal battle against Long Island Power Authority.

Northport school district held a call-to-action forum May 30 in which it asked all residents to reach out to their state and federally elected officials to take action in bringing about a solution to the district’s lawsuit against LIPA and National Grid as a June court date looms.

“Our elected officials really need to hear from us,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “The more voluminous, the louder, the more persistent we are the more likely they are to listen.”

The more voluminous, the louder, the more persistent we are the more likely they are to listen.”
– Robert Banzer

Hundreds of copies of a form letter addressed to elected officials including New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), state Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), and state
Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) were distributed for residents to sign and mail in to lawmakers. These letters call on elected officials to take action to help aid the school district stave off LIPA, which seeks a 90 percent reduction in taxes — a difference of approximately $56 million down to $8 million paid to the district — before the state Legislature’s sessions end June 20.

“LIPA must be stopped before it is too late,” reads a letter pre-addressed to Raia. “We are seeking your assistance in calling upon the governor to provide immediate assistance in Albany. Action by the governor’s office can stop the imminent harm to us as taxpayers, to our schools, our students and the community at large.”

As the June 11 court date rapidly approaches, Banzer and the Northport school district are pushing state officials to approve what they are putting forth as two possible solutions.

First, would be the passage of pending legislation of state Senate Bill No. S08235, sponsored by Flanagan with co-sponsor state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), and its corresponding state Assembly Bill No. A10496, which is co-sponsored by Raia. These bills would lengthen the time frame over which LIPA is seeking to have its taxes gradually reduced from nine years to a proposed 15 years. It would also grant those municipal governments and school districts who lost a tax assessment challenge to LIPA after April 1, 2018, access to the state’s electric generating facility cessation mitigation program, which provides funding to help offset any potential loss of tax revenue. In addition, the town government and schools would be granted the right to create reserve funds specifically for the purpose of reducing the future burden on their taxpayers.

The Northport power plant. File photo

READ MOREHuntington stays on track in LIPA lawsuit despite cries for help 

“It would provide some mitigation of the impact to us,” Banzer said. This would provide a glide path, it would provide a somewhat softer landing should there be a [change in] assessment.”

Northport school officials are also asking residents to directly call on Cuomo and the state Legislature to intervene by directing that LIPA, as a utility company overseen by a state-appointed board, to offer a “reasonable and equitable” settlement offer.

While previous settlements have been declined, Banzer made clear, “we would never say we wouldn’t sit down and have conversation on how to mitigate this.”

On May 9, Northport school district attorney John Gross presented his argument in Suffolk County Supreme Court as to why he believes LIPA should be held to what school officials are calling the “1997 Promise.” Under this promise, school officials allege, LIPA and National Grid agreed not to challenge the annual taxes paid on the Northport Power Station as long as they were not abusively increased over time by Town of Huntington. A decision has not yet been issued by Judge Elizabeth Emerson, despite the June 11 trial date approaching.

We need to continue to put pressure on [Huntington town officials] to speak for us on behalf of the community.”
– Jennifer Thompson

“I think the community needs to communicate with town leadership,” Northport resident Jennifer Thompson said, citing the years Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) served in the state Assembly. “We need to continue to put pressure on them to speak for us on behalf of the community.”

Councilman Gene Cook (R) said he would call for Huntington Town Board to hold a public hearing regarding using eminent domain to acquire the Northport Power Station.

“LIPA has been lying to us,” Cook said.

The councilman claims that LIPA’s assessed value of $193 million for the Northport power plant focuses only on the electricity produced, but does not account for gas lines, cable transmissions or other public utilities that are received from the power station.

“I’m going to fight this,” he said. “I’m going to fight this to the end and I want you to know that.”

Northport taxpayers who are interested in getting in contact with their elected  officials or reading the form letters provided at the May 30 meeting can find them on the district’ website at northport.k12.ny.us/
district/lipa_update.

Northport power plant. File photo

Huntington town elected officials refused to entertain a request to hire additional legal help in its lawsuit against Long Island PowerAuthority, despite calls from Northport residents for help.

Huntington Councilman Gene Cook (R) offered a resolution at the June 5 town board meeting to hire Manhattan-based law firm Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP as additional legal counsel in the town’s pending tax certiorari case with LIPA and National Grid over the Northport Power Station as the case heads to trial in July.

“I believe this is a very needed law firm to hire at this point,” Cook said. “For the money that this law firm would [cost], it’s a whole lot less than the hundreds of millions we stand to lose.”

For the money that this law firm would [cost], it’s a whole lot less than the hundreds of millions we stand to lose.”
– Gene Cook

A request to hear and vote on a measure was shot down by a 3-2 vote, by Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D).

“There are hundreds of thousands — millions of dollars at stake now in this case,” Lupinacci said. “Huntington has been fighting hard on behalf of the taxpayers. We will continue to use all legal options at our [disposal] to make sure LIPA and National Grid honor their contractual promises.”

LIPA filed a tax certiorari lawsuit against the town assessor’s office in 2010 seeking a 90 percent reduction in the tax assessed valuation of its Northport Power Station, and seeking repayment of all taxes it claims to have overpaid since 2010 — currently amounting to more than $550 million and growing.

Cook said the Manhattan-based law firm is one of the top litigation firms in the nation, although admittedly not specialized in cases related to power plants.

“We are losing a huge opportunity and it will hurt everyone out there by not doing this,” he said.

Several prominent Northport residents had pleaded with the town officials to support Cook’s resolution Tuesday afternoon including Northport school board trustee David Stein, who spoke as a private resident in support of the measure.

The army of attorneys, lobbyists and PR titans that we are against now requires an outsized army of our own.”
– David Stein

“LIPA and National Grid have brought in a veritable army of lawyers, lobbyists and [public relations] attack dogs,” Stein said, painting an image of a David-versus-Goliath fight. “The army of attorneys, lobbyists and PR titans that we are against now requires an outsized army of our own. And so, I urge you to engage the services of the biggest, best, brightest and most well-known in all of these areas now.”

Under Cook’s proposed contract, attorneys from Boies Schiller & Flexner would have been paid an hourly rate of not more than $1,650 an hour to assist the town’s current legal representatives from Lewis & Greer P.C. in determining a strategy and arguments for the upcoming trial. These accumulated attorney fees could not be bonded under state law, according to the town supervisor, but would have required dipping into the town’s capital reserves.

“If spending $1,650 were a silver bullet that would achieve something here, I would do it,” Cuthbertson said. “The law firm Cook would like to hire has absolutely no experience in tax certiorari cases that involve power plants.”

Lupinacci said he was willing to consider looking into other prominent litigation law firms which might be able to serve the town at a lower cost.

“Sometimes when [law firms] look at a municipality, they believe they are looking at deep pockets,” the supervisor said. “We have to do some outside the box thinking and leave no stone unturned.”

If spending $1,650 were a silver bullet that would achieve something here, I would do it.”
– Mark Cuthbertson

Northport Village Deputy Mayor Thomas Kehoe and Northport resident Tammy Topel both urged the Huntington town officials to take more aggressive action in light of additional information that has become public — spoken widely about by Cook — calling the Northport Power Station a hub through which natural gas lines and fiber optic networks for internet pass through.

“I believe these are misguided attempts to incorporate other aspects into the valuation process that just aren’t there,” Cuthbertson said. “It’s a red herring and unfair to the public.”

Cook vehemently disagreed with his fellow councilman in open debate.

The town is moving forward by pursuing help from its state elected officials, according to the supervisor, including scheduling a meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to garner his support for a resolution to the case. Lupinacci said the town still remains open to negotiations.

“We are always speaking with the other side to see if there is some kind of resolution, but we are probably not going to achieve a resolution that is going to be beneficial to the taxpayers of Huntington and to our students,” Lupinacci said. “We are prepared to take this case to trial.”

Councilman Eugene Cook calls for residents to launch letter-writing campaign to Huntington Town officials

Northport power plant. File photo

Town of Huntington officials are moving toward making a power play against Long Island Power Authority and National Grid to take over control of the Northport power plant.

Councilman Gene Cook (R) has called for town residents to participate in a letter-writing campaign asking Huntington’s elected officials to consider utilizing eminent domain to take control of Northport power plant.

His proposal comes days after LIPA allegedly submitted documents to Suffolk County Supreme Court for its pending lawsuit against the town, in which it disputes the tax value of the plant, claiming the structure only has a fair market value of $193 million, according to Cook.

“Their estimate is so far out of wack on it, they are almost like giving us the plant,” the councilman said. “If they want to give it to us, I want to take it.”

Cook said he thinks the Northport facility is one of the biggest power plants in the Northeast, which will become more valuable with future improvements. He estimated the power station could produce $5 billion in revenue per year for the town if it took over operation of the facility. He suggested the name “Huntington Power Service Company.”

“We want to serve our residents, not be an authority over them like LIPA has done,” Cook said. “They have taken LI Power Authority as ‘we have authority over everyone.’” 

Their estimate is so far out of wack on it, they are almost like giving us the plant.”

— Eugene Cook

The councilman drafted a resolution he said he plans to present at the May 17 town board meeting for Huntington to hold a public hearing. If approved, a hearing will be held June 5 at 2 p.m. for residents to voice their thoughts and concerns on the acquisition of the plant from National Grid, which is the owner of the power station.

“The basis of this acquisition will be for the purpose of delivery to the public of electrical power in a safe and cost-efficient manner,” reads the draft resolution.

Under New York State law, the town must publish its findings and determinations on the proposed acquisition from the public hearing within 90 days. The Town of Huntington is due in court to face LIPA less than a week later June 11.

“We are looking at every facet of possibility here when looking at the LIPA situation because it’s a very serious situation,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Any possibility that comes up we will review with our attorney — we will review it with experts to see if it’s feasible.”

Even if the town initiated the process of obtaining the power plan via eminent domain, it would not resolve the town’s lawsuit with LIPA. In addition to seeking a 90 percent reduction of taxes on the power plant, LIPA is asking for the town to reimburse it for alleged overpayment of taxes each year since it filed the claim in 2010 — totaling more than $500 million.

“Let’s save the consulting and legal expenses of evaluating this idea, which would be fiscally disastrous to the town, its taxpayers and wouldn’t resolve the pending tax certiorari litigation,” LIPA spokesman Sid Nathan said in a statement.

Let’s save the consulting and legal expenses of evaluating this idea, which would be fiscally disastrous to the town, its taxpayers and wouldn’t resolve the pending tax certiorari litigation.”

– Sid Nathan

LIPA disputes that the Town of Huntington could turn a profit operating the station, claiming Northport power plant is operated at a loss. The power company said its contract with National Grid requires it to pay all costs to run the plant — including $80 million in annual property taxes leveraged by the Town of Huntington — which exceeds its revenue. LIPA also stressed that if Huntington took control of the plant, all beneficial tax revenue would cease, leaving residents to pay more for their government services.

“We hope the town will join with other local communities on Long Island that are working with LIPA to reach a fair settlement offer that puts an unsustainable property tax situation at the Northport plant back on a sustainable path,” Nathan said.

The Town of Brookhaven and Village of Port Jefferson both announced they had reached settlements over the tax assessed value of the Port Jeff plant with LIPA in early April.

If the lawsuit is decided in LIPA’s favor, the utility company estimates that Town of Huntington residents would see their taxes increase by $62 a month, with Northport-East Northport school district residents responsible for an additional $210 to $220 per month.

Lupinacci has said the town remains open to bargaining with LIPA, while Cook said the only negotiation he is for is LIPA agreeing to withdraw its lawsuit.

“I will fight to the death on this one,” Cook said. “Either they want to be good neighbors or they don’t. If they don’t, they can hit the road.”

Rare species that live in the Shoreham woods could be without a home if the land is cleared for a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

To preserve it, they plan to purchase it.

For years, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and his colleagues have fought tooth and nail to make the scenic stretch of woodland surrounding an abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant off-limits to
developers. In January, he co-sponsored legislation to prevent the site from being dismantled for solar farm installation. 

And as of this month, under legislative approval in the state’s recently passed budget, not only has more than 800 acres of the site been added to the publicly protected Central Pine Barrens preservation area, as well as portions of Mastic Woods, elected officials have pushed for the state to buy the parcel of land altogether.

“[That] property is one of New York’s largest remaining original coastal forest tracts as its rugged terrain historically precluded farming activities and clear cutting.”

— Steve Englebright

Englebright announced Apr. 4 that, as per an agreement passed by state officials the previous week, roughly 840 acres of the property — made up of rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife — is set to be
purchased from its current owner, National Grid, in increments over the course of a few years, beginning in 2019. He said he and his fellow officials will urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to fund the acquisition, projecting that it could cost between $20-$50 million. But a final price won’t be known until the land is appraised, he said. At this point, he said there is roughly $36 million in the state budget this year for land acquisition, from which funds can be pulled to begin the process. 

He said National Grid has signed an agreement for the sale of the property and, since the acreage lies within the Shoreham-Wading River school district, taxes will be paid by the state on behalf of the school.

By turning the Shoreham land into state property, Englebright, as well as state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), longtime ralliers against ecosystem disturbance, hope to be able to better utilize its “unique natural characteristics” and improve its ground and surface water quality and coastal resiliency, as well as support tourism.

“We’ve recovered the Shoreham property and we’re stepping off into the direction of doing positive things, so stay tuned,” Englebright said. In his announcement at the beginning of the month, he said, “[That] property is one of New York’s largest remaining original coastal forest tracts as its rugged terrain historically precluded farming activities and clear cutting. Preservation of this museum-piece landscape as well as ensuring public access is a triumph for the protection of Long Island’s natural history heritage.”

“I think Long Island has made up its mind … and is in the process of putting a provision into their solar codes that say, ‘Thou shall not cut down trees for solar.’”

— Richard Amper

Last year, Englebright proposed building a state park on the site as an alternative to National Grid’s plan to bulldoze its forest to build a solar farm in its footprint.

Together with the help of LaValle at the beginning of the year, Englebright drafted a bill calling for the expansion of the Central Pine Barrens to protect the Shoreham site and Mastic Woods — a 100-acre parcel also in danger of being deforested for a solar farm.The elected officials argued against “pitting greens against greens,” saying that while solar panels provide an important renewable energy source, they should not be installed “on pristine ecosystems.” Cuomo ended up vetoing that bill, but passed the Shoreham portion of it less than a month later.

The Mastic acreage is still slated for a solar farm installation to Englebright’s dismay, but he said he’s not giving up on saving it.

“My hope is that we can still see some leadership at the state level to provide alternative sites for solar development,” he said, suggesting the state office building in Hauppauge, which includes a large section of parking lots. “We should encourage solar installation, but work to move the project to a more worthy, and less destructive, site.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, commended the purchase of the property.

“This is one of the most important [proposed state] acquisitions in the history of the Pine Barrens and other woodland preservations over the years,” Amper said. “I think that it’s terrific that we are still protecting our woodlands. I think Long Island has made up its mind … and is in the process of putting a provision into their solar codes that say, ‘Thou shall not cut down trees for solar.’”

Rare species that live in the Shoreham woods could be without a home if the land is cleared for a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

Not seeing the forest for the trees is one thing, but a recent decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to not preserve the forest or trees for the sake of solar installation is causing a major stir among Suffolk County elected officials.

On Dec. 18, Cuomo vetoed a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that called for the expansion of Long Island’s publicly protected Central Pine Barrens to include more than 1,000 acres in Shoreham and Mastic Woods — “museum quality” stretches of open space that should never be developed by private owners, according to the sponsors. Their legislation aimed to pull the plug on solar plans for the sites.

“The idea of putting solar on these properties is foolish,” Englebright said. “And I hold my solar credentials next to anyone. I am the legislator that sponsored and spearheaded solar more than 20 years ago — these are not good sites for solar.”

A solar farm is still being proposed near the Shoreham nuclear power plant. Currently, there are plans near the Pine Barrens in Mastic for a solar installation. Photo by Kevin Redding

A large chunk of the Shoreham property — made up of approximately 820 acres of undeveloped vegetable land, coastal forest, rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife on the shoreline of Long Island Sound — was almost demolished last year under a proposal by the site’s owners, National Grid, and private developers to knock down trees, level ridges and scarify the property to build a solar farm in the footprint. This “replace green with green” plan garnered much community opposition and was ultimately scrapped by Long Island Power Authority, leading civic association and environmental group members to join Englebright in proposing to preserve the parcel by turning it into a state park. The assemblyman also pledged that while there is a great need to install solar panels as a renewable energy source, there are ways to do so without tampering with primeval forest.

In Cuomo’s veto of the proposed bipartisan legislation to preserve these properties, which had been worked on over the past year and passed overwhelmingly through the two houses of the Legislature in June, he said that it “unnecessarily pits land preservation against renewable energy.” The governor voiced his support of developing solar energy projects on the sites and said the legislation as written prevented environmental growth.

“I am committed to making New York State a national leader in clean energy,” Cuomo said in his veto message. “New York’s Clean Energy Standard mandates 50 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2030, to be aggressively phased in over the next several years. … Siting renewable energy projects can be challenging. But it would set a poor precedent to invoke laws meant for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land in order to block projects that should be addressed by local communities or through established state siting or environmental review processes. To sign the bill as drafted would be a step in the wrong direction by moving away from a clean energy future instead of leaning into it.”

Among some of the veto’s supporters were the League of Conservation Voters and Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Jerry Rosengarten, the Mastic site’s owner and managing member of the Middle Island Solar Farm, a proposed 67,000-panel green energy development on a 100-acre parcel in Mastic which would cut down woods near the headwaters of the Forge River, voiced his support of Cuomo’s decision in a statement.

“The idea of putting solar on these properties is foolish. And I hold my solar credentials next to anyone.”

— Steve Englebright

“Gov. Cuomo’s bold leadership today is hope that we will be able to effectively fight Trump-era climate denial and the ‘not in my backyard’ shortsightedness that would otherwise prevent crucial environmental progress at the most critical time,” said Rosengarten, an environmentalist who has been working for six years to place a solar farm on the site, making numerous applications to Long Island Power Authority to obtain power purchase agreements. “We look forward to working with the Town of Brookhaven on the next steps toward realizing a solar farm that we can take great pride in together.”

Englebright took issue with the not-in-my-backyard claims, which were also made by the League of Conservation Voters.

“I find that most unfortunate because it’s a falsehood,” he said. “I don’t represent Shoreham. I live in Setauket, and these sites are nowhere near my district. But, on merit, the properties deserve preservation. To have my sponsorship characterized as NIMBY is not only inaccurate, it’s insulting.”

Those who are against the veto have been championing preservation on both sites, including Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Andrea Spilka, president of Southampton Town Civic Coalition.

“The land is so valuable, environmentally, that it should be preserved,” Amper said of the Shoreham site in the spring when the legislation was first being pushed.

He added that solar is an important renewable energy in combating global warming, but that panels should be installed on roofs and parking lots rather than ecosystems.

“The reality is that once taken, these forest lands will never be recovered,” LaValle said in a statement outlining his disappointment over the veto. “These lands are particularly critical for the ecology of the Forge River. Destroying the forest and the trees to install solar power just does not make sense at either the Mastic Woods or Shoreham Old Growth Coastal Forest properties. … Currently, over 30 percent of New York state’s solar power is generated on Long Island, the majority of which is produced in my senate district. We can continue to expand the green energies where they will benefit Long Island without damaging the environment as we proceed. Destroying the environment is never the direction I wish to take.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright is putting pressure on manufacturers to keep harmful chemicals out of child products sold in New York. File photo

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), a career advocate for the environment who worked tooth and nail alongside Englebright and LaValle to preserve these sites, said vetoing the bill “was the wrong thing to do.”

“[It’s] the reason why Brookhaven Town adopted a solar code that allows for both the preservation of our open space and the development of solar energy,” Romaine said. “Brookhaven Town was committed to preserving these lands, and worked right up to the hours before this veto was issued to provide the developer with up to 60 acres of alternative, town-owned sites that did not require the removal of a single tree.”

Some of these alternative solar sites, Englebright later explained, were the paved parking lot of the State Office Building in Hauppauge and the nearby H. Lee Dennison Building, each of the Brookhaven Highway Department yards and the roofs of numerous local schools. Englebright successfully pushed for solar panels to be placed on the roof of Comsewogue’s elementary school.

“Regrettably, the developer did not respond to these offers, and the governor did not take these alternative sites into account when issuing the veto.” Romaine said. “I thank the sponsors, Sen. Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Steve Englebright and their colleagues for their hard work to preserve these ecologically important woodlands, and urge them to re-submit legislation for this in the coming session of the state Legislature.”

Englebright said he plans to reintroduce the legislation in the coming weeks.

“We are going to revisit this, and I hope that the governor keeps an open mind going forward,” he said. “It just requires a little bit of thought to realize that we have a vast amount of the Island where you can place solar panels without cutting down forest. By contrast, there are very few opportunities for preservation on the scale of these two properties. This is a source of some frustration.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright argues that the open space where National Grid plans to put a solar farm, above, houses wildlife species and land that would be better used for parkland. File photo by Kevin Redding

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.

National Grid, which owns the power plant property in Shoreham, above, is proposing a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

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.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright. File photo

“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.”

National Grid is proposing a solar farm in Shoreham, like the one at Brookhaven National Lab. File photo

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.