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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.

The 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

The 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.

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School board president Kathleen Brennan. File photo

For the immediate future, the Port Jefferson school district is in a stable financial position as they plan for the 2017-18 school year, though a February petition filed by National Grid could impact the district’s outlook sooner rather than later.

The district’s assistant superintendent for business Sean Leister presented a second draft of the budget for next school year. Currently the plan includes a rollover of all curriculum in the current year’s budget, including some recommended enhancements, and also adds funding for four new staff members district-wide, two of whom will be full-time employees in the special education department. After accounting for contractual increases in staff member salaries and benefits, as well as several infrastructure-related capital improvement projects, the result is a $43,293,012 budget, which is about $1.9 million more than the 2016-17 version. The district will see savings due to a reduction in New York State pension system rates, which Leister’s presentation indicated as a contributing factor in maintaining academic programs despite a slight increase in expenses.

Leister summed up the district’s current financial situation during the presentation.

“We’ve reduced borrowing fees on our money through prudent cash management, we’ve entered into an energy performance contract to save money on lighting and heating efficiency, we continue to review the allocation of staffing, greater stability in administration has led to a reduction in mentoring costs and a high school electrical upgrade will give us different solutions enabling us to operate more efficiently,”
he said.

The budget includes a 2.35 percent tax levy increase, which after exemptions will allow the district to collect the maximum allowable revenue from property taxes while remaining below the state-mandated 2.0 percent cap.

About $35.6 million of the district’s revenue comes from taxpayers, though that number could be slashed drastically in the coming years, pending a lawsuit filed by the district in conjunction with other local municipalities to prevent LIPA proposals to reduce its tax burden. Almost half of the district’s property tax revenue comes from the Port Jefferson Power Center.

Recently National Grid, which provides energy to Long Island in partnership with LIPA, filed a petition with the New York State Public Service Commission in an effort to lift maximum restrictions on peaker units, which are additional power generators designed to be used during times of peak power consumption. Village residents said during a public hearing on the matter March 22 the petition is the first step in an impending fight over the repowering of the now-closed baseload plant, a solution the district and Port Jefferson Village have pushed as a compromise to LIPA’s proposals, though the power authority has deemed the plant “obsolete.”

At the March 21 board of education meeting, district superintendent Paul Casciano called the petition a “piece of the larger puzzle” in the dispute, which could significantly impact future revenue. Nothing imminent is expected relating to the district’s revenue from the plant.

Some of the infrastructure-related capital improvement projects include replacing the roof and electrical improvements at the high school, façade repairs and resurfacing of the high school track. Replacing the high school roof will require a second referendum to be voted on by the public because it would require the release of about $400,000 from the district’s capital reserves. Leister addressed the need for some of the various projects during
his presentation.

“We have some loose bricks that we need to tighten up for health and safety reasons,” Leister said of the façade repairs, which are slated for the high school and middle school. He also justified the need to replace the track. “The track has reached its useful life and if we don’t resurface it now for $360,000, we could be facing a million-dollar, full replacement.”

Leister added during the village board meeting the district has about $1.7 million in unused fund balance, which the district is allowed to keep as a “rainy day” fund as long as it is less than four percent of the total budget.

“You can see here we have a very healthy district and healthy reserves currently on our books,” he said.

The budget vote will take place May 16.

Port Jefferson is fighting to keep property tax revenue flowing from the power plant and to prevent restrictions from being lifted on peaker unit output. File photo by Lee Lutz

By Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Village officials and residents, as well as Brookhaven Town officials and Suffolk County legislators, flocked to Port Jefferson Village Hall for two public hearings March 22 to voice opposition of a National Grid petition seeking elimination of restrictions on output of small peaker units located at the Port Jefferson Power Station. Peaker units are additional power generators generally used only when there is high demand for power.

National Grid issued the petition Feb. 28 to the New York State Public Service Commission. The hearing was hosted by the commission and overseen by Administrative Law Judge David Van Ort.

Trustee Bruce Miller speaks at the hearing. Photo by Alex Petroski

Both Village Mayor Margot Garant and Port Jefferson School District Superintendent Paul Casciano at respective board meetings this week called the petition and subsequent hearings “pieces of a larger puzzle” in relation to the eventual fight between the village, the district and the Long Island Power Authority, who is a partner with National Grid in supplying power to the area. The village and district are both part of a pending lawsuit filed in 2015 about LIPA’s assertion they pay too much in property taxes. The power authority reiterated that claim in a Feb. 14 annual report on property tax reduction. Both the village and district receive substantial amounts of revenue from the power authority in the form of ratepayer tax dollars.

National Grid is seeking to eliminate the 79.9-megawatt cap on output on the peaker units and allow for maximum output. According to Van Ort, the company has cited greater efficiency as the reason behind their desire to lift restrictions on output, which were established in 2001.

“We, the people of Port Jefferson, believe that this hearing is a thinly veiled attempt to add extra capacity to the grid,” Village Trustee Bruce Miller said during the hearing. “Peakers are dirty. This expansion plan forecloses the clean air, cost-effective alternative that Port Jefferson offers for Long Island with the repowering of our baseload plants.”

In a letter submitted to the commission by Garant, she stated the village has been pursuing the repowering of existing older steam units in the village for more than 10 years. A spokesperson for National Grid did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and representatives from the company in attendance at the meeting declined to speak on behalf of National Grid.

“We need cleaner, cheaper energy on Long Island now,” Miller said. “We need to take dirty peakers off line and replace them with a modest plant with modern technology.”

Village resident Kathleen Riley also voiced opposition to the proposal.

Residents pack Village Hall for the hearing. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Please be finally advised of our deep concern regarding this entire situation, ultimately and especially because Port Jefferson Village depends upon the revenues of the power plant,” Riley said. “The village’s financial viability relies on this power center.”

Riley also expressed concerns about the environmental impact of increased output from the peaker units.

“[LIPA] makes the argument in part that the Port Jefferson Power Plant is functionally obsolete and should be closed,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said during the hearing. Romaine went on to argue considering the power plant functionally obsolete while simultaneously filing a petition to lift restrictions on peaker units are “contradictory assertions.”

Deputy Mayor and Trustee Larry LaPointe also provided testimony during the hearing.

“They’re increasing their ability to shut down the main plants in Port Jefferson forever, throwing this village under the bus, throwing our schoolchildren under the bus, throwing this community under the bus, throwing our senior citizens under the bus,” LaPointe said. “But of course that doesn’t seem to matter.”

Peaker plants are generally run using natural gas and are less efficient and more expensive to operate than baseload plants, like the Port Jefferson Power Station, which used steam.

Garant was expected to speak at a second hearing March 22 which occurred after the time of print. The commission will continue to take comments from the public until March 28 by email, on the department website or by phone.

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

In response to a proposed solar farm in Shoreham, members of the Brookhaven Town Board urge state legislators to not only stand with them in opposition, but grant them “a seat at the table” to have their voices heard and taken seriously.

Since it was first submitted last June, National Grid and NextEra Energy Resources’ proposal to build a large-scale solar energy facility on the wooded property that surrounds the abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant, and clear 350 acres of the 800-acre land made up of cliffs, rolling hills and a variety of wildlife species, has sparked an outpouring of local opposition, from elected officials to environmentalists, civic associations, teachers and parents in the community.

The proposed solar farm in Shoreham could look like the one seen here at Brookhaven National Lab. File photo

Those against it share the belief that “renewable energy is important but not at the expense of another section of the environment.” As recently as Feb. 27, the Shoreham-Wading River school board voted unanimously against endorsing the project, despite a considerable financial offer from National Grid, which owns the Shoreham site, and NextEra.

According to the companies, the proposal, developed in response to a PSEG Long Island request to help New York meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) renewable energy goals, would generate upwards of 72 megawatts of solar energy, provide power for more than 13,000 homes, and create between 125 and 175 construction jobs and millions of dollars in tax benefits.

It’s currently being considered by LIPA, which would purchase the electricity generated by the joint companies for a period of 20 years under the contract, and New York State.

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), a leader in the charge against the solar farm, said he thinks the companies involved are making a mistake, and wants it to be known that Brookhaven is going to do everything it can to prevent it from happening and protect the environment.

In addition to the proposed site falling within Shoreham’s A-10 residential zoning code — the most restrictive in Brookhaven — which was put in place more than 25 years ago to specifically protect the “coastal forest preserve,” he said, the proposal directly violates Brookhaven’s solar code adopted last year that opposes cutting down trees or removing native forests to build solar farms or facilities.

“You can build [solar arrays] on clear land, on rooftops, and in parking lots, but you’re not cutting down trees,” Romaine said. “Brookhaven needs to stay green and we do not need to deforest the few uncut forests we have in this town.”

The proposal by National Grid could clear 350 acres along the Long Island Sound. Photo by Kevin Redding

When Romaine and the rest of the town board first heard rumors of the solar farm plan more than a year ago, they dismissed it, confident local opposition and town zoning would be enough to prevent it from going anywhere.

However, the supervisor got word that National Grid and NextEra could get around the zoning restrictions and potentially strip away any of Brookhaven’s say in the matter under Article X of the Public Service Law — a provision allowing “an applicant seeking approval to site a major electric generating facility to obtain a final decision from the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment, waiving all local zoning requirements, if the Siting Board finds them to be burdensome in terms of technology and costs.”

The Siting Board is composed of five members appointed by the governor.

The town board sprang into action, writing and submitting a letter to nine state senators and assemblymen requesting that the law be amended to allow local municipalities to serve as mandatory parties to the proposed facility “application proceeding.”

“To allow the overriding of local zoning without allowing the local community a significant voice in these proceedings is wrong,” reads the end of the letter, which was signed by Romaine, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge), Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) and Councilman Daniel Panico (R-Center Moriches).

“We understand there’s a need for Article X and we’re not saying you can’t decide against us, but we just feel the locality should have a seat at the table, which would give us a voice,” Romaine said, admitting he decided to write to the legislature to be on the safe side, not knowing if the proposal will get that far. “Right now, we have no voice.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, has previously spoken out against a solar farm in Shoreham. File photo

According to a fact sheet provided by National Grid and NextEra, a poll to determine the attitudes of the residents of the Town of Brookhaven was commissioned, asking what they would like to see developed on the Shoreham property — “they chose ‘solar energy project’ above any other use,” it said. When residents were given information about the solar farm project, the sheet stated “level of support grew to 75 percent.”

Conversely, the proposal is an environmental nightmare as far as Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, is concerned.

“This is just a horrible use of the land,” he said. “It’s not just cutting the trees with the thought that ‘They’ll grow back in 50 years,’ it’s the hills, the gullies, the wildlife, the plants and the fauna that would have to be destroyed. I can see why the owners of the property, National Grid, would like to do this, they can make a bundle of money from it … however the idea of deforesting several hundred acres of very special forest land in order to achieve a worthwhile goal isn’t a good trade-off.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chairman of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, deemed the proposal a bad idea, stating the Shoreham site is worthy of being preserved as part of our natural history.

“This is a native forest in essentially pristine condition … it’s a museum piece of natural land,” Englebright said. “I am the original New York State legislator who sponsored what are now the laws that enabled solar energy to begin to take off. I’m a pro-solar, pro-renewable energy person … [but] it was never my intent to see environmental atrocities committed in the name of renewable energy. I’m offended, as the father of solar energy in this state, that they are attempting to so thoroughly abuse the premise of what solar is meant to be.”

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