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Pine Barrens

Kenneth Kindler, on right, leads hikers through the new Ray Corwin Trail in the Central Pine Barrens. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new Pine Barrens trail bears the name of Ray Corwin, the first director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission. Those who remember him said he was as calm, yet grand as the woods he loved so much.

“Ray Corwin was a friend, but he was also an inspiration,” state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said. “This trail is an invitation, [like he did], for people to get involved.”

Ray Corwin was the first and 17-year executive director for the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission. File photo

The Port Jefferson resident passed away suddenly in 2010 at the age of 56. People who knew him said he worked day and night for 17 years to protect the approximately 50,000 acres of the Pine Barrens core, as well as preserve the natural beauty and resources of the area.

In the late 1980’s, Corwin envisioned a trail that would go from Route 25A in Shoreham all the way down to Smith Point County Park in Shirley, according David Reisfield, president of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference. Corwin was also active for more than 25 years in the greenbelt conference, a hiking and preservation group, and was the group’s vice president at the time of his death.

“We are at this point trying to bring his dream to life,” Reisfield said. “Even as we stop at Yaphank now, we will eventually work our way all the way down to Smith’s Point. We’ll bring his dream to fruition.”

Local officials and environmental advocates came together at the Ridge Trailhead to officially open the new 12.1-mile trail from Rocky Point to Yaphank bearing Corwin’s name April 28.

When years of court battles over Suffolk’s pine barrens resulted in a 1993 state law creating Long Island’s 100,000-acre pine barren preserve, environmentalist Richard Amper said there was only one man both sides trusted to oversee the new sanctuary, and that was Corwin.

“I don’t think we would have advanced the Pine Barrens cause as quickly as we did without someone like Ray Corwin.”

— Ken LaValle

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said the knowledge of the jogger and veteran hiker, the first executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, could never be replaced.

“I don’t think we would have advanced the Pine Barrens cause as quickly as we did without someone like Ray Corwin,” LaValle said. “It’s great to recognize such a great man, and even though it took eight years, it’s never too late to recognize someone who gave us so much.”

The Ray Corwin Trail connects to existing trails that start just off Route 25A in Rocky Point. The new walkthrough boasts sights of the glacial erratic boulder known as “Turtle Rock;” the Warbler Woods, which are home to more than 30 species of warblers; a pitch-pine/oak forest; a red maple/black gum swamp; and the colonial-era Longwood Estate.

“We’re a sole source aquifer and it’s so important to protect those lands, because that’s our drinking water,” said John Wernet, forester for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Reisfield said the project took so long because those working on it had to work with the DEC, local governments and the Town of Brookhaven, much in the way Corwin did when he was alive.

The ribbon-cutting, done by state Sen. Ken LaValle, unveiled the new Ray Corwin Trail. Photo by Kyle Barr

In his past, Corwin was originally responsible for developing a management plan for protecting the 50,000 acres in the pine barrens core, which cannot be built on, and enforcing rules of that plan and state legislation for regulating development in the 47,000-acre compatible growth area. Before taking the helm of the pine barrens commission, he had worked as a computer scientist and mathematician for Grumman Corp.

“This trail epitomizes what Ray tried to accomplish,” said John Pavacic, the current executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Commission. “It’s something that took work across all areas of government, as well as local groups.”

Creating a trail, according to trail advocate Kenneth Kindler, is as much engineering, planning and maintaining as it is using the area’s natural landscape to define the trail’s shape. He said that Corwin brought environmentalists and local officials together to protect the Pine Barrens.

“I remember him telling me once that I was focused too much on ATV’s ruining the trail’s ground,” Kindler said. “He said we couldn’t alienate people — that we needed as many people as we could to get involved. That was just the type of person he was. He was a people person — he could bring people together.”

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.’”

Local government officials at all levels are pushing for the Shoreham woods adjacent to the Pine Barrens be spared from development. Gov. Andrew Cuomo put plans in his preliminary budget despite vetoing a bill to save the trees. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County elected officials learned last week that with perseverance comes preservation.

In a surprising move, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled in his 2018-19 executive budget Jan. 16 that roughly 840 acres in Shoreham would be preserved as part of an expansion of Long Island’s publicly protected Central Pine Barrens. This proposal — which, if the budget is passed, would make the scenic stretch of property surrounding the abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant off limits to developers — came less than a month after Cuomo vetoed a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) calling for that very action.

A proposal was made to cut down a majority of the more than 800 acres in favor of a solar farm. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We saw that he did a cut and paste of our bill,” Englebright said. “It left in all of the language from our bill for the Shoreham site and now that’s in the proposed executive budget. That is really significant because, with this initiative as an amendment to the Pine Barrens, this will really have a dramatic long-term impact on helping to stabilize the land use of the eastern half of Long Island. The governor could do something weird, but as far as Shoreham goes, it is likely he will hold his words, which are our words.”

The bill, which passed overwhelmingly through the two houses of the Legislature in June but was axed by the governor Dec. 18, aimed to protect both the Shoreham property and a 100-acre parcel of Mastic woods from being dismantled and developed into solar farms.

Both Englebright and LaValle, as well as Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), pushed that while they provide an important renewable energy, solar panels should not be installed on pristine ecosystems. They even worked right up until the veto was issued to provide a list of alternative, town-owned sites for solar installation “that did not require the removal of a single tree,” according to Romaine.

In Cuomo’s veto, he wrote, “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.” Englebright said he and his colleagues planned to re-introduce the legislation a week or two after the veto was issued and was actively working on it when the proposed budget was released.

The legislation’s Mastic portion, however, was not part of the budget — an exclusion Englebright said he wasn’t surprised by.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, despite Shoreham not being in his coverage area, has been pushing to save the virgin Shoreham property from development. File photo

“During negotiations leading up to the bill’s veto, the governor’s representatives put forward that we let Mastic go and just do Shoreham — we rejected that,” he said. “We didn’t want to set that precedent of one site against the other. So he vetoed the bill. But his ego was already tied into it.”

The 100 acres on the Mastic property — at the headwaters of the Forge River — is owned by Jerry Rosengarten, who hired a lobbyist for Cuomo to veto the bill. He is expected to move ahead with plans for the Middle Island Solar Farm, a 67,000-panel green energy development on the property. But Englebright said he hasn’t given up on Mastic.

“We’re standing still in the direction of preservation for both sites,” he said. “My hope is that some of the ideas I was advocating for during those negotiations leading up to the veto will be considered.”

Romaine said he is on Englebright’s side.

“While I support the governor’s initiative and anything that preserves land and adds to the Pine Barrens, obviously my preference would be for Steve Englebright’s bill to go forward,” Romaine said. “There are areas where developments should take place, but those two particular sites are not where development should take place.”

Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who has been vocal against the veto and proposals for solar on both sites, said Cuomo is moving in the right direction with this decision.

“It’s clear that the governor wants to avoid a false choice such as cutting down Pine Barrens to construct solar,” Amper said. “I think he wants land and water protected on the one hand and solar and wind developed on the other hand. I believe we can have all of these by directing solar to rooftops, parking lots and previously cleared land.”

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.

Beetles, which thrive in warmer temperatures, are threatening pine trees

Residents from Cutchogue work together to place sand bags at the edge of the Salt Air Farm before Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photo by Prudence Heston

While surrounded by salt water, Long Island is in the midst of a drought that is heading into its third year. Amid a trend towards global warming, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter to water district superintendents throughout Suffolk and Nassau County to ask them to lower their water consumption by 15 percent in the next three to four years.

“The primary area that is ripe for reduction is summertime watering,” said Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC. The department has asked the water districts to reduce consumption, but it’s up to the districts to determine how they will reach those goals, he said.

The letter, written by Tony Leung, the regional water engineer, indicated that “results for 2015 show both Nassau and Suffolk County have exceeded the safe yield as cited in the 1986 Long Island Groundwater Management Program,” and that “a concerted effort is needed to reduce peak season water demand.”

The letter, which doesn’t cite global warming, indicates that salt water intrusion, contaminant plumes migration, salt water upconing and competing demand have raised concerns about a need to reduce peak season water demand.

Observers suggested the demand was likely rising for a host of reasons, including increased use of underground irrigation systems and a rise in the population of Long Island.

Water experts welcomed the DEC’s initiative, which is one of many steps Long Islanders can and are taking to respond to a changing environment.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use…They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

— Sarah Meyland

Sarah Meyland, the director of the Center for Water Resources Management and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology, commended the DEC for asserting control over water withdrawals.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use,” Meyland said. “They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

She admitted changing consumer behavior will be challenging.

The first step in ensuring water suppliers meet this request, Meyland suggested, is to inform the public about the need for less water use, particularly during the summer months. One possible solution is for irrigation systems that turn off automatically after a rainstorm.

The change in climate has posed a threat to trees that commonly grow on Long Island.

Pine trees have faced an invasion from the southern pine beetle, which extended its range onto Long Island in 2014 and is now a pest that requires routine managing and monitoring.

Long the scourge of pine trees in southern states, the pine beetle, which is about the size of a grain of rice, has found Long Island’s warmer climate to its liking.

“We’re assuming either [Hurricane] Irene or Sandy brought it in,” said John Wernet, a supervising forester at the DEC. “Because it’s getting warmer, the beetle has been able to survive farther north than they have historically.”

Forestry professionals in the south have waged a battle against the beetle for years, trying to reduce the economic damage to the timber market. On Long Island, Wernet said, they threaten to reduce or destroy the rare Pine Barrens ecosystem.

The beetle can have three or four generations in a year and each generation can produce thousands of young.

The first step relies on surveying trees to find evidence of an infestation. Where they discover these unwanted pests, they cut down trees and score the bark, which creates an inhospitable environment for the beetle.

“If left alone, the beetle is like a wildfire and will keep going,” Wernet said. Without direct action, that would be bad news for the pine warbler, a yellow bird that lives near the tops of pine trees, he said.

Wernet added Long Island’s drought also increases the risk of
wildfires.

Farmers, meanwhile, have had to contend with warmer winters that trick their crops into growing too soon while also handling the curveballs created by unexpected cold snaps, frosts, and the occasional nor’easter.

Dan Heston and Tom Wickham survey waters that entered Salt Air Farm after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Prudence Heston

Last year, the colored hydrangeas of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue budded early amid warmer temperatures in March, only to perish amid two eight-degree nights.

“We lost [thousands of dollars] worth of hydrangeas in two nights,” said Dan Heston, who works on the farm with his wife Prudence, whose family has been farming on Long Island for 11 generations. “Our whole colored hydrangea season was done.”

Heston said he’s been a skeptic of climate change, but suggested he can see that there’s something happening with the climate on Long Island, including the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, which flooded areas that were never flooded during large storms before.

“I think the climate is shifting on Long Island,” Prudence Heston explained in an email. “Farmers are constantly having to adapt to protect their crops. In the end, pretty much every adaptation a farmer makes boils down to climate.”

Changes on Long Island, however, haven’t all been for the worse. Warmer weather has allowed some residents to grow crops people don’t typically associate with Long Island, such as apricots and figs. For three generations, Heston’s family has grown apricots.

Other Long Islanders have attempted to grow figs, which are even more sensitive to Long Island winters, Heston said. This was not an economically viable option, as each plant required individual wrapping to survive. That hasn’t stopped some from trying.

“People are now finding our winters to be warm enough to make [figs] a fun back yard plant,” Prudence Heston said.

In other positive developments, the Long Island Sound has had a reduction in hypoxia — low oxygen conditions — over the last decade, according to Larry Swanson, the interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

“The state and the Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to a nitrogen reduction program,” Swanson said. “It appears that the decline in nitrogen may be having a positive effect.”

Brookhaven Town took a similar step in 2016.

The town board approved a local law proposed by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) last summer that established nitrogen protection zones within 500 feet of any body of water on or around Long Island. The zones prohibit new structures or dwellings being built in that range from installing cesspools or septic systems.

The southern pine beetle has been spotted in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens Preserve. Several trees, including oak trees, are marked for harvesting throughout the park. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In light of the uptick in southern pine beetle populations on Long Island, environmental officials are looking to weed out the issue in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens Preserve.

Last December, the Department of Environmental Conservation proposed a timber thinning to combat the beetle’s presence in the state park. The prospective contractor wouldn’t only harvest pine trees in the park, but also cut down hardwood trees to use for personal benefit. New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Assemblyman Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) voiced their opposition to the proposal on Feb. 11.

According to their statement, the project mainly involves the selling of scarlet oak trees rather than harvesting the beetle-infested pitch pine trees in the park. The property was not preserved to provide contractors with lumber, but to preserve the land, as the pine barrens property sits on the Island’s purest waterway. No bids were made on the contract thus far.

“We were going to do this thinning out as a preventative measure, and [the proposed plan] was their response, and we didn’t feel that it was logical,” Englebright said. “This doesn’t address that this crisis is advancing.”

The southern pine beetle appeared in Long Island en masse, in fall 2014, and has devastated thousands of acres of Pine Barrens property, according to Englebright. The beetle, which creates tunnels in the tress, targets all types of pine trees, including pitch pine trees like those found in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens Preserve. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation found infested pine trees in October 2014.

“When the extent of the infestation became known, it was apparent that there needed to be a lot of control efforts,” said Anthony Graves, the Town of Brookhaven’s chief environmental analyst. “But there was no funding. … the State was trying to figure out a way to go ahead and engage control efforts [with the opposed timber harvest plan].”

According to Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, there are not many cases of beetle infestation in the park. However, the Connetquot River State Park in Oakdale lost around 3,600 acres of pine trees to the Southern Pine Beetle. Graves added that wind could have picked up the small beetles and carried them from New Jersey to the Island.

Warmer winter weather over the past few years has also contributed to the increase in pine beetle populations.

In the DEC’s proposal, it added that harvesting the trees will also help other trees grow. It added that harvesting is a common practice when combatting this type of infestation. There’s no mention of harvesting oak trees in its preventative thinning plan. Amper said the reasoning was odd, as the pitch pine trees are much taller than the oak trees that are currently marked in the park.

Englebright, LaValle and Thiele requested $3.5 million in the 2016-17 state budget to properly address the infestation without unnecessary harvesting. Graves said the best and cheapest way to deal with the beetles is to cut down infected trees.

“The cutting of the heavily-infested stands is widely accepted by federal and state agencies that have been dealing with this problem for the last 100 years,” Graves said. “In the U.S., it’s a long-term problem with the beetles damaging commercial forests. It’s that long-term information that’s being used to drive the plan.”

A black dog at Kent Animal Shelter sits in one of the buildings closest to the Peconic River. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Kent Animal Shelter has always been close to the Peconic Lake. Maybe too close.

The 47-year-old facility was built on River Road in Calverton less than 50 feet from Peconic Lake, which leads to Peconic River. As the lake flows into the river, so does the Shelter’s wastewater.

In 2012, the shelter began its process to get a waiver to expand its five-building facility and install a new septic system to avoid contaminating the Peconic’s surface water. According to Pamela Green, executive director of the shelter, the shelter also wants to tear down two of its building and construct one, approximately 10,000 square foot building closer to River Road. The hope is that relocating these buildings will put 300 feet between the shelter and the water, which will limit the amount of wastewater dumped into the Peconic Lake and river.

But Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said the shelter doesn’t qualify for the waiver for its prospective projects. Although Amper said the society doesn’t oppose the shelter’s projects, he said the facility’s desire to move closer to River Road infringes on Long Island Pine Barrens’ core preservation area. According to Amper, construction is not permitted by law in that area to help “protect the Island’s purest source of water.”

“The only way anyone can get a waiver is to demonstrate that they have no beneficial use of the property absent the waiver, or that public health and safety depends upon the construction occurring in the Pine Barrens core,” Amper said. “Kent does not meet that requirement, and if the waiver were granted, it would create a dangerous precedent for others who want to develop in the Pine Barrens core.”

Amper claimed that the shelter’s new proposed septic system would discharge 2,700 gallons of wastewater daily into the land’s underground aquifer. However, Green said the wastewater isn’t in close proximity to the aquifer for drinking water, as the wastewater goes into the Peconic.

Peconic Lake is located several feet from two of Kent Animal Shelters’ buildings. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Peconic Lake is located several feet from two of Kent Animal Shelters’ buildings. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Currently, the shelter wants to demolish its kennel, which rests on the river bank, as well as the small cottage located across from the kennel. The shelter also wants to relocate its clinic and include it into the nearly 10,000 square foot building, alongside a new kennel and cat facilities. One of the cat facilities, also on the bank of the Peconic, houses senior cats that will live out their lives at the shelter.

Thus far, the shelter has received permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Suffolk County Health Department.

“The last hurdle is the Pine Barrens commission,” Green said, about Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission.

Where the commission differs from the Pine Barrens Society is that the commission decides whether the shelter will receive the waiver to expand its facility and upgrade its septic system. The commission is comprised of County Executive Steve Bellone (D); Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R); Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter (R) and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst (D). A fifth individual will be added at a later date.

Amper said the society reached out to these supervisors, who are in the Pine Barrens towns, hoping that at least one of these officials will help provide the shelter with two to three acres of property for the shelter to expand and install a new septic system.

Green added that the Pine Barrens Society is threatening the commission with a lawsuit if the commission grants the shelter a hardship permit, which Green believes the shelter is eligible for as parts of the shelter are dilapidated and won’t be useful once the shelter cannot use the facility.

But Amper said this is a standard procedure. He also said even if the commission likes the shelter’s proposal, they can’t legally grant a waiver to the shelter to build on the area.

“If the commission is allowed to say, ‘We don’t care what the law says; we just like this project,’ then there’s no protection of the core area and the underground water supply,” Amper said. “The commission can’t make the law nor can they make decisions that contradict the law. It’s not that any of us dislike what they’re proposing; it’s not the value of the project, it’s where they’re proposing to build it.”

Romaine denied to comment on the issues and process the shelter is experiencing.

“As a member of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, it is not appropriate for me to comment at this time regarding an issue which is still under consideration,” Romaine said in an email.

The commission will vote on whether the shelter will receive a waiver on Oct. 21, at the Pine Barrens Commission meeting at Brookhaven Town Hall, according to Amper. The shelter will need three out of five votes to acquire the waiver to go through with its reconstruction plan, including the installation of a new septic system.

“We’re trying to prevent [surface water contamination] from happening by putting a new septic system and removing the channel off the river and abandoning the leaching field,” Green said. “This would be an upgrade for the environment.”

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