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Steve Englebright

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.”

Attendees at the Three Village Chamber of Commerce annual barbecue enjoyed an evening of eating and dancing on the beach Aug. 2. Photo from the Three Village Chamber of Commerce

By Rita J. Egan

A little rain didn’t stop families from enjoying an evening at the beach Aug. 2 when the Three Village Chamber of Commerce hosted its family barbecue.

Attendees at the Three Village Chamber of Commerce annual barbecue enjoyed an evening of eating and dancing on the beach Aug. 2. Photo from the Three Village Chamber of Commerce

This was the 18th annual summer event at West Meadow Beach for the chamber. Vice president Charles Lefkowitz said while it rained for a short period, attendees weathered the storm by spending time under the beach’s pavilion or umbrellas.

“The rain made it fun and interesting, and thanks to the great volunteers we have, and David Prestia from Bagel Express, we were able to get several hundred through the food line,” he said. “It was a very successful event.”

Chamber president Andrew Polan said he estimated  400 people were in attendance, and added the number of families participating in the event has grown over the years. Polan said while the organization doesn’t advertise as much as it did in the past, many still come, looking forward to the raffles and camaraderie at the beach.

“It’s nice to see after 18 years it’s as much of a hit with the community as it’s always been,” Polan said.

Lefkowitz said Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were among the local residents who attended.

Attendees at the Three Village Chamber of Commerce annual barbecue enjoyed an evening of eating and dancing on the beach Aug. 2. Photo from the Three Village Chamber of Commerce

“This is something that the local community looks forward to every year, and I’ve been involved in it since its inception,” Lefkowitz said. “I’m really proud that the chamber can deliver such an event to give back to the community.”

David Woods, the chamber’s former executive director, recently retired, and Lefkowitz said the board banded together to organize this year’s barbecue. He said their work together on the event has left a great impression on him.

“The true highlight was how my fellow board members really pulled together, and we worked as a group to deliver this barbecue as a successful event,” Lefkowitz said.

The Three Village Chamber of Commerce’s mission is to provide local professionals and business owners the opportunity to grow professionally through community events. The organization is planning its next event — Disco Night at The Old Field Club — Oct. 19. For more information visit www.3vchamber.com.

One of the 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

George Washington and the Long Island Culper Spy Ring continue to make history on the North Shore.

A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. One of the signs, unveiled at the end of the event, is located in front of the Brewster property.

A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The installation of signage and the designation comes after almost two decades of work on the part of the North Shore Promotional Alliance. The state road was chosen because President George Washington once traveled it to thank the patriots for helping him win the Revolutionary War, and it was also a route that spy Austin Roe used to pick up and deliver secret messages to military officer and spy Benjamin Tallmadge in Connecticut.

Gloria Rocchio, President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and North Shore Promotional Alliance, said that during the days of the Culper Spy Ring in the 1700s the Brewster House was one of only a few homes, and at the time of the American Revolution, the area was occupied by 300 British troops.

“Our community was divided between Loyalist and Patriots who supported the revolution in secret,” she said. “This history is the very history of America. Our efforts over the past 17 years have been to shine a light on our American Revolution and to encourage people to visit those important sites on the North Shore where history was made — the George Washington Spy Trail, Route 25A.

In addition to thanking her fellow members of the NSPA and others for their work, Rochhio acknowledged State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for introducing a legislative resolution in both the New York State Senate and Assembly that recognizes the dedication of the trail as well as the service of the spy ring members. On the same day, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were presenting a similar resolution in congress.

Flanagan thanked those who gave up their free time to dedicate themselves to the project. The senator said he and the other local legislatures who were on hand for the event are proud of their towns.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Supervisor Ed Romaine present a proclamation to President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Gloria Rocchio, making May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“We brag about the places that we come from,” he said. “We like telling people about these types of things.”

Flanagan said he hopes that residents, as well as those who travel to the area will take advantage of the educational experiences the signs call out along the way.

When Englebright stepped up to the podium, he asked State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) to join him and said he appreciated the partnership with his neighboring assemblyman as well as Flanagan when it came to the legislative resolution that recognizes the area’s historical significance.

“This is a special place,” Englebright said. “Patriots lived here. People put their lives on the line as the first espionage ring for service to our nation.”

Englebright echoed Rocchio’s sentiments of the importance of the signs that pay tribute to the area’s history.

“The memorialization of that through this signage that Gloria referred to, is a chance for us to celebrate that reality, that wonderful beginning of our nation, the role that we played in it,” the assemblyman said. “It’s also important to give a sense of place and sense of context for this and future generations.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) presented a proclamation to Rocchio, which made May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Romaine also reflected on the historical importance of the day.

Local politicians following the enveiling of the Washington Spy Trail sign along 25A. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“Today we remember our history,” he said. “Today we remember ordinary people, living ordinary lives, who were called upon to do extraordinary things.”

John Tsunis, Chairman and CEO of Gold Coast Bank and owner of Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, introduced Harry Janson, Sr., who was wounded in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart, a medal that originated from Washington’s Badge of Military Merit. Janson, who is on the board of the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University, said he believed the members of the Culper Spy Ring — Tallmadge, Roe, Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster and Anna Smith Strong — were worthy of the award as well.

“The difference is the example of their bravery,” Janson said. “They performed their bravery in covert, and they took their secrets to their graves.”

Before unveiling the Washington Spy Trail sign in front of the Brewster House, Janson had the same wish as others who worked on the installation of the signage.

“We hope that many of you drive the trail and learn about these brave men and women, and what they did for our country,” Janson said.

Additional Washington Spy Trail signs include ones located on the westbound side of Route 25A at West Broadway in Port Jefferson, by the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, before the Smithtown Bull in Smithtown and at Lawrence Hill Road in Huntington Station.

Local legislators and members of the Three Village Community Trust unveil sign for the newly acquired portion of Patriots Hollow State Forest in Setauket. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Thanks to the efforts of elected officials and a decision by a legacy family on the North Shore, Setauket has gained additional preserved land in the hopes of being able to protect local waterways, among other environmental benefits.

April 21, a day before Earth Day, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and local elected officials held a press conference to announce the state’s acquisition of 17 acres of woodlands stretching from the corner of North Country Road and Watson Street in Setauket. The property expands the already 28.3-acre Patriots Hollow State Forest, which runs adjacent to Route 25A and is located across from Setauket’s Stop & Shop.

DEC’s regional director on Long Island, Carrie Meek Gallagher, who grew up in Setauket, started the press conference by welcoming everyone who gathered in the woodlands. She also thanked  Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration and former DEC regional director;  Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket);  Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); and Robert de Zafra and Cynthia Barnes from the Three Village Community Trust for their efforts in securing the land.

Gallagher said the preservation of the land, which was once utilized for potato farming, plays a part in safeguarding the Long Island Sound watershed, and supports forest health while providing a habitat for wildlife.

Many in attendance recognized Englebright for his determination in acquiring the property in the Old Setauket Historic District. The land is where the Fitzsimmons family established their farm in 1939, and through the decades, they began acquiring more land parcels. Once farming ceased, the parcel remained open land where red cedar, gray birch, poplar, black locust and Norway maple trees now stand. Descendants still live in the family home today, and Englebright commended them for choosing preservation over selling the land to developers.

“These beautiful woods that disappear in an eternity behind us could have been more suburbia, could’ve easily been converted into something other than preservation,” he said. “The consequences of that — more traffic, poor air quality, and even worse, a compromised water chemistry in our nearby shores and harbor.”

He said creeks in the area drain into Conscience Bay, which is part of Setauket Harbor, and the bodies of water form the most western part of the Port Jefferson Harbor complex. He also added that the land was the missing link to the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail.

“We are connected to history, to water chemistry, to wildlife diversity and our sense of place,” Englebright said. “This is an important acquisition.”

Scully, who has worked on land preservation projects with Englebright in the past, including the original acquisition of property for Patriots Hollow from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center diocese in 2010, thanked Englebright for his leadership.

“I know that your interest in this property was a motivating factor in the state of New York’s decision to move forward,” Scully said.

Hahn echoed the importance of acquiring the property as well as praise for Englebright. 

“Steve, really our community’s thanks is to you,” Hahn said. “Your dedication, your commitment, your persistence on this piece of property, I know how long this has been in your vision.”

Cartright said Brookhaven Town has been committed to preserving open spaces, and she appreciated the cooperation from all levels of government on the issue.

“We are grateful to be in partnership with the state as well as the county as it relates to the preservation of open spaces,” she said.

She also alluded to key initiatives when it comes to preservation in the future.

“We ask you keep your eyes and ears open as it relates to that,” she said. “But this is an amazing announcement on such an appropriate day as we approach Earth Day.”

Before the unveiling of the new park sign which stands on the new acquisition, Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, thanked the elected officials in attendance calling them a “rogue gallery of people who really make a difference” and expressed gratitude to the Fitzsimmons family, who were unable to attend.

“Nothing reinforces the integrity of a historic district like open space,” Reuter said. “In so many cases, I sort of have this joke about preventing the future — we’re protecting the past, we’re preventing the future. In this case, it’s really quite apt, except the future is our environmental health, and this is a huge triumph.”

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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Route 25A in Setauket looking east from Woods Corner Road. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Following public forums, the future of the Route 25A corridor in the Three Village area is coming into focus.

More than a year ago, the Brookhaven Town Department of Planning, Environment and Land Management was authorized to create a land use study and plan regarding the state highway from the Smithtown town line heading east to the Poquott Village line. This was after town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D–Port Jefferson Station) co-sponsored land use resolutions at the Jan. 14 and Feb. 4, 2016, town board meetings.

the inconsistent architecture of buildings located at Woods Corner. Photo by Rita J. Egan

After the go-ahead from the town, the Citizens Advisory Committee was formed with co-chairs George Hoffman, vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, and Jane Taylor, assistant head of The Stony Brook School. The committee organized a number of community meetings to give business owners, store tenants and residents in Stony Brook, Setauket and East Setauket the opportunity to discuss their concerns and hopes for land use along the state road.

The meetings, led by consulting firm BFJ Planning, culminated with a wrap-up session at The Stony Brook School earlier this month, and the result will be a document that will guide business and landowners when it comes to building and renovating in the future.

Hoffman said he found the process over the past year rewarding.

“We really made a lot of progress pulling together all the groups that make up our community, and I think we have a clearer vision of what we like about it, and what we’d like to enhance as we go forward,” Hoffman said.

At the March 4 meeting, residents were given a summary of the community’s visions for the hamlets based on previous visioning meetings. Frank Fish, Noah Levine and Graham Cavanagh of BFJ Planning informed those in attendance both unique and shared elements along the Route 25A corridor as well as recommended goals and objectives for the future.

Romaine, Cartright and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) were among elected officials who attended the visioning meetings. Englebright said he was impressed at how constructive the meetings were, and how Cartright and Romaine made themselves accessible during the process.

The assemblyman said he wasn’t surprised by the concerns and desires raised. Many residents said they did not want to see the road widened, but instead would like it to include more green space. Another hope of many residents is to make the road safer by adding a continuous sidewalk and creating lanes for bicyclists.

“The historic architectural style and character of the Three Village area is something that is a constant reminder of why a lot of us live here.”

— Steve Englebright

“I look forward to doing everything possible to add a sidewalk — the walkability aspect of this and [a lane] for bicycles,” Englebright said.

Both Hoffman and Englebright said Woods Corner at the southeast corner of Route 25A and Nicolls Road was another concern brought up by many at the meetings. Hoffman said people would like to see the buildings located on the corner updated with some sort of consistent architecture “because it’s the gateway to the Setaukets.”

The architectural consistency in all the hamlets was an additional topic raised at the meetings.

“The historic architectural style and character of the Three Village area is something that is a constant reminder of why a lot of us live here,” Englebright said. “We love the architecture. … People indicated how much they value it, and that for any reconstruction or new construction, that should be a benchmark of expectation to be compatible with who we are architecturally.”

According to BFJ Planning’s March 4 visioning report, the flow of traffic where 25A variously intersects Stony Brook Road, Nicolls Road and Main Street were also discussed at hamlet meetings. Roundabouts were suggested for both Stony Brook Road and Main Street, and the New York State Department of Transportation is considering a traffic light at the soft right turn onto Nicolls or removal of the soft right altogether. 

While other transportation issues and wants were discussed, including creating pullover areas for buses and supporting a trolley bus service for Stony Brook students and residents, recreation areas were another concern. The talks included improved civic space for gatherings, picnics and similar recreational activities as well as maintenance of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation-administered Patriots Hollow State Forest.

Hoffman said some of the proposed guidelines have already been a help to Parviz Farahzad, who is constructing Stony Brook Square located across from Stony Brook train station. Development of the shopping center was approved at the March 6 town planning board meeting. Farahzad has agreed to add more trees to the final site plan, will require tenants use signage that consists of wood-base signs with gooseneck lighting among other concessions.  The developer also hopes to install a low nitrogen septic system if he receives a waiver from the county for the new system. According to Hoffman, such systems help to protect the water in local harbors.

Hoffman said BFJ Planning is compiling a final document and, in a few weeks, the CAC will present a report to the town board. The ultimate goal is for the town to take into consideration the suggestions and incorporate them into future land use changes in the area through zoning changes.

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.”

A motor boat heads toward Shipman’s Point at West Meadow Beach. File photo.

The history of West Meadow beach is a contentious one. Cottages leased to private citizens left a large portion of the beach unavailable to the public throughout the years. A headline in the Port Jefferson Echo newspaper June 19, 1930, read “West Meadow Beach Cottages To Be Ousted By January 1940.” According to Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), removal of the cottages was a cyclical issue. Every decade or so there was a public outcry for a return of the beach to all Brookhaven citizens.

“This had become the norm by the 1960s,” he said.

When Englebright proposed legislation in June 1996, there was significant opposition from cottage owners who fought to keep the beach as it was. Since state legislation could only be established over the Brookhaven Town-owned property with the town’s express permission, a document called a “home rule message” had to be obtained before the legislation could move forward. Under then Town Supervisor Felix Grucci (R), the town agreed.

Even so, the opposition from cottage owners continued.

Bipartisan legislation [then Senator James Lack (R) sponsored the bill in the New York State Senate] was signed in 1996 stating West Meadow Beach “be preserved, protected, enhanced, and studied while simultaneously being made available for use by the general public for educational and passive recreational activities.” It stipulated the cottages be removed “on or before Jan. 15, 2005.” Removal of the cottages would be funded by payments from cottage owners for the use of the land over the following eight years. Interest accrued on the account, holding these payments were to be transferred annually into a separate account, previously established by the town July 6, 1993, called the West Meadow Beach capital restoration fund. This money was to be kept separately, overseen by a nonprofit Stony Brook community fund.

“When my husband Peter died last year I wrote to the town offering to fund the installation of a bench in his memory.”
—Muriel Weyl

The Stony Brook community fund became The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in 1996 and, according to a long-term board member of the organization, the town never came to them with a proposal. Since then it’s unclear who has been overseeing this money.

Attorney George Locker, a Stony Brook University graduate and former member of the Stony Brook Environmental Conservancy, believes the town is in breach of the statute.

“When the [Stony Brook community fund disbanded] instead of finding another third party to handle the funds, the town took control of the money,” Locker said. “The only thing I could find [after requesting all filings related to this account] was an invasive species plant removal.

“It took 20 years to elevate the Gamecock Cottage. At least one cottage was to be turned into a nature museum.

“[According to information provided by the town’s Department of Finance] the money is earning [virtually] no interest. The town has a fiduciary duty to grow the money in some safe way.”

Brookhaven Town spokesperson Jack Krieger provided the following information about investments in an email.

“The New York State Comptroller and New York State Municipal Law define what type of investments are acceptable for a municipality to engage,” he said. “The special New York State Law governing the WMB endowment made no special provisions for investment of the monies; therefore, the investment of the monies have been subject to the municipal law guidelines. The interest rate for the endowment account, and all town bank accounts, are monitored constantly by the finance department.”

Stony Brook resident Muriel Weyl said she is distressed by the lack of bench seating along the paved walk out to Shipman’s Point.

“When my husband Peter died last year I wrote to the town offering to fund the installation of a bench in his memory,” she said. “He was an oceanographer, and a founder of what is now the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook and I thought it would be fitting. They would not do it.”

She said she loves spending time at West Meadow Beach, and now that she uses a wheelchair she can be seated while enjoying the walk. When she was still walking, she said it was difficult because there were not enough benches to enable her to make it out to the Point. Even now, she said, “it would be nice for the person pushing my chair to have a place to sit.”

Krieger said there was a period of time several years ago where the town allowed residents to dedicate a bench with a memorial plaque if they paid all of the costs for the bench and its installation. This has since been discontinued.

He said he had no answer as to the question why there are not more benches.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) recently sent a letter to Englebright offering to work together to solve issues regarding funding and oversight of the West Meadow Nature Preserve.

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One of the four remaining cottages at West Meadow Beach has a collapsed roof and is a virtual zombie house, orphaned by a lack of interest. Photo by Pam Botway

After demolition of the 52nd zombie house by the Town of Brookhaven in Sound Beach last month, the town had fulfilled Supervisor Ed Romaine’s (R) mission to tear down one home a week in 2016. But there are other eyesores that have yet to be addressed.

While abandoned houses in the community are eligible for demolition, the Town had taken no action to prevent Town-owned cottages at West Meadow Beach from deteriorating.

Under legislation sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and former state Senator James Lack (R), which was signed into law in 1996, Brookhaven Town officials had agreed to maintain responsibility for the preservation of the beach and the four cottages designated to be used for security or educational uses..

Following a Nov. 24 article in the Village Times Herald titled, “A look at West Meadow Beach — 12 years post-cottages,” East Setauket resident and community activist Pam Botway wrote a letter to the newspaper asking about the condition of the remaining cottages at West Meadow Beach.

“I inquired with the town after noticing the roof caved in on one of the cottages,” she said. “It seems there is a lease agreement between the Three Village Community Trust and the town, in place since 2010. [I’m wondering] why have the cottages turned into zombie houses in the past six years when there is $1.45 million in the bank to maintain them?”

Botway said the Town claimed it has no access to the trust’s funds to make necessary repairs.

While the Town had a five-year license agreement with Three Village Community Trust for the Gamecock Cottage, which commenced in 2010, Town public information officer Jack Krieger said there are no leases for the other cottages.

The endowment fund created by the legislation currently contains $1.45 million, according to the Department of Finance, but only the interest accrued may be used for the property’s upkeep. At today’s rates, interest on the account generates about $2,000 a year, not nearly enough to achieve proper maintenance.

In an interview conducted in November, Englebright theorized that after the Stony Brook Community Fund became The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, and the new entity declined to handle responsibilities spelled out in the legislation, that left the endowment an orphan. As there was no one to oversee the proper application of the account’s interest, the cottages have been neglected.

Until such time as the endowment is actively managed, and some person or group is keeping track, things will remain the same.

“It may be time for a public/private partnership vision to be pursued,” Englebright said. “A not-for-profit operating the Nature Center in conjunction with the Town [would be preferable to what exists now].”

This version was updated Jan. 26 to correct the featured photo.

Is it time for a second look at the reclaimed nature preserve?

West Meadow Beach as seen from clear-sky day. Photo by Donna Newman

It’s been 20 years since New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) authored legislation to create a nature preserve at West Meadow Beach, with a guarantee that it would not be a drain on the ongoing Brookhaven Town budget.

Englebright described a grueling and divisive battle that continued for the eight years between passage of the legislation and the eventual reclamation of the beach.

“I wanted to write state law that established, as specifically as I could at the time, the land uses going forward,” he said, adding that West Meadow Beach is now the most valuable asset Brookhaven Town owns.

Brookhaven officials agreed to take responsibility for the preserve, via a “home rule message,” to keep it a town property.

“Home rule message” is a New York State Assembly policy that, if a proposed bill will affect a municipality, before the speaker authorizes it to come out of committee, that municipality must signal its approval, Englebright said. Brookhaven Town, under then Supervisor Felix Grucci, did just that.

The legislation — A 11008-A in the Assembly and S 7829 sponsored by former New York State Senator James Lack (R) in the Senate — included a provision for a segregated account to contain rent money paid into it by the cottage-owners who continued to occupy them during the summers between 1996 and 2004.

In 1996, nearly 100 cottages were on West Meadow Beach. The legislation required all cottage owners to pay an annual rent to the West Meadow Beach Capital Restoration Fund overseen by both the Stony Brook Community Fund and Brookhaven Town.

In 2004, that fund was used to remove the cottages to make way for the preserve, as well as restoration of the beach.

The Gamecock Cottage at the end of Trustees Road, one cottage to serve as a local museum, and two cottages for security/park protection purposes were the only buildings not removed.

Meanwhile, the Stony Brook Community Fund became The Ward Melville Heritage Organization. It has since declined to handle the responsibilities spelled out in the legislation.

According to the Brookhaven Town Department of Finance, these endowment funds are kept in a bank account separate from other Brookhaven Town funds. The current balance in this account is $1.45 million, which generates approximately $2,000 in interest per year to be used at West Meadow. If this interest is not used, it reverts back as an addition to the principal of the fund.

Jack Krieger, public information officer of Brookhaven, confirmed in an email that Brookhaven has been compliant with this law since it was created.

Englebright said he feels it might be time to revisit the management of West Meadow Beach.

“It may be time for a public/private partnership vision to be pursued,” he said. “A not-for-profit operating the Nature Center in conjunction with the town [would be preferable].”

He pointed out that the practice works extremely well for organizations like the Bronx Zoo and the American Museum of Natural History.

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