Solar farm applicant withdraws, but refiles
BY LINDA LEUZZI
Howard Rosengarten and Associates, the developers of Middle Island Solar Farm, which was on the agenda Monday night for a Brookhaven Town planning board decision on the next step for their phased-in site plan, withdrew their application. But they refiled on Tuesday.
“We didn’t have to make a decision,” commented planning board chairman Vincent Pascale. “If they didn’t withdraw the application, the board was going to deny it. The attorney submitted a letter at the eleventh hour.”
In essence, the planning board was not willing to approve the phased-in site plan in the first and second SEQRA Finding Statement; the applicant could not remove more trees until the power purchase agreement from LIPA/PSEG was obtained for 19.6 MW of power.
“While the applicant’s representative testified that they will have all 19.6 MW, they did not testify that they do have it and no documentation has been submitted demonstrating same,” said Pascale in a statement. “This board will not violate its own SEQRA Findings Statement conditions. So the Planning Board couldn’t approve this project as proposed.”
The MISF letter, hand-delivered to Pascale, came from Rosengarten’s attorney, Eric Russo of VanBrunt, Juzwiak & Russo P.C., requesting the revised drainage and grading plans with a phasing plan for the solar project be withdrawn. “Our client does not wish to proceed with the plans at this time,” Russo stated. Gerald Rosengarten is the managing partner.
Rosengarten was asked to comment.
“We withdrew our application for specific reasons and will be resubmitting it with additional information, specifically proof that we have all the power purchase agreements that will be useful for the town planning board to make its decision,” he said in a statement. “We are committed more than ever to clean, renewable energy on Long Island and the success of the Middle Island Solar Farm.”
Russo said a request to the Brookhaven Town planning board for the project with the revised plan was refiled on Dec. 5 with the revised phasing plan and necessary PSEG approvals. “We requested a public hearing on Dec. 18 before the Brookhaven Town planning board,” Russo said.
The withdrawal of the plan for the 100-acre, L-1 Industrial parcel, flanked by preserved state and county woods on both sides, occurs two days after a Long Island Pine Barrens demonstration at Barnes Road in Manorville near the MISF site, led by Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper, that attracted 50 people, many representing environmental groups including the South Shore Audubon Society, the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, Art Flick Chapter of Trout Unlimited and local residents who want solar without tree takedown, like Austin Remson of Middle Island. The groups traveled in from Bellmore and Island Park as well as the Moriches and Brookhaven and included Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Sag Harbor).
Their say: preserve it as part of the passed Assembly bill to add the parcel to the core Long Island Pine Barrens, urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the legislation.
Rosengarten’s say: preservation and protection should work together.
Rosengarten said in a previous interview he had been crafting his plan for his L-1 Industrial parcel for nearly six years, returning to the drawing board when solar codes changed and the town made specific requests, citing three hearings. He was preserving 40 percent of the property. Statistics from his project claimed 36,000 tons of carbon would be removed annually once the solar farm was completed.
The three-phased plan would mean trees would be removed at specific time frames. The site plan with special conditions was approved by the town planning board on April 17, 2017. Tree removal for grading and drainage of one acre already took place on Oct. 20, 2017 that included test holes for the stormwater pollution prevention plan.
“That nitrogen-laden cover, if it’s gone it doesn’t absorb atmospheric nitrogen, exacerbating the nitrogen load in the Forge River,” explained John Turner, conservation policy advocate for Seatuck Environmental Association, pointing to the area’s pitch pine, scrub oak, white pine and red oak on Saturday at the Long Island Pine Barrens demonstration.
Rosengarten’s team claims the woods aren’t pine barrens.
“That’s absurd,” said Turner, a biologist, in response. “It’s classic pine barrens. It’s a poster child for the pine barrens ecosystem.”
Also, Rosengarten’s group says that the nearest surface waters are located approximately 1,121 feet to the east of the southeast corner of the
subjected property and no runoff from the site would be expected to reach these surface waters due to topography, vegetation and stormwater retention design.
“No one has expressed an issue of runoff,” explained Turner. “But some surface flow from atmospheric nitrogen would work its way into the Forge River.” Tree cover, he explained, helps back that off by absorbing it through their systems. The land was located in the headwaters of the Forge River, which had been practically dead and was slowly coming back and a recent hike on adjacent land displayed wetland plants and a flowing stream 40 feet across.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine has weighed in on the issue. He’s already written to Cuomo to preserve the MISF parcel as mentioned in the Assembly bill. He wrote again on Dec. 1 urging him to sign the bill, stating his commitment to renewable energy, just not taking down trees to accomplish it.
Rosengarten was offered to develop 22 acres of the landfill for solar, with 18 more acres in 2018 for a land swap last month, he said.
Rosengarten said in an earlier interview he would be willing to build a solar plant on the landfill, but the project would have to include the total 19.6 megawatts he was applying for.
Romaine, in the December letter to Cuomo, cited the town’s two large solar projects for a total of 34. 5 MW, on a golf course and a sod farm, which required no tree clearing, underscoring the town’s commitment to renewable energy.
“We also offered to purchase the [Rosengarten] land outright, without the county,” he told the Advance.
Romaine and Legis. Kate Browning approached Rosengarten about pursuing a county/town purchase in 2016. Rosengarten rejected it.
There were supporters of Rosengarten’s project including Reliable Energy Long Island, New York League of Conservation Voters, Alliance for Clean Energy and Natural Resources Defense Council.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito, who initially supported the solar farm, commented she’d been meeting with the governor’s office. “They would like to save land and advance solar and not have two critical needs pitted against each other,” she said. “If a land swap agreement can be reached, that solves the problem and then we can save important land and advance our critical solar needs.”
Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization president MaryAnn Johnston was stunned when she heard the news. “They both did the right thing,” she said of the planning board and MISF.
Englebright commented he thought Cuomo was still studying the preservation bill.
A walk in nearby woods
A walk in adjacent preserved land to the Middle Island Solar Farm parcel off Barnes Road in Manorville on Monday presented a surprisingly hilly topographical display of a wetlands area and the headwaters of the Forge River.
“That’s cinnamon fern, a wetlands indicator,” said John Turner, conservation policy advocate for Seatuck Environmental Association, of the plants sticking up. There were spots of moss on tree trunks, the darker areas were wet and spongy, and also swamp azalea. Red maple trees were there, a common wetlands tree, Turner pointed out.
Below a hilly crest, as birds like the phoebe lighted on a tree and a red-tailed hawk soared, emerged a 40-foot-wide body of water that widens and flows down to the bay.
“This is the first expression of the Forge River in the preserved Mastic Woods property, and just a few hundred yards away is Rosengarten’s woods,” he said.
The developers understate the impact,” Turner said. A snag tree with a dozen holes was termed a bird condo. “It can accommodate chickadees, screech owls. Property like this is not only important to native plant species, it also provides migratory motels,” Turner said.
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