UPDATED: Town planning approves solar farm phasing
The Middle Island Solar Farm phasing plan, tabled for decision for 62 days by the Brookhaven Town planning board on Dec. 18, was approved on Jan. 8.
Nothing was scaled down or changed in the planning board’s decision, emphasized Eric Russo of Van Brunt, Juzwiak and Russo, attorney for MISF managing partner Gerald Rosengarten.
“It gives approval for the project in three phases,” Russo said. “Approximately 60 acres will be developed of what was approved, but how they go about finalizing that has not been decided. There is a discussion going on with the town, [Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office] and PSEG to relocate part of the project to the town landfill on 20 acres.”
Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper attended a meeting with the governor’s office in Manhattan on Jan. 11 that also included town attorney Annette Eaderesto, town division of land management open space coordinator John Turner, and John Pavicic, executive director of the Central Pine Barrens joint planning and policy commission. It was a one-hour gathering with four executive staffers from the governor’s office, two from Albany and two from Cuomo’s Manhattan office, he said.
“I think they came away with the premise that we’re not anti-solar, but we are for finding alternatives [to cutting down trees for solar],” Amper said. “We left with the impression that [Cuomo] wants to fix this. The next step is for his staff to review the materials we left that advocate for protecting land, preserving water and fostering renewable energy. Nothing was decided, but we walked away with the understanding that the governor wants to resolve it. They’ll follow up.”
Requests for comment from Cuomo’s Albany office were not returned.
Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) — who received overwhelming bipartisan support for preservation bills advocating additions to the central pine barrens and core preservation area that includes the Middle Island Solar Farm and Shoreham property, which was vetoed by Cuomo at the end of December — resubmitted their bills on Jan. 5 and 9, respectively.
A town official confirmed that the MISF plan was a three-phased project and that there were no requests to change it. As to the planning board decision, the hearing was closed and the planning board had up to 62 days to review it. “They moved it to the decision calendar,” said the official. “There was no hearing. So nothing would have been advertised as to the decision.”
The 100-acre parcel off Middle Island-Moriches Road, between two preserved wooded properties at the headwaters of the Forge River, has been a contentious subject between Rosengarten and environmentalists including Amper, Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization president MaryAnn Johnston and others, citing its proximity to the Forge River, while some environmental groups, including Citizens Campaign for the Environment, applaud it.
Several preservation efforts offered by Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine that even included former Legis. Kate Browning have been rejected by Rosengarten.
Of the planning board decision, “Nobody classifies solar arrays on AC/DC,” said Johnston. “LIPA does it as megawatts; that’s the way you apply for it. All of a sudden we have 14.5 megawatts as 19.6 megawatts.” That factor was described in the Dec. 18 meeting with confusing AC/DC explanations by MISF advocates that MISF had in fact the proper required megawatts all along. “And additionally, we’re in also court,” Johnston added of the lawsuit ABCO and Long Island Pine Barrens is in the midst of against Brookhaven’s planning board and Rosengarten, filed last spring.
“In all the years I’m doing this work, after a lawsuit is applied, a planning board continues to entertain an application while it’s being challenged? The town changed the code 15 months ago; we’re in court, and despite their intentions to continually preserve the land, they still march forward. Maybe Ed Romaine is sincere, but not the others.”
Johnston said she was hopeful “they still have a rabbit in the hat.”
“No one has ever prevailed in suing the Pine Barrens Act because the government has already ruled that the pine barrens — which protects the drinking water of pine barrens — is of public purpose,” she added of Cuomo’s veto assertion of exposing the state to projected liability. “Nobody takes the land without compensation.”
Amper reconfirmed that there was no reason to choose one environmental resource over the other. “We need to protect land and the water crisis Long Island is facing,” he said.
Cuomo’s pledge to reduce nitrogen pollution and improve water quality in local areas included funds for a new sewer collection system and wastewater treatment plant to connect parcels in the beleaguered Forge River watershed, which was a big campaign ticket he promised in October 2014, when he made his announcement to great fanfare at the Bourne Mansion in Oakdale, which was reported by the Advance.
“I believe the governor was sincere that this matter will be revisited and it will be,” Amper said of the meeting.
Rosengarten admitted he hired lobbyists to champion his cause for the solar farm. Connelly, McLaughlin & Woloz is among those hired; GreenbergTraurig attorney Robert Rosenthal, listed on MISF’s website under Our Team, served as assistant counsel, New York State Governor Counsel’s Office from 2011-2013 and testified at the Dec. 18, 2017 planning board meeting.
Russo said MISF’s next step includes providing a decommissioning bond, paying town inspection fees and submitting the plan as approved. “I don’t know when we’ll get the tree-clearing permit,” he said. “I’m waiting for people to get back to me. It will certainly happen before March 31.” Russo was referring to the protection of the federally threatened northern long-eared bat; a colony lives on the parcel, which requires no tree clearing after April 1 to Oct. 31. “We are going ahead,” he said.
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