Leaders of a Calverton animal shelter and an East End environmental group are at odds over a plan to expand the shelter within the protected Long Island Pine Barrens.

Kent Animal Shelter officials want to rebuild and enlarge their 47-year-old kennel building and combine it with their medical building in a project estimated to cost $2.5 million. Shelter officials said the project would allow the nonprofit to care for more animals.

But the shelter, on River Road, sits in the core of the pine barrens, a region protected under a 1993 state law that bars nearly all development.

Shelter officials have applied for a waiver from the Pine Barrens Commission, made up of representatives appointed from state and Suffolk County governments and the towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton and which reviews development proposals in the protected area. A second and final hearing before the commission in the case is scheduled for Wednesday at Brookhaven Town Hall.

Richard Amper, director of the nonprofit Long Island Pine Barrens Society, says the shelter's expansion could set a precedent that paves the way for more construction in the pine barrens, a forested area that sits above an important source of drinking water for Long Island.

"We're not anti-pet," Amper said. "We're pro clean water for people. If this waiver is approved, it's open season on undermining the protection of the ecosystem, and thus Long Island's cleanest water."

Kent Animal Shelter director Pamela Green said the project would help the environment by relocating a septic system that currently allows pet waste to leach into the ground just feet from the Peconic River.

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"The sanitary system we've proposed for the project is really a significant upgrade," Green said. " We're proposing relocating the sanitary system about 300 feet away from the Peconic River."

The 1993 pine barrens law created strict rules protecting 102,500 acres of land in Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton. New construction is not permitted in the 55,000-acre core area except in rare circumstances.

The Pine Barrens Commission has granted 58 waivers for development in the core area and denied 22, said John Pavacic, executive director of the commission.

Kent officials have applied under a provision that permits development that serves "an essential health or safety need." Amper says the project does not meet the qualifications for a waiver.

"Can we build a CVS drugstore in the core? How about 150-bed health care facility?" Amper said. "It's the precedent that this is about. It has nothing to do with the goodness and the worthwhileness of the project."

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, one of four voting members of the Pine Barrens Commission, argues the shelter provides vital spaying, neutering and vaccination services.

"They're critical for our cat population," Walter said. "It's very difficult to site a kennel or a cattery, because there's not a lot of available land."