Brookhaven, Suffolk County agree to buy, preserve Franciscan site

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Brookhaven and Suffolk County have agreed to buy a wooded, 44-acre Mount Sinai property owned by Franciscan friars to protect it from potential development, officials said.

The $4.4 million acquisition is expected to preserve groundwater from pollution and help the Society of St. Francis build a new facility at Little Portion Friary, near the land to be purchased. Five Franciscan brothers will continue to live at the friary, on a separate 20-acre parcel.

"We can save a very valuable property from any possibility of development in the future," Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said during a news conference at the friary Tuesday.

"This is an example of government at its best," County Executive Steve Bellone said at the news conference.

The county has agreed to fund 75 percent of the purchase, and Brookhaven will cover the remaining 25 percent, officials said.

Brother Eric Michael, the property's guardian, said part of the proceeds are expected to go toward replacing the 19th century house where Episcopal brothers have lived since 1929. Other funds from the sale may be distributed to Franciscan organizations nationwide that help the poor and hungry, he said.

"We're always concerned about funding and the upkeep of the property," Michael said in an interview. He said the Franciscan society wanted to remain on the land, but "we need a building that's functional."

Councilwoman Jane Bonner said the friary is "synonymous with the Mt. Sinai community."

Romaine said the purchase benefits the community because the land discharges more than 25 million gallons of water annually into the aquifer and nearby Mt. Sinai Harbor.

Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai) said she lives near the site and enjoys kayaking in a nearby river. The Franciscan property "is very special to me. It's holy ground," she said.

Michael said preserving the land -- home to owls, foxes, woodpeckers and other wildlife -- is in keeping with the philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology.

"He had the concept that everything is connected," Michael said. "That is the concept that St. Francis was working on, so this is perfect."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect religious affiliation for Little Portion Friary and the Society of St. Francis.

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