Brookhaven supervisor Edward P. Romaine is wading into an issue that has defied previous town leaders: a protection plan for the Carmans River watershed.
At a reporters' roundtable Thursday, Romaine outlined a new plan that centers on buying and rezoning land near the ecologically sensitive river, which winds over 10 miles from Middle Island to Bellport.
The plan will be drafted with full community input, he stressed.
"We're meeting with every civic organization," he said at the session, held at Town Hall in Farmingville.
For four decades, town officials have tried to devise a plan to protect the watershed from overdevelopment, town documents show.
Last year, then-Supervisor Mark Lesko withdrew a controversial Carmans River proposal that hinged on the transfer of development rights from sensitive areas of the watershed and to designated receiving areas.
Some residents and council members feared Lesko's plan would actually create overdevelopment in the receiving areas, and some community groups complained about being left out of the process.
Romaine also criticized the Lesko plan, saying, "I viewed that more as a development plan."
The town plans to use money from a dedicated open space fund to buy and preserve land near the river, he said.
The core of the watershed, with the most restrictive limitations on development, will also be expanded.
Town officials would also suggest that privately owned land in the core be "rezoned to minimum 2 acre residential," according to town documents.
Romaine said the new plan will impose a fee upon application approval on developers looking to build "intense development" in approved town sites, following a formula devised by town planners.
"If you develop more intensely here, you must preserve open space over there," he said.
The proposed fees could generate millions of dollars a year for the struggling town, he said.
Romaine said the plan, while focused on controlling development near Carmans River, could help improve the river's water quality.
If successful, the plan will protect 1,177 acres of public land and 483 acres of private land in the watershed, he said.MaryAnn Johnston, chairwoman of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization's land use committee, said she has not seen details but wants more emphasis on water quality. "The water quality standard is not workable at all," she said. "There won't be any support for that standard." She said ABCO would host several meetings for the community to learn about Romaine's plan.