State funds to help finish park project

Councilman Timothy P. Mazzei sits by the stream Councilman Timothy P. Mazzei sits by the stream of fresh water brought in from the Swan River in East Patchogue. (Jan. 23, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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After losing federal money to revitalize the site of an old East Patchogue car dealership, Brookhaven Town has won $2.1 million in state funds to complete the project.

The state Regional Economic Development Council grant will be used to help restore the freshwater wetland on the Swan River at the former Nessenger Chevrolet, where stormwater runoff drains into the river.

State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said a $1 million federal grant allocated a few years ago for the Swan River Restoration project was taken back under a "use it or lose it" policy implemented by President Barack Obama.

Brookhaven Town was working on the project last year, but it was not near completion by the administration's deadline, Zeldin said.

The senator turned to the development council last summer and worked with the state Department of Transportation to secure the state grant.

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The site, at Montauk Highway-East Main Street, is a high-profile area with strong traffic and potential for positive environmental impacts, making it a good candidate for revitalization, Zeldin said.

"This project beautifies eastern Patchogue and improves it economically," Zeldin said. "There is less blight, and it only helps the community grow in the right direction."

The town purchased the 3.77 acre property as open space in 2011 and tore down the building as the first step in saving that section of the river, officials said.

The state funds will also be used to create a pond and park, while helping to preserve the environment, officials said.

"We will rip up the parking lot and try to clean up the area so people can fish; hopefully we can get some kayaking done," Brookhaven Town Councilman Tim Mazzei said. Officials also plan to remove a drainage pipe from the property.

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"It's an excellent thing. To be able to get money for this property is not just a home run, it's a grand slam," said Mazzei, who expects to receive the funds this spring.

Officials hope the use of the site measures up to its former glory as a business hub.

The dealership was launched at the site in the late 1970s when the surrounding stretch of highway was a busy commercial corridor packed with automobile businesses.

Traffic patterns shifted and business declined by the late 1990s, so the owners moved the business to Medford in 1998 and sold the original building, which languished for a decade before the town bought it.

Last summer, Ronkonkoma-based CIA Construction tore down the blighted building; and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who had helped secure the federal funds for the project, described it as "a huge piece of the work of restoring this area" and "an example of government at its best."

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"I fought for federal funding to improve this blighted area, and I am thrilled that New York State is stepping up to make the Swan River once again a natural treasure for the enjoyment of residents and visitors to the South Shore," Bishop said in a statement Thursday.

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