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Hills at Southampton golf resort plan hotly debated

James Cervino, left, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic

James Cervino, left, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, defends his position on the pollution dangers of a proposed golf resort in Southampton in a heated debate with golf resort proponent Livingston Marshall, right, during a meeting Saturday, June 11, 2016. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

What was billed as a staid marine science talk in East Quogue erupted in anger Saturday as residents clashed with backers of a planned golf resort in the East End hamlet.

About 100 people attended the East Quogue Civic Association forum to hear marine scientist James Cervino’s criticism of a hotly debated project called The Hills at Southampton.

Cervino, a visiting scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said the resort would add fertilizers, pesticides and waste likely to worsen the algae blooms affecting Shinnecock Bay.

“We already have a saturated aquifer here with nitrogen,” Cervino told the audience at the East Quogue Elementary School cafeteria. “A golf course is going to add more to it.”

Discovery Land Co. of Scottsdale, Arizona, has requested special permission from the Southampton Town Board to change the residential zoning of the property to accommodate a resort with an 18-hole golf course, clubhouse and 118 residences.

Environmentalists have called on town officials to reject the proposal, which they said would develop the largest remaining privately owned property in the state-protected Long Island Pine Barrens region. The resort would encompass 167 acres of a 591-acre site.

Cervino said he has spent about 10 years observing the waters off another Discovery Land Co. project, the Baker’s Bay golf resort in the Bahamas. He said he watched algae blooms intensify and coral reefs decline since construction of the resort began in 2005.

Shouts and debate erupted during a question-and-answer session, after several people in the audience identified themselves as backers of Discovery Land.

One of them was Livingston Marshall, a marine scientist overseeing the developer’s environmental programs at Baker’s Bay, who traveled to the forum from the Bahamas.

East Quogue environmental activist Ron Kass accused Marshall of intimidating a scientist who once worked for the developer but later criticized the Bahamas project.

Kass said he spoke to the University of Miami scientist and “she was terrified by a threat that she received from Livingston Marshall.”

Marshall denied threatening the scientist, but said he “can understand her being terrified, because it was a very, very serious matter, which is what I explained to her — that it was a serious matter.”

Marshall said in an interview that global warming has driven declines in the coral reefs off Baker’s Bay since the 1980s.

East Quogue Civic Association president Al Algieri called for order after several remarks from backers descended into debate. “If you came here just to make a statement because you work for or have some association with Discovery Land, you’re in the wrong place,” Algieri said.

The Southampton Town Board is poised Tuesday to reject an environmental-impact statement submitted by Discovery Land in April.

Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said Friday that problems with the report were “relatively minor” and likely “could be addressed within a two-week period.” Once the report is accepted, public hearings on the proposal would begin.

Discovery Land senior vice president Mark Hissey said Saturday that Southampton “has the most stringent water monitoring protocols of any municipality that I know of” and the golf course would be at least a mile from Shinnecock Bay.

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