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Is Brooklyn Water Works land deal crumbling?

A deal to create open space from the

A deal to create open space from the land where these buildings of the old Brooklyn Water Works once stood is on the agenda of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. Supporters fear that the financial control board will kill the deal. Credit: Joel Cairo, 2009

A coalition of environmentalists and Freeport Village and Nassau County officials and residents is calling for the county's financial control board to back away from what the group says is a plan to nix the sale of the former Brooklyn Water Works to the county.

Gary Melius, owner of Oheka Castle in Huntington, bought the defunct Freeport pumping station from the county for $1.4 million in 1986, intending to turn it into condos. But Melius -- who has faced community opposition and has been unable to get approval to develop the property -- has agreed to sell the land to the county for open space, with the county funding the $6.22 million purchase through a voter-approved 2006 bond act.

Several residents and officials with Nassau and Freeport, as well as the South Shore Audubon Society and other environmental groups, said they are worried the Nassau Interim Finance Authority plans to short-circuit the sale.

Proponents of the sale held a rally at the site Wednesday, and pledged to attend NIFA's meeting Thursday in Uniondale to support the sale.

"We thought we had put this to bed," Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick said. "We all came to the table and agreed this property should be open space."

NIFA officials have said they expect the water works deal to be on  Thursday's agenda and declined to comment further.

NIFA member George Marlin said: "We'll see [Thursday] how it all goes."

The four-acre parcel is located just north of elevated Long Island Rail Road tracks. The site's deteriorated buildings -- constructed in 1888 to pump water to Brooklyn -- were demolished last year, and the land is now an empty field.

The parcel is adjacent to the 20-acre Brookside Preserve, and would be maintained by the South Shore Audubon Society as an extension of that preserve, an Audubon Society spokesman said. About 75 bird species have been observed at the preserve, the spokesman said.

Melius said he believes NIFA might be considering nixing the sale because he is a political ally of County Executive Edward Mangano.

"They are not fans of Mangano," Melius said. "It is my opinion that they are biased towards him."

Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), a leading sponsor of the environmental bond act and a supporter of purchasing the property, said, "I don't believe it's within NIFA's discretion to say no. The money was approved by the taxpayers and is being used for an authorized expenditure."

Denenberg said two-thirds of the money to purchase the former waterworks land comes from Nassau's voter-approved 2006 Environmental Bond Act and the other third comes from the county's Open Space Fund, which can only be spent on open space purposes.

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