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Officials: State budget bill excludes solar farm property

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s state budget measure would exclude 100 acres for the proposed Middle Island Solar Farm from the Pine Barrens core preservation district.

New York State Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has

New York State Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed expanding the Long Island Pine Barrens by 800 acres around the decommissioned Shoreham nuclear power plant, but did not include saving a site in Mastic where a developer wants to build a solar farm. Photo Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

The Cuomo administration’s state budget bill includes a measure that would expand the core Pine Barrens by around 800 acres in Shoreham, officials said, but omits a controversial parcel in Mastic favored by legislators on which a developer has sought to build a solar farm.

The governor’s budget measure would include all of the Shoreham property previously part of a state law passed by the legislature last year (later vetoed by the governor), giving Pine Barrens core preservation status to some 800 acres surrounding the shuttered nuclear plant, according to lawmakers and the developer who reviewed it.

But the 100 acres for the Middle Island Solar Farm, whose owners successfully lobbied for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s veto late last year, are not part of Cuomo’s budget bill, officials said. Other Mastic properties amounting to around 250 additional acres also were excluded, they said. The exclusion would clear a prospective hurdle for the developer to build the solar farm, since the area where it will be built would not come under Pine Barrens protections.

Representatives for Cuomo’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said he was “appreciative” that Cuomo included the 800 acres at Shoreham in his bill, which still must be approved by the legislature. He said he’s also “committed” to working with Cuomo staff to find an alternative site for the Mastic solar farm so the developer doesn’t have to bulldoze some 60 acres, including 40 acres approved by the town for the solar farm earlier this month.

At the same time, a separate bill by state legislators that includes the Mastic properties is moving swiftly through the Assembly and Senate this week, a spokesman for Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said Monday.

A representative for state Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who has resubmitted his original Pine Barrens bill in the Assembly, said he was “reviewing” the governor’s proposal.

Gerald Rosengarten, managing director of the Middle Island Solar Farm, said the governor’s budget bill is “very clear. He left us out of the budget.”

Rosengarten already has received town approval to develop just over 40 acres of the Mastic property in a phased development that would leave another 20 acres for future development, along with a structure. He said he plans to begin building when clearing and other permits are granted, but he remains hopeful of reaching a deal with Brookhaven Town to shift the 20-acre development to a town property, perhaps on the Brookhaven landfill. “I’m prepared to save every tree I can save if I can reach an agreement with the town,” he said. Forty of the 100 acres will stay undeveloped under the developer’s original plan.

Meanwhile Monday, LaValle and Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) introduced a bill that would require LIPA trustees to consider the “economic interests of its ratepayers” when considering rate increases. Current law allows trustees to examine only a narrow set of criteria, including “sound fiscal operating practices” and “safe and adequate service” in considering rate hikes. The bill also would prevent LIPA from increasing rates to offset revenue losses due to ratepayer energy conservation efforts.

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