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Environmentalists clash over tree-clearing for solar project

A rendering of Middle Island Solar Farm in

A rendering of Middle Island Solar Farm in Mastic. Credit: Middle Island Solar Farm

The head of the Pine Barrens Society called for the resignation of the director of the Pine Barrens Commission as the start of tree-clearing for a Mastic solar farm highlighted a divide among environmentalists.

After three days of court battles, developer Gerald Rosengarten of Middle Island Solar Farm resumed clear-cutting of trees on Monday for the first 20-acre phase of development that calls for 60 acres of clearing, his spokesman said.

Rosengarten, who in another career popularized the leisure suit, has called solar the “least impactful” use of the land, which is zoned light industrial and could be cleared for warehouses.

But Dick Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society and a party to a lawsuit seeking to block the plan, called clear-cutting of any type a “deliberate frontal attack” on the environment.

In a statement, Amper called for the resignation of Pine Barrens Commission executive director John Pavacic for “promising to provide the governor’s staff with siting alternatives” for the solar farm, “then reneging on that promise.”

Tim Motz, a spokesman for the Pine Barrens Commission, said it would have been “irresponsible” for Pavacic to take “any significant action” on the Mastic case without direction by the commission, “since the site is not within the Central Pine Barrens.”

Motz said Pavacic “acted properly in this case and has the full support of the commission’s members.”

Amper also criticized Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, for her role in lobbying Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to veto legislation that would have preserved the Mastic property as part of the core Pine Barrens, along with 800 acres in Shoreham that had been slated for a solar farm.

The bill passed the State Legislature with a large majority, but Cuomo vetoed it in December.

Amper said Esposito and another environmentalists gave Cuomo, “bad advice by promoting veto of a bill to save the Pine Barrens.”

“They are not environmentalists,” Amper said in an interview. “You can no longer present yourself as an environmentalist having been responsible for this.”

Esposito acknowledged urging Cuomo to veto the preservation bill. But she said she supports preserving the Shoreham property, now that the proposal is under consideration as part of Cuomo’s budget bill.

“We need to do both, save land and trees and site solar farms,” she said. “ . . . I refuse to pit the two against each other.”

Amper also criticized Esposito’s group for accepting contributions from another company that proposed a solar farm in Shoreham.

Esposito, who issued a letter in support of the Shoreham solar farm by NextEra and National Grid when it was announced in 2016, acknowledged receiving a donation of between $3,800 and $5,000 from NextEra for her annual gala, but said it didn’t influence her support.

“We supported solar when the option for land preservation wasn’t available,” she said. “The donation means nothing.”

Esposito also stressed that she never received money from Rosengarten.

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