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Suffolk panel tables solar ballot initiative

A proposed ballot initiative to ask voters to convert 25 acres of fallow county-owned farmland into a solar field failed Monday after Suffolk’s legislative environmental committee failed to advance it.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) had pitched the idea as an alternative to County Executive Steve Bellone’s plan, which involves cutting down acres of woodlands in Yaphank to build solar fields to power county buildings and save the county almost $1 million per year.

Browning’s proposal to convert the preserved land, which is near the Suffolk County Farm in Yaphank and hasn’t been in use for five years, brought opposition from the Long Island Farm Bureau, whose board worried it would threaten other preserved farmland.

“It sets a precedent,” administrator Rob Carpenter told the committee Monday. “We’d be very, very concerned going forward.”

Browning said she understood the concern of the farm community and believes the county can avoid cutting down trees through the work of a Yaphank committee.

“I’m confident that the Yaphank group will find suitable locations,” she said.

The members of the legislative committee voted without comment to table the resolution to put the measure on November’s ballot. Member Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said he shared the Farm Bureau’s concern about setting precedent.

Suffolk County is working with developer SolarCity to put 13.5 megawatts of solar on some wooded county-owned parcels. The plan has drawn objections from Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine and some Suffolk legislators, who pushed for a study of the proposal.

The plan won’t move forward until a new county task force considers a range of locations.

The committee also heard a presentation on changing the county’s sanitary code to allow the use of residential alternative on-site wastewater treatment systems.

Suffolk is testing six different systems at 19 locations. Officials expect to release test data in September, said Walter Dawydiak, director of the county’s division of environmental quality.

The proposed code changes would impose a nitrogen standard of no more than 19 milligrams per liter for treated wastewater at these sites, while traditional cesspools or septic systems release about 60 milligrams per liter, Dawydiak said.

Legislators said they had worked with staff in an attempt to ensure that the new systems would not allow for higher density development.

Lawmakers in the Public Works Committee also heard a proposal from Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) that would bar vendors and contractors that participate in a pro-Palestinian campaign to penalize Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

Stern said the county would use a list of companies participating in the BDS movement being compiled by New York State under an executive order from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

“It’s sending a strong message we will not tolerate and not do business with those companies supportive of BDS,” Stern said.

Advocates of the global BDS campaign say Israel is violating international law and Palestinian rights. Bans like the one being considered by Suffolk have been criticized for infringing on free speech rights.

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