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Andrew Cuomo officials tour proposed solar site in Shoreham

State and local officials toured an 800-acre forest around the shuttered Shoreham nuclear power plant in an effort to preserve the site slated for a solar farm on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. (Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington)

A proposal by local and state lawmakers to preserve 800 wooded acres around the shuttered Shoreham nuclear plant from development as a solar farm got a potential boost Tuesday as officials of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration toured the site on a fact-finding mission.

The tour came as local officials continued their efforts to preserve the site as a state park, which would require state preservation funds. They also are pursuing an effort to designate it part of the core pine barrens, to spare it from development.

State Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) will soon introduce legislation to designate the site part of the core pine barrens, along with another site of a planned solar farm in Mastic.

A tour of the facility Tuesday led by the Long Island pine barrens Society director Dick Amper and Brookhaven Town officials was joined by Wayne Horsley, regional director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and Carrie Meek Gallagher, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Both agencies report to the Cuomo administration.

“We’re happy to be out here in person to help evaluate the state’s interest in preserving this property,” said Gallagher, noting the potential benefits for water, land and wildlife preservation.

Horsley he would be reporting findings to the Cuomo administration, which has yet to endorse the Shoreham park project.

The Cuomo administration has not endorsed any of the proposals for the Shoreham property.

National Grid and NextEra Energy, both private companies, have proposed to build the state’s largest solar farm for LIPA on the southern end of the property. The 72-megawatt array would benefit from existing transmission lines and a substation built for the never-used nuke plant.

National Grid, which acquired the 800-plus acres around the Shoreham plant when it bought KeySpan in 2007, and NextEra have offered to contribute 300 acres on the north end of the parcel for preservation if they can develop 350 acres for the solar farm to the south.

A spokesman for the companies didn’t immediately provide comment.

Last month, 18 environmental and civic groups called on the state to make the parcel a park. Englebright said doing so would create a “shore-to-shore” patchwork of federal, state and county parks, tying the Long Island Sound coastline with mid-island pine barrens forests and the Great South Bay shoreline. Englebright called the Shoreham parcel the “missing piece” to the shore-to-shore goal.

LaValle last month acknowledged he was working on the legislation to preserve the property under pine barrens designation. “The overwhelming input has been to preserve this land,” he said.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine told state officials that Brookhaven Town would consider contributing the town beach, parking lot and restrooms it controls adjacent to the parcel for a state park.

“This is a coastal forest that’s very rare,” Romaine said. “Any business that seeks to make a profit by deforesting our land is the kind of business we don’t want in Brookhaven.” Added Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner, “Solar belongs on previously cleared land.”

The site is one of several possible solar projects around Long Island.

On Monday, the Brookhaven Town Planning Board approved a site plan for a 19.2-megawatt solar farm beside town-preserved property on 100-acres of woods at the head waters of the Forge River in Mastic. MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Associated Brookhaven Civic Organization, who was one of the first to oppose the “green-for-green” trend of clear-cutting forest for green-energy, said the group is preparing a lawsuit if the project moves forward.

Romaine said he does not support the Mastic solar farm. “I don’t want to deforest Brookhaven for solar,” he said.

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