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Brookhaven supervisor objects to Suffolk solar plan

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine addresses the Suffolk County

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine addresses the Suffolk County Republicans at the Portuguese American Center in Farmingville on Nov. 3, 2015. Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine is raising objections to a new Suffolk County proposal to erect large solar fields on 130 acres of county land in the town, saying the plan could violate local laws and the county's own solar code.

In a letter he is sending to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and 18 county legislators Wednesday, Romaine, a Republican, said he is raising concerns about Suffolk's plan to clear dozens of acres of trees in Bellport and Yaphank.

Suffolk County and developer SolarCity said the arrays on five separate parcels would generate 13.5 megawatts of power and $1 million in annual cost savings for the county.

"What they are proposing violates the Suffolk Planning Commission code and the tree-clearing code of the Town of Brookhaven," said Romaine, who acknowledged the town didn't have jurisdiction over county-owned land. Nevertheless, he said, "We have grave concerns about this. We think they should comply with the code and file an environmental impact statement."

Deputy Suffolk County Executive Jon Schneider called Romaine's objections "premature," "speculative," and "irresponsible."

"It seems odd to me that the town is objecting to a project which has not actually been designed" yet, he said. "I don't know what they are objecting to. It seems political more than anything."

Romaine said the town is considering "all our options" to oppose the project, but declined to say if Brookhaven would sue to block it.

Noting that Brookhaven solar projects have avoided clearing trees, Romaine charged the Suffolk plan involves "deforesting" a "large portion of the Carmans River Watershed."

Romaine said clearing even 10 wooded acres would require an environmental impact statement. That prospect could add months of red tape and time to the plan, which envisions beginning construction before the end of 2016, when a federal tax credit drops to 10 percent.

Romaine said he was particularly concerned that a Suffolk plan would violate the solar code developed by the county's own planning commission. Brookhaven has adopted that code, which calls for, among other things, maintaining 35 percent open space in solar array fields, excluding spaces between panels. It also recommends rooftop arrays over those on undeveloped land.

Schneider said the county's "intent would be to design it in compliance with the model solar code." He said Suffolk has already nearly maximized solar arrays on its rooftops and parking lots.

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