The first Brookhaven Town meeting to solicit public ideas about a new plan to protect the fragile Carmans River brought pleas for community participation, water protection and establishing a steering committee to safeguard the process.
Helmed by Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, the meeting Wednesday night at Town Hall was attended by several dozen residents and the town board except for Councilwoman Jane Bonner.
The original plan to protect the Carmans River was supported by Town Supervisor Mark Lesko, who was part of a study group last year that recommended the town transfer development rights away from sensitive areas of the watershed. Lesko withdrew the plan in March after facing opposition from residents and council members who feared his plan would create overdevelopment.
Fiore-Rosenfeld and council members Daniel Panico and Connie Kepert proposed a $30 million plan to acquire sensitive land in the Carmans watershed.
Land that cannot be acquired could be rezoned for less dense development. At the meeting, Karen Blumer of the Open Space Council said she supported Fiore-Rosenfeld's efforts to craft a new plan and wanted to ensure it would be grounded upon "science and citizens-based planning."
Water quality measures were inadequate in the original plan, said Kevin McAllister of the Peconic Baykeeper group. "It's all about the groundwater," he said. "Ultimately the plan should be structured to have these protections in place."
The town has an opportunity to set environmental precedent, said Cynthia Barnes, of Setauket. "The Carmans River plan should serve as a model for other watershed management plans in the town," she said.
Debbie Felber of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization read aloud the group's stance that the new plan should be directed by a new steering committee made up of citizens, academics, planners and water quality experts. Opponents of Lesko's plan charged he did not involve the public enough in the drafting phase. After the meeting, Fiore-Rosenfeld said he was pleased with the level of input.
"We all recognize we want to protect the Carmans River. We just don't want to feel there's a gun to our head," he said.
In mid-May, Lesko went above the town board and asked the state to extend the Pine Barrens Core to protect the Carmans River watershed. Fiore-Rosenfeld said the comments at the meeting showed that residents didn't want the state involved in saving the river.
"They said it multiple times: 'community-based planning,' " he said. "That should be the starting point."