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Suffolk lawmaker panel won't allow sewer connection to Heartland development

Heartland's developer Jerry Wolkoff, said the committee's vote is a "major disappointment" for young people and "empty nesters."

Jerry Wolkoff, seen in his office in Edgewood

Jerry Wolkoff, seen in his office in Edgewood on June 14, 2017, said in a statement released Monday that the Suffolk County Legislature's Public Works Committee's actions were "not supported by fact or the County's own record." Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A Suffolk legislative committee on Monday would not advance a sewer connection agreement between the county and Heartland Town Square, in a major blow to the project.

The legislature’s Public Works Committee voted down the motion 4-3 to send the agreement to the full legislature. It would have allowed the planned 9,000-unit project in Brentwood, with 3.2 million square feet of office space and 1 million square feet of retail space, to connect to the Southwest Sewer District.

Heartland developer Jerry Wolkoff declined to comment after the vote as he walked out of the legislature. But later he released a statement saying: “Today’s vote has been a disappointment for young people and empty nesters throughout Long Island seeking housing options for the future."

He said the committee's actions were "not supported by fact or the County’s own record. This much needed project will not be deterred and we will continue to evaluate all options going forward.”

This summer, he had told Newsday that without an agreement with the Suffolk sewer agency, the project will not move forward.

Opponents of the development briefly celebrated after the vote, but said they were aware that the proposal could be resurrected in the future.

“I’m happily shocked,” said Christine Schultz, a Dix Hills resident and communications director for the Four Towns Civic Association, after the vote. “This is just one prong in the fight to stop Heartland.”

Legis. Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills), whose district includes the former Pilgrim State Psychiatric Hospital grounds that is the proposed site of Heartland, said a lot of the analysis on the environmental impact was done more than a decade ago.

"Things in the community have changed dramatically. Things are different than they were in 2004 or 2005. The aquifer has changed," she said.

Opponents of the plan and some environmentalists had warned that the project could deplete the groundwater aquifer by using 2.5 million gallons of water a day, and pumping it for treatment at the Bergen Point Sewage Treatment Plant, where that water would head out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The project instead should build its own sewage treatment plant in which treated wastewater would be recharged into the ground, they argued.

Other lawmakers and opponents had also expressed concerns about Wolkoff’s plan to apply for deep discounts on his sewer connection fees. He has also continued to argue that the county is overestimating his water usage — and how much he should pay in fees — by 900,000 gallons a day.

Wolkoff told lawmakers he had done studies to answer the environmental concerns.

“For 12 1/2 years I’ve done all the studies necessary for my development,” he said. “What I’m hearing now is mind-boggling.”

Kevin McAllister, founder of environmental group Defend H20, said an independent study on the project's impact on the aquifer is needed.

“Obviously, legislators are concerned about the implication of sea level rise and groundwater recharge,” McAllister said.

Terri Elkowitz, Heartland's environmental consultant and senior vice president with consultant VHB, said the project would lower the aquifer by half a foot in the area, whereas the normal seasonal change has fluctuations of from 5 feet to 10 feet.

The agreement could still get in front of the full Suffolk Legislature on Tuesday in Hauppauge if 10 of 18 legislators sign a "discharge petition," which would get the agreement out of committee. If those votes are not submitted by Monday at noon, the proposal would have to be resubmitted by Wolkoff and go through the committee process again.

Voting in favor of the motion to discharge the agreement to the full legislature were Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack), Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) and Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma). It was opposed by Berland, Thomas Donnelly (D-Deer Park), Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue).

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's spokesman, Jason Elan, declined to comment on the Heartland project, other than to say that "if the bill passes, we will review it."

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