The Jurgielewicz Duck Farm has closed.

The Jurgielewicz Duck Farm has closed. Credit: Handout

The Jurgielewicz Duck Farm -- once one of the largest duck farming operations in the country and more recently a persistent source of complaints about environmental offenses -- has closed.

The 65-acre Moriches farm, founded in 1919, once billed itself as America's largest free-range duck operation, raising 1 million Pekins a year.

But the farm, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2010, has ceased operations and is not relocating, said Giles Shai, a company spokesman. The farm's assets are being distributed to creditors as part of bankruptcy proceedings, he said.

The farm's closure was heralded as a victory for the environment by some local officials and activists who cited long-standing charges that nitrogen discharged from the farm is harmful to the nearby Forge River.

The closure could open the door for a more environmentally sound business to take over, said Brookhaven Town Councilman Daniel Panico, who represents the area.

"To bring this back to an agricultural use, such as an organic farm, I think would be a win-win for the people and for the farm," Panico said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation in 2009 asked an administrative law judge to fine the farm $776,000 for multiple wetlands violations and excessive pollution.

However, Jurgielewicz representatives maintained until the end that the farm wasn't as heavy a polluter as regulators claimed.

The farm closed about two weeks ago after representatives announced their intention to do so in June. The remaining ducks "were processed and sold," Shai said.

The closure of the farm is emblematic of the shrinking duck farming industry in Suffolk County, where two-thirds of all ducks processed in the United States once originated.

In the 1950s, there were more than 90 duck farms in Suffolk. Now there are two -- Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue and Massey Duck Farm in Eastport.

The Jurgielewicz farm still needs to be inspected for proper closure, said DEC regional director Peter Scully. "If there are any residual impacts from the property, those would need to assessed," he said, adding the agency would "determine whether or not they cleaned the property appropriately."

Any investor who purchases farm property would have limited ability to build on it. Suffolk and Brookhaven in 2007 paid $5.6 million to the farm's owners as compensation for giving up the rights to develop the residentially zoned parcel and to maintain it as a farm.

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