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Judge issues TRO for proposed solar farm in Mastic

Rendering of the proposed Middle Island Solar Farm

Rendering of the proposed Middle Island Solar Farm that would produce 19.2 megawatts of energy on what is now a privately owned wooded lot on Moriches-Middle Island Road in Mastic. Hearings on the plant are scheduled for late March. Credit: MISF

A state Supreme Court Justice has issued a temporary restraining order to stop clearing and construction at the site of a proposed solar farm in Mastic.

The judge’s order temporarily stops tree-clearing that had already begun at the site on Moriches-Middle Island Road in Mastic on Wednesday, when heavy equipment began work just hours after Brookhaven Town issued a building permit for the contested solar farm.

State Supreme Court Justice William G. Ford issued the order Wednesday at the request of The Pine Barrens Society, the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization (ABCO) and residents who live near the planned solar farm and who filed suit to block development of the project last year.

The order prevents the developer from “allowing any construction, including site work preparation such as removal of trees,” until a court hearing scheduled for April 19.

Michael Woloz, a spokesman for developer Middle Island Solar Farm, criticized the order but said the company would comply.

“This is a completely baseless stall tactic with no legal merit by NIMBY activists intended to deprive Long Islanders of an important renewable energy and land preservation project,” he said in a statement. “While we have temporarily ceased clearing to comply with the temporary restraining order, we will be in court . . . to fight yet another in a long list of failed attempts to block the project over the last six years.”

MaryAnn Johnston, president of the ABCO civic group, who along with Pine Barrens executive director Dick Amper has led the fight to preserve the wooded 100 acres, said the judge’s order could not have come soon enough. “If they don’t stop clearing, the value of the land is severely diminished,” she said.

Johnston, Amper and a contingent of state lawmakers were the chief proponents of a bill that passed the legislature last year to preserve the site as part of the core Pine Barrens along with around 1,000 acres in Shoreham that was also proposed as a solar farm site. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed the legislation in December.

Johnston said the site is essential to preserve because of its location at the head waters of the Forge River.

Construction at the southern end of the lot is only the first phase of a three-part development that could ultimately see 60 acres covered in solar panels. Last year, officials had sought to shift part of the development to other cleared land parcels, but the negotiations have stalled this year.

Solar farm developer Gerald Rosengarten in a letter to Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine this week said the group is still seeking a land swap so that the second phase of development doesn’t result in more tree clearing. Brookhaven has previously discussed offering 20 acres at its landfill. “We urge you to come back to the negotiating table,” Rosengarten said in his letter.

A Brookhaven spokesman said the town is drawing up separate plans for the landfill, but has been willing to work with the state and county to identify other sites.

Middle Island Solar Farm says a solar farm is the “least impactful” use of the 100 acres which is zoned light industrial.

But opponents argue that clear-cutting trees for solar farms is an unacceptable “green-for-green” trade-off that defeats the purpose of renewable energy. They say rooftops, parking lots and other already cleared land should be used first.

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