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Wooded area in Mastic cleared for solar farm development

Opponents of the project’s location say they will continue to fight it while public officials search for alternative sites.

A rendering of the proposed Middle Island Solar

A rendering of the proposed Middle Island Solar Farm. Photo Credit: MISF

The developer of a planned solar farm in Mastic has completed clearing 60 acres of the 100-acre wooded property, but opponents of the project say they won’t give up a lawsuit to stop it, and one lawmaker continues to press for alternative sites.

A spokesman for developer Gerald Rosengarten’s Middle Island Solar Farm said crews finished clearing trees on Thursday, two weeks after work started. They faced an April 1 deadline related to restrictions on bat habitat.

Spokesman Michael Woloz said the thousands of trees felled will be chipped in place or carted away. He said he wasn’t sure if still-rooted tree stumps will be removed — an important point for Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who said he has identified a property that would be more appropriate for the project.

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” said Englebright, “and it ain’t over.”

Englebright said he recently added pine barrens protection for the Mastic Woods property to the Assembly budget bill, a move to restrict future uses for the property, not Rosengarten’s solar farm, along with around 800 acres around the shuttered Shoreham nuclear plant. Englebright’s measure, along with a companion State Senate version by Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) passed the legislature last year, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed it.

Keeping the stumps in place could allow the forest to rejuvenate if another site is chosen. A spokesman for Cuomo indicated the governor is working on a separate track to preserve the Shoreham property, but not Rosengarten’s privately owned land. Cuomo’s budget would also preserve smaller town and county parcels in Mastic Woods.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said, “We’re actively working with all parties on a solution that will allow for both renewable energy projects and land preservation.”

Opponents of the project say they will press ahead with a lawsuit that argues the project does not conform to a town code preventing clearing wooded land for solar. The developer argues that because the code wasn’t in place when he submitted his application, it doesn’t apply.

“We’re demanding an injunction to stop any further work and that all equipment be removed,” said MaryAnn Johnston, a plaintiff and president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization. A state judge issued a temporary restraining order when the work began, but it was lifted after a day.

Opponents of the plan say they have been blindsided by the amount of clearing that has gone on at the property.

A Brookhaven Town spokesman initially told Newsday last week that Rosengarten was permitted to clear only 40 acres. But he later corrected that to say that all 60 were allowed.

The cleared land for the solar farm begins at the southern end of the property between Barnes Road and Cranford Blvd and Moriches-Middle Island Road.

“It’s absolutely outrageous,” said Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. “We were told that all they could do was at most 40 acres. The town wasn’t watching the store.” Rosengarten and Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine have been sparring about whether trees could have been spared.

Romaine in a March 2 letter to Rosengarten noted the town in December “proposed the use of several pieces of land for your solar project in exchange for the preservation of the entire Mastic Woods parcel. Unfortunately, this offer was rebuffed by you and your team.”

Rosengarten in a response to Romaine on March 9, said the town “never formally presented us with locations” of land that would be swapped for the Mastic Woods lot.

Despite the clearing that is already complete, Rosengarten told Romaine “we want to preserve as many trees as possible while pursuing a critical renewable energy project.”

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