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Panel tables proposal to study impact of Yaphank project

A proposed $411,000 study to assess the environmental impact of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's controversial Yaphank development project stalled in legislative committee Monday after critics questioned the funding for the review.

Attorney Regina Seltzer criticized the resolution, claiming developers normally pay for the study, and she questioned the price tag. She said the review should not only include the project but also the nearby Carmans River watershed. "This is legally and ethically a very questionable proposal," she said.

The environmental committee voted 3-2 to table the proposal for a month, with the chairwoman, Legis. Vivian Viloria-Fisher (D-East Setauket), joining two Republicans. "This is a very big project," said Viloria-Fisher, "And we have a lot of questions to answer."

But Levy said lawmakers "can't have it both ways" and called for them to fund the environmental impact statement. "Today's vote could potentially cost thousands of construction jobs during this very difficult economic period," Levy said.

The environmental study will assess the impact of Levy's plan to sell 255 county acres to a private developer for a $400 million project that includes 1,215 housing units, a downtown with sports arenas and a solar industrial park.

Levy aides at the committee said the developer, Beechwood Organization, has agreed to pay for the study.

Legis. Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) expressed concern the developer might only pay for the review if the project goes through, leaving the county to pay if it fails.

Richard Rosenberg, Beechwood's attorney, said the reimbursement will be made once the study is complete, the legislature declares the land surplus and then approves the contract for sale.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, assailed Levy's plan, which uses Cameron Engineering as consultant, citing a "potential conflict of interest." Firm owner John Cameron, who chairs the Long Island Regional Planning Council, touted Yaphank as "a project of regional significance" last fall when the county made a presentation on it. Cameron said he will recuse himself on future Yaphank project council votes.He added there is no conflict on the earlier council vote because it was not an endorsement, and only sought expedited action for the project because of its regional impact.

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