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Riverhead, DEC renew endangered species dispute

The Town of Riverhead and state Department of Environmental Conservation will face off again over endangered species regulations.

At issue is when a group has standing to make court challenges.

The state Court of Appeals Tuesday agreed to hear a case filed by Riverhead and its community development agency against the DEC.

It centers on a lawsuit the town filed in 2010 and a similar claim made by the Association for a Better Long Island that challenged new DEC regulations requiring parties to seek permits when land use or development might have an adverse effect on endangered or threatened wildlife species.

The town, which owns the long-underdeveloped 3,000-acre parcel at Enterprise Park at Calverton, said the permit requirements would hinder development.

The two cases were combined and, in December 2011, a State Supreme Court judge in Albany County dismissed the case, saying the two did not have standing to file a lawsuit because they had no active permit cases before the DEC.

A county appellate judge reaffirmed the ruling in July.

Later in the summer, the town filed an appeal to the state Court of Appeals. It claimed that, because DEC regulatory changes had to be appealed within four months, it would be nearly impossible to prepare and submit a permit application for a project just to have legal standing.

The appeals court process will now begin.

On average in 2011, the duration between an order to hear a case and a decision was 375 days, court public information officer Gary Spencer said.

"This is a fantastic turn of events for the Town of Riverhead," Town Supervisor Sean Walter said. "It's good for government, honestly, because this ruling really darkened anyone's ability . . . to challenge anything."

DEC referred questions to the attorney general's office, which declined to comment.

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