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Riverhead Town wins court round against state DEC

Riverhead Town can proceed with a lawsuit accusing a state agency of violating its own procedures in adopting protections for endangered and threatened species, the state's top court ruled Tuesday.

The town has been trying to develop 2,900 acres it owns in Calverton, and three years ago the Department of Environmental Conservation set up a formal permit process for land use and developments that may harm certain species. The short-eared owl and eastern tiger salamander, both on the state's endangered list, live on and around the Calverton property.

The town sued months later, accusing the DEC of bypassing procedures, including holding public hearings and analyzing the potential regulatory impact.

Tuesday, in its unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals overturned an appellate judge's dismissal of the case.

The top court had to decide whether Riverhead had a stake in how the DEC adopted the changes. It ruled that barring Riverhead's suit would result in an "impenetrable barrier" to any review of the DEC's actions.

"The alleged violations, including the deprivation of an opportunity to be heard, constitute injuries to petitioners," Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman ruled.

DEC officials did not comment on the ruling, but Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said town officials are "very gratified."

The town lost on a less important point when the judges found it had no stake yet to sue on the substance of the regulations. Allegations of harm are "too speculative" because the town has not submitted a permit application yet, Lippman wrote.

Walter said he called DEC officials Tuesday to pitch "settlement conferences" in lieu of further court battles.

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