The State Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating a complaint of “stones placed in a wetland area” in Heckscher Park near downtown Huntington.
Huntington officials said the stones were placed on the side of the pond on or about Aug. 15 after the town's general services department got the approval from the town's environmental projects coordinator to proceed without a DEC permit.
A DEC representative said the investigation began in early September, and investigators may have been to the park as recently as this week. A DEC spokeswoman said the timing of site visits and the concern about where the rocks were placed were part of DEC’s ongoing investigation. There are about four stones near the pond.
“Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) and other DEC staff are investigating this complaint. The investigation is ongoing and additional information will be provided as it becomes available,” a statement emailed from the DEC to Newsday said.
According to the DEC website, waterways, coastlines and wetlands are related resources and projects in these areas might require multiple DEC permits. The website says projects in or near wetlands may need a freshwater wetland permit and/or a tidal wetlands permit.
Huntington Town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo said in an email to Newsday that town officials were not aware of an investigation and accused "political opponents" of calling the DEC and the media just before Election Day.
“On August 15, 2019, our Department of General Services asked for an opinion from our Environmental Projects Coordinator, Robert Litzke, on whether permits or permission were required to place river rock, provided by the Highway Department, next to the sidewalk adjacent to Heckscher Pond to address erosion issues, routine maintenance, at the pond,” the email said.
She said Litzke responded by email that same day: “I don't see a need for a NYSDEC FW Wetlands Permit as long is the work is maintaining/improving what is already there.” Lembo’s email said Litzke said a permit would be needed if the plan was to remove material or adding material such as adding fill material to decrease the pond's depth or adding shoreline fill to decrease the pond's area, in significant amounts.
Lembo declined to name the political opponents. The town’s director of general services is Andre Sorrentino, whose department oversees maintenance of the park. Sorrentino, a Republican, is running for Town Board against incumbents Joan Cergol, a Democrat, and Gene Cook, of the Independence Party. Democrat Kathleen Cleary is also running for Town Board.