Protections against development of about 800 acres of newly designated core pine barrens around the never-opened Shoreham nuclear plant took effect Jan. 1, even as the state continues to explore how and when it will buy the woodland property.
Under state law enacted last year, the 800 acres became part of the core pine barrens preservation area starting this year, said John Pavacic, executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Planning and Policy Commission.
That designation means it can be acquired by the state or a private land trust with limited and rarely approved options for development. Owner National Grid had at one point expressed an interest in building a solar farm on a portion of the land, but has since shelved the plan and is actively negotiating a sale with the state.
Pavacic noted that until it’s purchased by the state, National Grid technically has the right to request a hardship waiver to develop or to apply directly to the commission, though neither step is considered likely.
"I think the public can be satisfied that this land is their land," said Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, adding the likelihood of development was slim to none. “I wrote that portion of the law and that [development] ain’t happening,” he said, calling the transaction “one of the greatest acquisitions in the history of the pine barrens movement.”
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday said it has a memorandum of understanding with National Grid to buy the property, and that no additional state budgetary authorizations are needed.
“To be clear, New York State is committed to purchasing the property to conserve and protect these important lands for future generations, and funding is available as it is needed to advance acquisition of the parcels,” spokeswoman Maureen Wren said in an email noting such land transactions are “complex” and take time.
National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young said the "complex" sale negotiations, which include LIPA, aren't expected to close until 2020. Newsday has reported the estimated price at $35 million but Young said the price hasn't yet been finalized.
The DEC now lists the Shoreham lands as a “priority project” in the state’s Open Space Conservation Plan, the agency said, so it’s eligible for money from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund or other state, federal or local funding sources. Funding also could come from the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, given its ability to protect land over public aquifers, the DEC said.
Even when it does begin buying the parcels, likely through a combination of funding sources, the DEC will do so over five years.
London-based National Grid took ownership of the land when it acquired KeySpan in 2007. KeySpan is a successor of the Long Island Lighting Co., which developed a central portion of the property for the shuttered nuclear power plant. LIPA owns about 57 central acres of the site upon which the plant remains, as well as other peak-power facilities.
State and local legislators, including Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), a key backer of the last year’s pine barrens acquisition, have envisioned a state park on the property. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine has offered to include the town’s Shoreham Beach waterfront property and a separate historical building as part of any larger park, he said.
It may be years before the entire process is complete.
“DEC’s plan is to purchase the property over a five-year period, splitting it into separate tracts,” Wren said. “We continue to meet with the interested parties to determine the final configuration of the lands to be acquired and the location of necessary utility easements.”
Wren said an appraisal will begin “once the final layout is determined.” When that’s finished, DEC will “determine the source of state funds that will be used to complete the purchase.”