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Brookhaven unveils new plan to preserve Carmans River

Kayakers on the Carmans River paddle their way

Kayakers on the Carmans River paddle their way through the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley. (July 23, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Brookhaven Town officials are rolling out a new plan to restrict development and preserve the fragile ecosystem along the Carmans River, after a previous proposal failed to win public support last year.

The new plan calls for town acquisition of land scattered along the 10-mile river and new zoning to curtail development in the watershed area. Details of the proposal will be discussed at an informational meeting tomorrow, and a public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at Town Hall.

An earlier plan, promulgated by then-Supervisor Mark Lesko, was criticized by civic groups and elected officials for allowing high-density development elsewhere in exchange for protecting the river. Lesko withdrew the proposal last year because it lacked support.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said Monday he expects the board to vote on the new plan before Election Day.

"The major difference is there's no taking development and putting it somewhere else," Romaine said in an interview. "This is a conservation plan. The concept is conservation and not transfer of development rights."

The board has approved a new fee on developers that Romaine said would raise "several millions of dollars" annually for land acquisition.

The town plan is linked to state legislation to expand the protected Pine Barrens region by adding 3,875 acres near the river. The bill was passed last month by the State Legislature and is expected to be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Some civic leaders said they are skeptical of the town's latest proposal. Sharon A. Wiesmann, president of the Yaphank Taxpayers and Civic Association, said she is unsure how, or if, the plan would stem development.

"The jury is still out. We had many concerns," said Wiesmann, whose group viewed the proposal earlier this month. "We're still not clear on how this is going to preserve the river. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered."

Long Island Builders Institute chief executive Mitchell Pally said most land along the river is unsuitable for development.

"What the town is planning on doing meets the needs of the local community [and] meets the needs of Long Island," he said. "As long as landowners are given compensation [for] their property . . . we're more than happy to not oppose it."

Environmentalists say the river, which runs from Middle Island to Great South Bay and is an important spawning area for some species of fish, is threatened by nitrates from sewage and fertilizers, and by invasive species such as non-native plants.

Nesconset attorney Richard I. Scheyer, who represents developers, said he doesn't think nitrates threaten the river.

"Experts have never agreed on whether or not it affects the Carmans River," said Scheyer, who sued the town and the Central Pine Barrens Commission to seek compensation for developers who can't build on their land. "I have never seen a study that convinces me."




Brookhaven's proposed Carmans River Conservation and

Management Plan calls for protecting the watershed in three ways:

Town purchase of private land on the river

State-authorized expansion of the Central Pine Barrens conservation area

New zoning to block or restrict development

An informational meeting on the proposal is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at Brookhaven Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville. The meeting is open to the public.

A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for 5 p.m. July 30, at Town Hall.

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