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Cordial hearing held on latest Carmans River plan

Foliage grows near the train trestle which spans

Foliage grows near the train trestle which spans the Carmans River in the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley. (July 23, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Residents and officials generally praised Brookhaven's latest Carmans River protection plan Tuesday night during a special public hearing at Town Hall in Farmingville.

But critic MaryAnn Johnston, a leader of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, said the plan does not make clear how the town will prevent development in the environmentally sensitive watershed. "This plan is not ready to be endorsed," she said. "There's no meat in the plan."

The new town plan calls for the town to purchase vacant private land along the 10-mile river and impose new zoning to restrict development there.

A key element of the proposal is state legislation expanding the protected Central Pine Barrens region to include 3,875 acres along the river. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could approve the bill as soon as Wednesday.

"It does what it's supposed to do . . . protects a great river. It tries not to impose on residents too greatly who live around the river," Councilwoman Connie Kepert said before the hearing.

Kepert, who represents the district where most of the river flows and who supports the plan, said many residents have suggested improving septic tanks near the river, a process that requires approval by the Suffolk County Health Department.

Tuesday night's nearly three-hour hearing, attended by fewer than 50 people, was far less contentious than meetings held on a previous Carmans River plan that was withdrawn last year.

Former County Legis. Vivian Viloria-Fisher, the Democratic challenger to Republican Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, said she supports the plan, with reservations. "I'm in support of this plan because we need to support the river area," Viloria-Fisher said. She said her major concern is how fertilizer use will be controlled and limited in areas where development is permitted.

Kevin McDonald, director of public policy on Long Island for the Nature Conservancy, said he backs the plan but warned that one challenge will be mitigating nitrogen levels in groundwater.

In written comments, the East Moriches Property Owners Association said the plan was a "good faith effort" to protect the river, but the group questioned the town's financing plan for purchasing vacant land and asked town officials to clarify language regarding exceptions to new zoning regulations.

"While it is important to act to protect the Carmans," wrote Jim Gleason, the group's vice president, " . . . doing so in a less than complete way would do long-term damage to the goals of protecting our water and waterways."

Romaine has said he will ask the town board to accept written comments about the plan through August. Another public hearing will be held in September or October, and the board is expected to vote on the plan in November.

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