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Huntington settles suit over troubled plot

Firefighters battle mulch fire that broke out at

Firefighters battle mulch fire that broke out at Wildwood Farms at 1130 West Jericho Tpke. (April 2, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

Huntington officials have settled a federal lawsuit with the owners of what was an illegal wood-chipping operation, who sued the town over a $71,000 property tax lien related to fires at the site.

Last year, the town spent about $284,000 to clean up mulch piles at 1130 W. Jericho Tpke. after a spate of fires. It also charged about $71,000 in administrative fees, and added both expenses, roughly $355,000, to the property tax bill.

In February, brothers Wayne and John Dougal, who own the lot where the Indian Head Ranch sits, filed the lawsuit contesting the administrative charges and asking that the fees be expunged. Federal Magistrate Judge E. Thomas Boyle agreed.

"While we would like to get more for our administrative time, we're happy to settle it and bring litigation to a close," said town board member Mark Cuthbertson, who sponsored the resolution to settle the case, along with town board member Mark Mayoka. The board unanimously approved the measure Tuesday.

The Dougal brothers could not be reached for comment. Their attorney, Arthur V. Graseck of Oakdale, said, "I think it is a good agreement."

After multiple fires broke out on the property between April 2 and April 23 of 2012, Town Supervisor Frank Petrone declared a state of emergency, which allowed the town to begin to remove what fire officials described as a pile about 300 feet long, 200 feet wide and up to 60 feet high in some areas.

Last May, a State Supreme Court judge ordered the Dougals and fire marshals to devise a plan to remove the remainder of the pile.

The town board approved an agreement and appropriated $250,000.

According to town officials, Boyle recommended a settlement -- without the administrative charges -- reasoning the town would be repaid in full for the $284,317.06 cost of the cleanup.

"There were very significant costs in trucking the material off the site," Cuthbertson said. "But we're happy that we were able to address this public health hazard at no expense to the taxpayers."

The amount of the cleanup will be paid when the property is sold, Cuthbertson said.

An 18.6-acre luxury, gated $60 million senior housing complex that straddles the towns of Huntington and Oyster Bay is slated for the site. Both towns have given conditional zoning-change and site plan approvals, but a civic group has sued Huntington, alleging the zone change is not in accordance with the town's comprehensive plan.

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