The Brookhaven Town board Tuesday night approved a landmark plan to conserve the Carmans River watershed by buying land and imposing tougher zoning along the estuary.
The sweeping, 200-page blueprint was enacted by a 6-0 vote of the board. Councilwoman Kathleen Walsh was unable to attend the hourlongmeeting.
Many of the dozens of people who attended the vote applauded as the plan was adopted.
Town officials said the 10-mile river -- home to more than 100 species of birds and fish -- would have been threatened by overdevelopment if the plan had not passed. The town board must draft amendments to the town code that reflect the plan's recommendations.
Supporters said preserving the river also would protect natural habitats and water quality in woods along the river and in Great South Bay.
"You don't want to see this built upon," Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said earlier Tuesday, during a media tour of the river. As he spoke, ospreys, red-tailed hawks and northern harriers swooped over cattails and phragmites.
"This should be preserved for us and everyone who comes after us to enjoy," he said.
The Carmans River Conservation and Management Plan calls on town officials to purchase various parcels along the river and impose stricter zoning to restrict development. Romaine has budgeted $6 million in capital funds for Carmans River land acquisition next year, and town officials plan to use credits under the state Pine Barrens law to discourage development along the river. The state Pine Barrens law permits the town to award credits allowing developers to build in other parts of town, in exchange for not building along the river.
The plan also boosts wastewater control standards to decrease the flow of harmful nitrogen through fertilizers and sewage runoff.
The plan's approval followed three years of stalled efforts to conserve the fragile watershed. Previous drafts had been criticized for relying too heavily on credits intended to steer development to other parts of town.
Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld said the new plan was "much improved" over past versions that had been rejected.
"It's been a really long haul," he said. "This will greatly improve protections for this nationally recognized watershed system."
The Long Island Builders Institute backs the town plan.