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Hydroponic farm breaks ground in Yaphank

Interior view of a Hydroponic farm in Maine.

Interior view of a Hydroponic farm in Maine. Controversial Blue-Green Farms, is building a similar fish and hydroponic farm planned for Yaphank and has received a $500,000 grant from the state as part of Gov. Cuomo's economic development package. Photo Credit: Blue Green Farms

A hydroponic farm, slated for Port Jefferson Station before being derailed by environmental concerns, is taking root -- in Yaphank.

Blue Green Farms, which in 2009 pushed to build near the former Lawrence Aviation plant in Port Jefferson Station, has broken ground near Horseblock Road in Yaphank, said Eugene Fernandez, one of the locally based investors in the project.

The $35 million, 12-acre first phase of the project -- scheduled for completion in June -- will allow the farm initially to grow tomatoes, said Fernandez. The facility is expected to expand in 2013 to include an aquaculture facility that will raise fish, including sturgeon and striped bass, he said.

While town officials support the project, which Fernandez and his partners say will bring more green, renewable agriculture to Long Island, some who opposed the farm in Port Jefferson Station also challenged the logic of having it elsewhere.

Activists criticized the project in 2009, in part because they feared contamination from nearby Lawrence Aviation, a federal Superfund site.

Fernandez said those concerns were unwarranted. He pointed to a $517,000 state grant that declares Blue Green Farms to be a "transformative project" worthy of support.

"It's renewable; it's no pesticides; it's green," Fernandez said. "Last time, we had the taint of Lawrence Aviation."

But MaryAnn Johnston, who lives about a mile from Yaphank and heads the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, said traffic, noise and air quality already overburden the area from industrial businesses and the Brookhaven Town landfill.

"I think if it's not safe in one neighborhood, then it's not safe in another," Johnston said. "We already have a ton of burdens that have been placed on the good people of Yaphank."

Blue Green Farms' first phase will include 400,000 square feet of greenhouse space, said Leonard Shore, president of the Yaphank-based company. The 56 acre-site will allow Blue Green Farms to raise vegetables in water instead of soil, Fernandez said.

In the future, fish farming on the site will allow the farm to use fish waste as a component of the fertilizer, Shore said.

"That's the synergistic relationship," Shore said. "It's bringing state-of-the-art agriculture."

Brookhaven officials voiced concerns in 2009 about Fernandez's record, which includes a handful of state environmental infractions, and the sand mining that might have been necessary to create a Port Jefferson Station tilapia farm. But those fears have been assuaged by the fact that the new site would not necessitate sand mining, said Planning Commissioner Tullio Bertoli.

"This is much better suited," Bertoli said. "In general I thought the location in Port Jefferson was not appropriate."

Shore declined to comment on the facility's false start in Port Jefferson. The company's future is in Yaphank, he said. "We've moving ahead and we're looking to the future," he said.

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