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Suffolk Exec Steve Bellone bungled exit from solar-panel pact

The county parking lot at the Ronkonkoma train

The county parking lot at the Ronkonkoma train station. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Give Suffolk County officials credit for seeing the development potential in land just south of the Ronkonkoma Hub. Call them perceptive for realizing that a plan to build solar carports at a 3,000-spot parking lot at the train station would limit that potential.

But give them an F for failing to properly exit a contract to construct those carports, a decision that will cost Suffolk taxpayers at least $13.5 million, and probably a good bit more.

A recent State Supreme Court decision found that the county under Executive Steve Bellone did not honor a contract with a private company negotiated by predecessor Steve Levy to install the solar panels. What’s more, Justice David T. Reilly wrote that Suffolk “intentionally breached the lease agreement,” making it ineligible to recoup from insurers $7.8 million of the $10.8 million awarded to EDF Renewable Development Inc. of San Diego. Suffolk, which has paid out the other $3 million, has now lost three court decisions related to the contract and is appealing the insurance ruling. This is not skillful management.

We don’t blame Suffolk for wanting out of the contract. The county did end up receiving four big, intriguing development proposals for the land there. But there is a right way to amend deals, and it involves lots of talking. Suffolk could have found another location for the solar panels; Ronkonkoma was one of seven installations in the EDF contract. It could have reduced lease payments due to the county. It could have purchased material EDF had bought for Ronkonkoma.

Suffolk could have, and should have, done something — anything — to avoid making taxpayers pay for the county’s failure to follow the correct process, again.