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OpinionEditorial

Gov. Cuomo should sign bill on solar and forest preservation

The time window is closing on a piece

The time window is closing on a piece of state legislation that would add more than 1,200 acres of forest in Shoreham and Mastic to Long Island's pine barrens. The bill is on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's desk. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Long Island’s protected pine barrens area is critical to the region’s health, protecting our sole-source aquifer and offering habitat for animals and recreation for people. Now the window is closing on a piece of state legislation that would add more than 1,200 acres of forest in Shoreham and Mastic to this preserved core. The bill is on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s desk, and he has until next week to make a decision.

Time to make a deal.

That’s the best way out of a fight that has pitted two good ends against each other, solar power vs. the preservation of forests.

The legislation sponsored by Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) was in response to two separate proposals for solar arrays — one on 820 acres of pristine forest owned by National Grid in Shoreham, the other on 100 acres of privately owned woods in Mastic. The state’s potential acquisition of the irreplaceable land in Shoreham has generated little controversy. But until recently, owner Gerald Rosengarten and the Town of Brookhaven have been at loggerheads over the Mastic parcel.

Now, they’re talking. They should keep at it until they have an agreement. And if Cuomo needs to get involved in brokering a deal, he should. The governor takes pride in his record of aggressively pushing renewable energy. He also has credibility when it comes to land preservation and water quality, two related topics. There is a way for Cuomo to advance his environmental goals while still fairly treating Rosengarten, who with his partners has spent more than $5 million on the proposed solar array, has received site-plan approval from Brookhaven and has contracts to sell the energy to the Long Island Power Authority.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine has offered Rosengarten a land swap for the 60 acres the solar array would occupy in Mastic. Romaine has 22 acres at the town landfill that are capped and ready for solar construction, and another 18 acres that will become available in 2018. He also is offering town-owned open space that has been previously cleared and brownfields in the town that Brookhaven would help him acquire. Romaine is willing to have the town buy the remaining 40 acres, or more, of Rosengarten’s property. A combination of those proposals should be enough to get the deal done. And if Cuomo wants two solar sites, there are plenty of suitable brownfields and state-owned parking lots he could tap.

This solution is a win-win. The pending legislation could be amended, if necessary, and while that’s being done, Cuomo, Englebright and LaValle should add an amendment that would carve out a small portion of the Shoreham property around the decommissioned nuclear power plant to have in reserve for a deepwater port. The state is studying the feasibility of such a port, and if it turns out the land is not needed, it would be returned to the pine barrens preserve.

It’s maddening that the debate over the legislation has devolved to a choice between trees and solar power. It’s frustrating that Long Island officials don’t have a list of previously developed places suitable for solar arrays. But it’s essential for everyone involved in this mess to put emotions aside and come to an agreement.

Let’s make a deal.— The editorial board

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