Concerns about a river and other Yaphank issues
Development troubling to some, others may need to prepare
Long Island Advance
September 17, 2009



About a half-mile into Park Street off Yaphank Avenue, past a few homes and an open field, the county land starts. A sign declares its jurisdiction, a hiker’s heaven with numerous trails and a treat here and there of wildlife sightings. A seven-minute walk north of the sign takes you to an access road that runs parallel to the Long Island Railroad tracks and ends at a DEC no-kill fishing spot by the Carmans River, about 50 feet wide, in all its running, clean glory.  Plans are underway that may challenge that.

About a mile up the road north of the Board of Elections maintenance yard, county land to the Long Island Expressway, is where the proposed Legacy Village is planned; a 5,500-seat indoor arena, a 5,000-seat outdoor arena and track, a 90-room hotel, four restaurants and a wellness center. The culvert sign for the Carmans River is on the expressway service road and a nearby Potters Field cemetery is also on the property.  On the west side of Yaphank Avenue, a 1,000-unit affordable housing development is proposed in back of the Mastic Soccer Club and Suffolk County Police headquarters.

“The biggest problem is that we have just prioritized the preservation of the Carmans River and there are scores of organizations and government at every level working on a plan to preserve it in ways we did not protect the Forge River,” said Pine Barrens Executive Director Richard Amper of the initiatives with Citizens Campaign for the Environment and the South Shore Estuary Reserve to protect the river. “So the plan would be to limit development, not to concentrate it in the corridor. All you have to do is do a Google Earth search to see its proximity.”

A Carmans River Watershed Study, in fact, was approved last November by Brookhaven Town, and included federal, state, county and civic leaders who took part in a number of meetings thus far, but according to John Turner, Brookhaven’s director of Environmental Protection, the town is waiting for Suffolk County Department of Health to assess the watershed boundaries. “We had hoped to get that by now,” he said. “I think the town is waiting on the boundaries, on how big it is, and then the rest of the work will follow.”

Suffolk County Commissioner of Environment and Energy Carrie Meek Gallagher said the town should have results by the end of the year or a month sooner. “The contract with that consultant is over by the end of the year and we would have to have the results in by then,” she said. “What they’re looking for specifically is the delineation of the groundwater contributing system, how far out do we think the area is that contributes groundwater into the Carmans water system.”

Even though the Carmans was recognized by New York state as a Wild, Scenic and Recreational river, Meek Gallagher said that at one of the meetings discussing what the participants thought where the watershed was, there were rough ideas, but no one map delineating it.

According to the Carmans River Environmental Assessment Report by the county issued in March 2002 and prepared by Cashin Associates, the Carmans River flows approximately 11 miles from its source near Route 25 in Middle Island to its mouth in Bellport Bay. The stream is almost entirely fed by groundwater from the uppermost of Long Island’s aquifers and the river falls approximately 50 feet in elevation along its course.

“We’re hearing the county model does not include anything north of Route 25 and that doesn’t make sense to us,” said Tom Williams, a member of the Carmans River Partnership, which is having its annual meeting next month.  “The project is clearly in the watershed.  The question of the impact is that there is a sewage treatment plant that will address that issue. Our concerns are the standards of nitrogen discharge and that they might be too high for the river.” Attorneys for the Katter and Beechwood developers were upfront at the recent South Yaphank Civic Association meeting regarding the installation of sewers and a SEQRA process that would address road and storm water runoff and their affect on the river. But Williams emphasized that the nitrogen discharge level allowed in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, their ideal, was .17 parts per million. “We’ve looked at that as something that should be established for the Carmans River,” he emphasized.  According to Amper, the state standard is 10 parts per million and the Pine Barrens Commission has the authority to limit the nitrogen discharge level to 2 parts per million.

Others like John Strickland, chairman of the board for the Brookhaven Fire District and former chief, who sat in on the recent South Yaphank Civic Association meeting as did Greg Miglino Jr., chief and president of the South Country Ambulance Company, talked about how they would have to prepare their lifesaving units for coverage.

The northern boundary lines for the Brookhaven Fire District run from the Suffolk Police Property section across Yaphank Avenue to Park Street. “We could get 50 calls to Crescent Street off Park, we get calls to the infirmary and police headquarters,” Strickland said.  “We average in the 600 call range annually for the whole district, this is fire related calls. “To say we get maybe 9 percent in this northern Yaphank greater area would be fairly accurate.” The calls vary from automatic alarms to MVA rescues and helicopter assists, he said.

“The response to the area now, candidly, doesn’t pose an overall threat because we’re responding to the same area and the access road is Glover Drive,” Strickland explained. “We are aware that if necessary, we may have to build a substation more geographically located to take on the additional exposure. If someone said, ‘We’re going to do this tomorrow,’ we won’t opt to go much forward than to see what happens because things have to be done that way. There’s land, appropriation of funds, public outcry. But unfortunately in the not-quite-18 miles we protect, a great deal is non-taxable land owned by Brookhaven Town or the county and the federal government. Not counting Post-Morrow, there are others that make their lands tax-exempt and schools, so the industry and residential properties are the ones that support the entire district. But if we do get a substation, where do we get the manpower?”

Miglino’s ambulance company tackles 2,700 to 3,000 calls a year; about 300 originate in the South Yaphank area, he said. “We would clearly have to look at the potential of putting a substation in the area to handle the increased call volume in that sector of the community,” he said of the project. “It’s not that we’d have to put it there tomorrow. There are standards for response time and it would be the far north section of our community. This development isn’t happening in a vacuum. The community has been expanding for the last 10 years. The county is expanding with a larger jail; we have 800 to 900 inmates with the current one and the new jail will increase that number substantially.”

The ambulance company is a private not-for-profit, therefore a referendum wouldn’t be needed. “It would just be a matter of finding land,” he said. “Our board would have to allocate resources to construct a substation. We do have paid staff that maintains the building and equipment but otherwise, it’s all volunteers.”

Miglino said the ambulance company has 100 active members. “We’re in a very fortunate position in that we’re not in need of volunteers. But just because you’re strong today in 2009, you can have a couple of members move and others who have children. If it goes through, we need to be prepared.” ■