Study group adopts Carmans River protection plan

Brookhaven Town’s Carmans River Study Group unanimously approved its watershed protection plan Wednesday. And some officials have said, if adopted by the Town Board, it would be the most significant piece of environmental protection legislation since the passing of the Pine Barrens Act of 1993.

The study group — comprised of town officials, environmentalists and developers chosen by Supervisor Mark Lesko and chaired by veteran planner Lee Koppelman — have been meeting weekly for the past three months to craft a plan to enhance the Carmans River and protect its water quality.

Under the proposal, 9,100 acres in the watershed would be protected and the Pine Barrens Core area would be expanded to include the creation of a preservation zone that would prohibit development.

“This is a terrific plan that protects the Carmans River as never before,” said Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper. “It simultaneously moves the development out of residential communities and into commercial or industrial sites.”

The study group’s recommendations includes a multi-family zoning grading system — a new model devised by the town’s planning department that will redirect development out of the watershed and into existing commercial corridors. The headwaters of the Carmans River begin in Middle Island and flows nearly 11 miles through Upper Lake and Lower Lake in Yaphank before descending into the Great South Bay.  In August, Mr. Amper, along with civic leaders and other environmentalists, assembled outside Brookhaven Town Hall to urge town officials to complete a plan to preserve the Carmans River before certain proposed development projects moved forward in Middle Island.  Two months later, Mr. Lesko announced a suspension on processing those building permits and gave the newly formed study group a 90-day deadline to come up with a watershed protection plan.

Nature Conservancy representative Kevin McDonald said while writing the plan within the time frame was challenge, the difficult part will be enforcing it.  “If this plan gets implemented as designed, just under half of the watershed would be protected,” he said. “It’s a good plan that will protect the river, the forest and the Great South Bay.”  Groundwater discharge accounts for about 94 percent of the Carmans River, with the remainder of its flow originating from surface water, officials said.  A model determining the river’s groundwater and surface water contributing areas was developed by planning consultants Camp, Dresser & McKee, or CDM.  According to CDM’s model, parcels north of Middle Country Road do not contribute to the Carmans River groundwater flow, but the area’s surface water, which travels over roads, parking lots and lawns, does flow into the river.

Pending Middle Island development projects identified in the river’s surface water contributing area include: Sandy Hills, a 135-unit housing project; the Sam Glass property, which is slated for a 66-unit housing project; and a retail complex at the former K-mart property called Artist Lake Plaza.  The study group recommends the Town Board pursue the acquisition of the Sandy Hills and Sam Glass properties for open space, if there is a willing seller.  Pending projects located in the groundwater contributing area in Yaphank, which are closer to the river and therefore located in a more sensitive area of the watershed, include: Meadows at Yaphank, an 800-unit housing project located at the northwest corner of the Long Island Expressway and William Floyd Parkway; and Legacy Village, a 1,100-unit housing and mixed-use project located on Suffolk County owned land.

If the county Legislature deems a portion of the Yaphank land as surplus, then the study group recommends the Town Board acquire it for open space.  Mr. Koppelman and Commissioner of Planning Tullio Bertoli will present a summary of the study group’s findings to the Town Board during worksession Thursday.

The Town Board will vote Tuesday to schedule a public hearing on the watershed protection plan.