Another bend in the Carmans River watershed protection plan

 BY LINDA LEUZZI 

Like the meandering Carmans River, Brookhaven Town’s Watershed Protection Plan took a turn last week. 

The announcement of a new plan, focusing on three initiatives, was made by Supervisor Ed Romaine. “It was a home rule message the town  board voted on last week to support the  New York State legislation which will  amend the boundaries of the Pine Barrens  core and compatible growth area,” said  Councilwoman Connie Kepert, whose district the plan most affects. The Pine Barrens core expansion would focus on 0-to-2-year and 2-to-5-year ground- water contributing areas; the compatible growth area would now extend below the Long Island Expressway, she said. “This gives a bit more increased protection as far as nitrogen loading,” she explained. The town is also recommending nitrate standards of 2.5 mg/l to the county.  

As for rezoning, “all publicly owned lands in and around the Carmans River will be zoned at A5 [5 acres] or A10 [10 acres],” she said.  “Privately owned property in the 0-to- 2-year and 2-to-5-year contributing areas would be zoned A2 [2 acres]. On previously developed sites, it has no effect,” Kepert added. Those properties would be along the river’s boundaries in Middle Island, Yaphank, Shirley and Brookhaven. Bill Falk, executive assistant in Brookhaven’s planning, environment and land management department, explained the third prong of the new plan, the land intensification code adopted by the town board. “Any increase you would have in intensity use, you would have to pay a percentage of the increase times $750 the acreage,” he said. “For example, if you went from A1 to J2 with a three-acre residential parcel, that would represent a 70 percent increase times $750.” The equation would tally to $157,500.  “That would be the fee and that money goes into the Joseph Macchia Environmental Preservation Capital Reserve Fund,” Falk said. “From that, we expect to generate $3 million to $5 million a year for open space acquisition.

That’s the primary funding source.” Parcels targeted would be up and down the watershed, he said.  “Our primary acquisitions would include property like the Avalon Bay property in Yaphank. It’s any parcel that’s undeveloped and undisturbed outside the 0-to-5- year watershed; those would be our primary acquisitions. We’re working on the core expansion — it’s the same types of property right on the river. That’s roughly 483 acres; our goal is to acquire those parcels and extinguish the Pine Barrens credits. If we didn’t add them we could say we would buy them, but then someone could come over and develop them and our goal is to minimize the core expansion.” Marty Van Lith, a Brookhaven hamlet resident who worked on the Carmans River’s history with Tom Williams and was involved in the original meetings under former supervisor Mark Lesko for three years, was wary of the upzoning. “In the past, some of the upzonings made for stream corridor protection were down- zoned again into subdivisions,” he said.  “One of my concerns is: is this really permanent protection?” 

Williams, a member of the Carmans River Study Group, also expressed concerns about the upzoning initiative. “We’ve found a lot of times, the Zoning Board of Appeals has overridden it and we don’t feel it’s a permanent protection.” Williams commented the intensification fund was a positive. “We recommended a better nitrogen standard than the original group so we think that’s very important regarding the nitrogen level,” he said of the 2.5 mg/l. “One could also argue it should be more stringent, but we’re fearful if we do that, we may never get an agreement.” Williams is also on the town’s open space committee and was privy to the presentation made. “There were a couple of questions regarding the acreage,” he said. “It will be an ongoing process, but I think it’s a good fit.”