Pine Barrens Commission Determines That Range Reopening Constitutes "Development"

by John Palasek

On Wednesday, June 16th, the Pine Barrens Commission (PBC) declared that the reopening of the Suffolk County Trap and Skeet Range constitutes "development" under Article 57 of the Pine Barrens Protection Act of 1993 and ordered that in order to remain open, the County must apply for a "Hardship Exemption" from this very Commission.

The vote, 3 "Yes", 1 "Abstention" and a "Did not Vote" from the County representative, ends an over four-year battle proving that we, the residents, were right all along and that the range should never have been allowed to reopen at all.

The Heart Of The Issue

Before the Pine Barrens Commission was the issue of reopening the facility in what is designated as the Core Preservation Area of the Pine Barrens.  New York State Environmental Conservation Law should have prohibited this from happening.  The Pine Barrens Protection Act of 1993 clearly prohibits "development" in the Core Preservation Area of the Pine Barrens.  This law defines defines "development" as: "The reestablishment of a use which has been abandoned for longer than one year".

The range was closed for a period of 4 years and 9 months - far longer than one year.  Because the facility is a "non-conforming use of a property" (the land on which it sits has been zoned as "residential since before its existence) and was inactive for longer than one year, the facility is legally deemed to have been abandoned.  No activity of any kind relating to the intended use of the facility was conducted during the time it was closed and the reopening of the facility is in violation of the criteria for “development” as stipulated under the Pine Barrens Protection Act of 1993 as well as that of New York State Law.

Our community has argued this point since before the reopening and has been met with resistance all the way, particularly by those in power who shepherded the range back into existence.  The election of Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko along with two new East-end Supervisors (Riverhead and Southampton) brought change to the "old thinking" and it was Mark Lesko who quickly grasped the issue and lent his support to bring it to a vote of the Commission. 

At the June meeting of the PBC, Mr. Lesko brought forward a motion to resolve that the range be deemed "development" under the Pine Barrens Act and he was supported by Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.

The Town Supervisors all voted "Yes" while PBC Chairman Peter Scully abstained and the Suffolk County representative to the PBC, Carrie Meeks-Gallagher "Left the Room" and did not cast a vote.  The resulting 3-1-0 vote brings vindication to those who fought so hard to have the issue determined on the facts rather than on the misrepresentations and half-truths of those who ignored the law and forced the range back into existence. The  vote also directs the County to appear before the PBC and apply for a "Hardship Exemption" if it wants to have the range remain in operation.  However, the County once applied for such an exemption back in 2004 but withdrew its application in 2005 when it learned that the PBC, not the County, would be the "lead agency" overseeing the reopening of the range.  Exactly why the PBC's oversight proved problematic to the County is unknown, but the withdrawal of their application nullified the County's opportunity for a Hardship Exemption at that time.

It is highly unlikely that such an exemption will now be granted and the range now faces permanent closure.