The facilities at Kent Animal Shelter aren’t enough to meet their needs, representatives of the nonprofit said at a public hearing before the Pine Barrens Commission last week.
Plans for a new facility, they said, would not only expand their operations but also help the environment by removing outdated and “archaic” septic systems.
But whether that’s enough for the commission to allow the group to build remains to be seen.
Kent Animal Shelter is proposing to demolish two existing buildings near the Peconic River and build a new facility closer to the road with enough space to house 60 dogs as well as puppies and cats.
That building would have a new septic system to reduce pollution of the groundwater, the representatives said.
“Essentially the sanitary system currently on the site is completely inadequate,” said Jeff Butler, the designer of the new sanitary system, in a letter to the commission.
“Saying it’s not good for the environment is an understatement,” Kent executive director Pam Green said at last Wednesday’s hearing in Southampton Town Hall. The new facility would be about 50 percent larger than the current buildings, though Ms. Green noted the new building would be located further from the river.
The public hearing featured an odd scene when Pine Barrens commissioner and Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter suggested that Kent Animal Shelter was petitioning for a waiver under the wrong rules.
In their request for a waiver, Kent claimed it had “no beneficial use” of the property as-is — one of the two ways a waiver could be granted. But Mr. Walter said the proposal more easily fell under a different statute that allowed waivers for a “compelling public need.”
Mr. Walter prodded Ms. Green, suggesting that their work spaying, neutering and adopting feral cats helped prevent disease in Riverhead Town.
Mr. Walter himself stated that “there isn’t anything for cats in Riverhead at all, feral or otherwise.”
“Do want to talk to your council first?” he asked after mentioning the other provision.
After a short break, Kent’s attorney said the animal shelter would ask for the waiver under both provisions in the law.
That exchange drew the ire of Richard Amper, and environmental advocate and executive director of the Long Island Pine Barren Society, a nonprofit group. Mr. Amper is not a commission member.
“I object to the commissioner counseling the applicant,” Mr. Amper said. “Please.”
While Mr. Amper praised the animal shelter for the work it does, he opposed the waiver, saying it would set a precedent that would gut the Pine Barrens Protection Act.
“Our problem is not with Kent Animal Shelter and what they do,” he said. “It’s the process of defending the Pine Barrens Protection Act.”
Mr. Amper said the animal shelter wasn’t eligible for a waiver: its facility works now so there is a “beneficial use” and its work with cats was not enough of a public need, he said.
“They’re developing for a very humane and decent purpose,” he said. “But it is development. It’s black and white.”
Mr. Amper said that though Kent is a worthy organization, other “bad actors” could take advantage of a waiver decision to further development elsewhere in the Pine Barrens.
But others said the Kent property was unique to set any precedent.
“What everybody’s doing here is quibbling,” said Leonard Lato, a Quogue resident. “As a lawyer, I know that when it comes to precedent you really have to show that the two cases are factually indistinguishable. Nobody is going to be able to stand in Kent Animal Shelter’s shoes.”
At the end of the hearing, Pine Barrens Commission chairman Peter Scully, also a regional director with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, asked the audience who was in support of the proposal. The people back of the room, where dozens had filed in, raised their hands.