03/29/13 8:00am
03/29/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Kent Animal Shelter kennel attendant Erin McGrellis holds Walter, a 3-year-old French bulldog surrendered by his owner because he was picking on an older dog in the household. He’s now undergoing training to rid him of his bad habits.

Kent Animal Shelter’s plan to build a 10,000-square-foot facility to replace the aging structure on its River Road property in Calverton took a big step forward last Thursday, when the Riverhead Town Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a series of variances needed for the project.

Kent Animal Shelter has been operating at its 2.1-acre River Road location since 1968, during which time it has gotten more than 30,000 animals adopted and has treated more than 60,000 dogs and cats through its spay/neuter program, said executive director Pamela Green.

The nonprofit animal rescue organization’s current facilities “are antiquated by any standard,” Chuck Bowman, vice president of Kent’s board of directors, said at last week’s ZBA hearing.

Mr. Bowman is also a land-use planner who is donating his services for the Kent project, Ms. Green later said.

Editorial: Two new animal shelter efforts need local support

“The shelter is 45 years old and the buildings are falling apart,” Ms. Green told the ZBA. “It really would be a shame if we couldn’t continue our services.”

Kent seeks to remove two old buildings near the river and build a 10,000-square-foot facility that would incorporate the functions of several current buildings into one, Ms. Green said. The new structure will have about 60 indoor dog runs and will be sound-proofed, so noise will not travel outside the building.

“The new building will be so much better for the animals and for the people,” Ms. Green said.

COURTESY DRAWING | A rendering of what the new Kent Animal Shelter will look like.

Kent expects the project to cost about $1.75 million. Kent’s funding comes entirely from private contributions, grants and bequests, Mr. Bowman said.

About three years into a capital campaign that launched in 2010, Kent has more than $400,000 on hand, with future fundraising events planned, Ms. Green.

Typically, such building projects are financed over several years.

The shelter still will need a special permit approval from the Town Board, site plan approval from the Planning Board, a hardship exemption from the state’s Central Pine Barrens Commission and sewage flow approvals from the county health department before it can begin construction on its long-held vision.

Those approvals are expected to take another six to nine months, shelter officials said.

Kent had at one time looked for land at another location to build its new shelter, but found that the town’s zoning doesn’t specifically permit animals shelters anywhere, which is why Kent will need a special permit from the Town Board.

“It’s very difficult to site one where you can actually keep all your neighbors happy,” Mr. Bowman said. “So with that, we decided we were going to stay in our existing, non-conforming site, which is on the Peconic River.”

Kent has already received state approval to build near the river, which is located within the boundaries of the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act, which limits development near New York rivers.

Kent plans to move the buildings further away from the river, upgrade its sanitary system and build a buffer between the buildings and the river, according to Mr. Bowman.

Kent also purchased a neighboring property to create more of a buffer between the shelter and neighboring properties.

The shelter handles spaying and neutering of animals for Riverhead Town and often takes animals from the town’s shelter and helps get them adopted, Ms. Green said.

Securing approval from the Pine Barrens Commission is expected to be the toughest hurdle facing the project.

At a Dec. 20 hearing before the commission, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, two of its five commissioners, voiced support for Kent.

“They are our de facto municipal shelter,” Mr. Walter said of Kent at the hearing.

But Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society criticized Mr. Walter’s comments and suggested it may be a conflict of interest for Mr. Walter to vote on Kent’s application.

“Kent providing great public service is entirely irrelevant to this application,” Mr. Amper said at the time, indicating that the commission’s vote should be based entirely on whether Kent meets the criteria for a Pine Barrens exemption.

The Long Island Pine Barrens Society is a nonprofit environmental organization and isn’t part of the Pine Barrens Commission, though Mr. Amper is vice president of the commission’s advisory committee and was instrumental in getting the state Pine Barrens Protection Act enacted in the early 1990s.

Those who’d like to contribute to the new shelter fund should contact Pam Green at 631-727-5731 or pamgreen@kentanimalshelter.com.

tgannon@timesreview.com

02/28/13 12:00pm
02/28/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The southern entrance into the already-developed part of EPCAL, referred to as the industrial core.

A plan released this week by local environmentalists for the redevelopment of Enterprise Park At Calverton is nearly identical to the one that Riverhead Town is presenting to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said.

“It’s very close to our plan,”  Mr. Walter said.

He said that’s a good thing because it’s important to have the environmental community working with the town as it presents its plans to the DEC.

Richard Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, called on local environmentalists in November to come up with a plan of their own for EPCAL. Mr. Amper said at the time that Mr. Walter “is launching a one-man war on the environment.”

Mr. Amper and others released their plan this week.

“From what I’ve seen, there does seem to be agreement,” Mr. Amper said.

Mr. Amper worked with Bob DeLuca of the Group for the East End, Geoffrey Freeman, an architect and planner, Tony Coates, a former Business Improvement District member, and Ray Pickersgill, the BID president, to come up with a plan.

His group, led by Mr. Freeman and including members of the business community, did not see the town plan when it put together its proposal, he said.

“They spent three months trying to determine what needed to be preserved as far as endangered species, wetlands and grasslands and they came up with a plan we think the town can work with,” Mr. Amper said.

The town will need to formally submit a plan to the DEC, which Mr. Walter thinks it is close to doing, and after that, the plan will be subject to a scoping hearing, where the public suggests issues that should be studied in an environmental impact study. After that, it must undertake that study.

The study will take about a year before the plan can be approved, he said.

“It’s key for everybody to have input, so this becomes a partnership with everybody,” Mr. Walter said.

While the two maps look identical, the one submitted by Mr. Amper’s group states that 695 acres can be developed at EPCAL, while the town traditionally has said its plan identifies about 600 acres.

Mr. Walter thinks that’s just because the town has access to surveys and computer models of the land in question.

He said that if anything, there’s only about 50 acre difference between the two plans.

“For too long, some have suggested that EPCAL development has been blocked by environmentalists,” Mr. Amper said. “That’s never been true and it’s high time we proved it. Intelligent planning dictates that we identify the areas that must be protected before additional land is developed.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

12/28/12 2:00pm
12/28/2012 2:00 PM

SUFFOLK COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE PHOTO | The proposed pool and fitness center at Suffolk County Community College’s eastern campus would be similar to this one at the Brentwood campus.

Suffolk County Community College’s proposed “Health and Wellness Center” at the Eastern Campus in Northampton, a project that would include an indoor swimming pool, will need to get an exemption from the state’s Central Pine Barrens Commission before it can move forward.

The Eastern Campus, which was built in 1977, is located within the core of the Central Pine Barrens, an area where the state’s 1993 Pine Barrens Protection Act places strict limits on new development.

But the college argues that the health and wellness center was part of a 1973 college master plan for the Eastern Campus, and that many other components of that plan have been allowed to be built by the Pine Barrens Commission.

The fitness center project, which would be similar to what the college has at its Brentwood campus, would include an eight lane indoor swimming pool, fitness center, meeting space and nursing laboratory, according to George Gatta, an executive vice president at the college.

The fitness center would include a strength training room, aerobic room, gymnasium, classroom space, office space, locker rooms and lobby, according to the county.

The Suffok County Legislature has included $17.75 million for the project in its capital budget.

The college plans to make the fitness center and pool opened for use by the general public when not being used by the college. At Brentwood, the fitness center and pool have more than 1,440 members, who pay a membership fee, and the pool is also used by local high schools and swim clubs that rent it for meets, according to Mary Lou Araneo, the college’s vice president for institutional advancement.

Mr. Gatta argued at a Dec. 21 meeting of the Pine Barrens Commission that the college’s 1973 master plan for the Eastern Campus included six buildings that the Pine Barrens Commission has allowed to be built on the campus since 1995, including the 40,000 square foot Montauk Learning Resource Center, which was formally opened last year.

In order to get an exemption to build in the Pine Barrens Core, a development must qualify as “non-development” under the guidelines of the 1993 law.

One category that the Pine Barrens law does not define as “development” is “public improvements undertaken for the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

The college is arguing that the health and fitness center falls under that category.

In 1995, the college submitted its 1993 master plan for the Eastern Campus, which included the health and wellness center in a “phase two,” and which included the Montaukett building in Phase One, to the Pine Barrens Commission.

The commission, on Jan. 3, 1995, ruled that Phase One of the master plan “constitutes non-development” under the Pine Barrens Act, but it made no mention of phase two or three of the college master plan.

“We never got an explanation why phase two and three were not included,” said Louis Petrizzo, the college’s general counsel.

“The college continued to inform the commission of its plans to implement the remaining elements of the 1973-76 and 1993 master plans, as well as the 2001 master plan update,” Mr. Gatta said. They sent letters to the commission in 2005 and 2006 and have received no response or explanation why the second and third phases of their master plan didn’t receive approval.

He said the college, “receiving no response to either communication, moved forward with the planning and contraction of the Learning Resource Center and continued to plan for the implementation of the Health and Wellness Center.”

The Pine Barrens Commission is made up of the supervisors of Riverhead, Southampton and Brookhaven towns, along with one representative each from Suffolk County and New York State.

“We’ve already passed judgment that this is non-development,” said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, alluding to the 1995 Pine Barrens ruling.

John Milazzo, the attorney for the commission, reminded him that the master plan was in three phases, and only the first one received commission approval in 1995.

“So, if the first phase was non-development, couldn’t we just pass a resolution at the next meeting saying this is non-development too?” Mr. Walter asked.

Richard Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society (which is not part of the pine barrens commission, although Mr. Amper was instrumental in developing the Pine Barrens Act), pointed that there were amendments to the Pine Barrens Act in 2005, and that there may be different criteria now than there was in 1995.

Mr. Milazzo concurred. He also said that the presentation at the Dec. 21 meeting was just for informational purposes, and that there is currently no formal application before the commission for the college’s plans, so they couldn’t approve them yet.

Mr. Amper later criticized commissioner members during a hearing that same day on Kent Animal Shelter’s proposal for a new shelter building at its River Road location, which needs an exception to build in the Pine Barrens core.

During that hearing, Mr. Walter praised Kent, saying they are “our defacto municipal shelter” and handle 50 percent of the dog needs for the town.

Mr. Amper said that “Kent’s providing a great public service is entirely irrelevant to the application.”

He said he’s been complaining lately that the commission members are judging applications based on whether they are a good use or provide a public service, rather then whether they meet the criteria set forth of the Pine Barrens legislation.

“Even if it were a place to honor saints, that doesn’t mean it qualifies for a hardship exemption,” Mr. Amper said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

12/26/12 8:00am
12/26/2012 8:00 AM

DEC COURTESY PHOTO | Hurricane Sandy damaged cars parked on the grasslands at EPCAL.

And then came the cars. Cars as far the eye could see.

Just a few weeks after superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeast, storm-disabled cars, trucks and SUVs began arriving by the truckload to town-owned land in Calverton and other points on the East End.

Riverhead Town inked three separate deals in late 2012 with an Illinois-based auto auction company to store cars on Calverton Enterprise Park tarmacs. And the town is being paid handsomely for that space, with lease payments likely amounting to about $2 million with a potential for extended leases — and more money — in 2013.

But the storage of thousands of cars did not come without controversy, as environmentalists expressed concern about batteries and petroleum products leaking from cars and toward protected groundwater.

“Riverhead has a long history of anti-environmental behavior at EPCAL, but turning the Pine Barrens into a junk yard probably takes the cake,” fumed Richard Amper, the executive director of the Riverhead-based Long Island Pine Barrens Society.

While state Department of Environmental Conservation officials were OK with the town’s deals, other vehicles stored on grass on private property there were ordered to be moved — though DEC officials in late December said that still wasn’t happening.

As for the town land in EPCAL, thousand of cars are expected to cycle through the property as they get assessed and auctioned off.

With more and more cars arriving to other points on the East End, often private properties, the state Pine Barrens Commission, comprising local and state officials, was last examining the situation and trying to figure out how best to address potential environmental issues.

READ MORE EPCAL STORIES FROM 2012

12/21/12 10:35am
12/21/2012 10:35 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Cars stored on the runway at the Enterprise Park in Calverton.

A number of area environmental organizations, led by Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, are asking the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to take action on the storage of Superstorm Sandy-damaged cars in the Pine Barrens and other designated groundwater protection areas.

“Gasoline, oil, anti-freeze, lubricants and the interaction of salt water with auto parts pose a threat to Long Island’s Sole Source Aquifer,” a Dec. 18 letter the groups sent to DEC commissioner Joseph Martens states. “To date, your Department has not been effective in remedying this problem.”

A total of 20 East End environmental or civic groups signed the letter.

Since Sandy flooded much of Long Island, a number of “total loss” cars wrecked by the water have been acquired by insurance companies, which make arrangements with companies that auction the wrecked cars off to licensed recyclers. The cars are being stored at numerous sites throughout the island.

The Dec. 18 letter comes a day before the state’s Central Pine Barrens Commission voted to prosecute people who store these cars within the core of the Pine Barrens, but not within the compatible growth area.

The core is the section of the Pine Barrens where new development is largely prohibited, while the compatible growth area does allow some development with approval from the commission.

Mr. Amper had urged the commission to prosecute the storing of cars in the compatible growth areas as well.

The commission on Wednesday debated the issue, with Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter opposed to having the Pine Barrens Commission get involved in enforcing the car storage issue, which is already, in some cases, being enforced by the DEC. The supervisors of Riverhead, Southampton and Brookhaven towns, along with a state and county representative, comprise the commission’s members.

Riverhead Town is itself leasing the runways and taxiways at the Enterprise Park at Calverton to a company storing Sandy-soaked cars, and stands to make close to $2 million from doing so. The DEC has said it has no problems with that, because it’s on pavement, but the DEC has issued violations to another company storing cars on grasslands at EPCAL.

“I don’t see the purpose of bringing the Pine Barrens into it,” Mr. Walter said. The supervisor said he’s been “trying to not have” the battle of section 9.2 of the Pine Barrens land use plan, and he said involving the Pine Barrens commission in the car storage issue would trigger that debate again.

Riverhead Town believes that “economic development” at EPCAL is exempt from review by the Pine Barrens Commission, as set forth in section 9.2 of the land use plan. Riverhead Town officials in the mid 1990s refused to support the Pine Barrens law unless that exemption was included.

However, there is no mention of that exemption in the actual Pine Barrens law, which was adopted by the state legislature two years earlier than the land use plan.

“That (exemption) has no legal standing because it contradicts the statute,” said Mr. Amper said at Wednesday’s meeting. He said it’s “always better to have both” the Pine Barrens Commission and the DEC enforcing things.

Mr. Walter said the commission will be less likely to get temporary restraining orders from judges in car storage cases without Riverhead’s support.

The commission then went into executive session, emerged a few minutes later and voted to prosecute only car storage in the EPCAL core.  The runways at EPCAL are in the compatible growth area of the Pine Barrens, but not in the core.

Mr. Amper disagrees with the DEC’s decision to allow the cars to be stored on paved areas in EPCAL.

“The notion that there is no threat to the water supply because cars are parked on pavement is incorrect.

The cars at EPCAL could remain for six months to a year.

The letter adds, “Worse still, is the suggestion on the part of (DEC) Region One officials that the Department lacks authority to protect these vital natural resources.

There have been inquiries about storing cars in closed sand mines, such as the Calverton Industries sand mine site on Route 25 in Calverton, according to Mr. Walter.

When asked about the potential for cars to be stored in a closed, inactive sand mine, DEC spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo wrote, “DEC does not have jurisdiction in former mine sites where the site mine permit is closed and no additional environmental concerns (wetlands, protected species) exist.  Any active mines wishing to use their property for vehicle storage will require a permit modification for change of use from DEC.”

DEC has also said it has no problem with cars being stored on paved areas.

But DEC has issued a set of guidelines where permits may be needed for storing cars.

These include areas within 300 feet of tidal wetlands or 100 feet of freshwater wetlands; areas that have threatened or endangered species’ habitats; regulated mining facility or landfills, and registered solid waste facilities.

In addition to the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, the letter to the DEC also was signed by representatives from the Group for the East End, the North Fork Environmental Council, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Friends of the Bay, the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, the Nature Conservancy, the North Fork Audubon Society, the Southampton Town Civic Coalition, and the North Fork Clean Water Coalition, among others.

tgannon@timesreview.com

11/21/12 12:00pm
11/21/2012 12:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Long Island Pine Barrens Society head Dick Amper says town officials are looking to get exemption from environmental laws.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Long Island Pine Barrens Society head Dick Amper says town officials are looking to get exemption from environmental laws.

Environmentalists, grab your pens and pads and blueprints.

You’ve got an empty canvas, so to speak. Thousands of acres of undeveloped land in Calverton.

Long Island Pine Barrens head Richard Amper said this week he will be urging environmentalists to come up with a plan of their own on how to develop the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

This, he says, is necessary because Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter “is launching a one-man war on the environment.”

Mr. Amper’s rallying cry comes just a few weeks after Mr. Walter contacted the area’s three federal representatives, Congressman Tim Bishop and U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, in an effort to jump-start development at the former Grumman site, saying the land was given to the town by the federal government for economic development — and the state has hindered this goal.

Mr. Amper says the supervisor is also trying at the state level to circumvent the state Pine Barrens Act.

“Sean Walter’s effort to have the federal government supersede state environmental law at EPCAL has been compounded by his new proposition that the Pine Barrens Act does not apply to government-owned land and has set him on a collision course with environmentalists,” Mr. Amper said in an interview this week.

“Add to this the town’s approval of storage of Sandy-wrecked cars in a state-designated Special Groundwater Protection Area in the Pine Barrens at EPCAL and it seems he’s declared a war on water and habitat exceeding anything heretofore,” Mr. Amper said. “I will now urge environmentalists to advance an EPCAL development plan that will protect the ecosystem and permit appropriate development to avoid further delay in economic development of the property.”

Mr. Amper said his ultimate goal would be to convince the town to accept whatever plan the environmentalists drew up.

Reached for comment, Mr. Walter dismissed the outspoken Mr. Amper as just trying to draw attention to himself and his nonprofit group.

“That would be Dick Amper just wasting a lot of time,” Mr. Walter said.

The town has been trying to develop town land at EPCAL, the site of a former Grumman naval weapons plant, for several years now, and both Mr. Walter and his predecessor, Phil Cardinale, have complained about state bureaucracy, specifically the state Department of Environmental Conservation, impeding that goal.

DEC officials counter that they’ve never rejected any plan the town has proposed for EPCAL.

The town is in the process of having an environmental study and subdivision map created for EPCAL in hopes this will make the property easier to develop.

In addition to contacting the area’s federal representatives, the Town Board also has met publicly with former Congressman George Hochbrueckner, who was instrumental in getting the EPCAL land turned over to the town, instead of being sold, after Grumman left.

Mr. Hockbrueckner said it was always the goal to have the land developed as “economic development” that would replace the jobs lost when Grumman left the area.

Mr. Amper is also saying the town has sent a series of letters to the state Pine Barrens Commission — a multi-jurisdictional government agency that regulates development in designated pine barrens areas — claiming government projects are exempt from the commission’s jurisdiction.

In an Oct. 16 letter to Suffolk County Water Authority attorney John Milazzo, deputy Riverhead Town attorney Dan McCormick claims that a recent state Supreme Court ruling involving the county’s Southaven Park Trap and Skeet Range expands the scope of the term “public improvement and/or recreation uses” to include a county-maintained shooting range.

“If a shooting range is now judicially recognized as a ‘public improvement,’ it is reasonable to conclude that most, if not all, other municipally sponsored projects are public improvements as well,” Mr. McCormick writes, according to a copy of one of the letters Mr. Amper turned over to the News-Review.

In the Southaven case, the judge found that the Pine Barrens Commission’s ruling that the reopening of the skeet range constituted development “was arbitrary, capricious and irrational.”

In an Oct. 10 letter to Mr. Walter, John Pavacic, executive director of the Pine Barrens Commission, wrote that “government uses are not expressly exempted from being subject to the comprehensive land use plan” of the Pine Barrens Act. He wrote that government uses are addressed as either non-development, which are exempt, or development, which are not, and that these definitions are spelled out in the law.

Mr. Amper said one only needs to read the Pine Barrens law to see that government activities are not expressly exempt.

“The town could make tens of millions of dollars more if it could agree to do development at EPCAL in an environmentally sensitive way,” he said. “It is my opinion that town supervisors, from Jim Stark to the present, have blamed the environment as an obstacle to developing EPCAL. It’s just a political excuse. The salamanders and owls are not preventing EPCAL from being developed, inept politicians are.”

“I’m not blaming the environment,” Mr. Walter responded.

Asked what he is blaming, he replied, “Bureaucracy. But we’ll get through it.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/12/12 2:00pm
10/12/2012 2:00 PM

It was the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” The same is true for News-Review editorials.

Oh, there’s nothing wrong about the newspaper’s lamenting the Town of Riverhead’s incapacity for nearly 20 years to get much of EPCAL on the tax rolls, but the job is never going to get done if we don’t understand why it hasn’t happened.

For years, Riverhead politicians have scapegoated the environment for their incapacity to market the property. One or two supervisors even admitted to me that because they couldn’t get the job done before Election Day, they had to blame something for the failure.

Last week’s News-Review picked up the same time-worn song and dance, the facts be damned.

Your editorial said, “It’s no secret environmentalists would like to see the whole thing remain a nature preserve.” That’s not true. When the Pine Barrens Act was enacted, we set aside only 450 acres of the 2,500 within the fence-line for preservation to protect drinking and surface water and critical habitat. The remainder was placed in a Compatible Growth Area where development is permitted.

I’ve been campaigning for decades for development of the former Navy/Grumman airbase. Whenever an endangered species has been discovered, I’ve come out publicly time and again, saying the critters can be protected without compromising economic development. It’s been done repeatedly at EPCAL.

It’s also false that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation “officials seem to be at war with everything and anything proposed for this land,” as your editorial declared. Not so. The DEC has granted permits for everything from the Burman development to the rail spur to a water ski park at the site. The DEC has not denied a single permit application since the Navy transferred the land to Riverhead. So what’s standing in the way?

Well, harebrained ideas like a Hollywood film studio, an international jetport, racing that even NASCAR disavowed, the “Wilpon Deal,” an indoor ski mountain and on and on.

EPCAL seems to be where bad ideas come to die.

The idea of doing a marketing study to decide what would work there was a good one. That way, Riverhead could find out what kind of development would work, rather than simply responding to the latest crazy scheme advanced by someone without the capacity to deliver it.

Eighty percent of Long Islanders call themselves environmentalists. Nobody truly believes that they’re all “anti-growth,” that they prefer poverty over prosperity and hope that the economy gets worse. That’s ridiculous.

Most believe that economic growth is possible without destroying our environment.

When the News-Review buys into the never-ending excuse-making of supervisors Stark, Villella, Kozakiewicz, Cardinale and Walter — and calls for federal intervention to blame environmentalists for Riverhead’s bipartisan incompetence — it’s reinforcing a myth that somehow protecting water and nature is the problem.

I have three suggestions on how to finally get EPCAL properly developed.

First, blame local politicians, not environmentalists. Second, prepare a workable subdivision map as required by state law. Third, stop proposing stupid things like cutting down hundreds of acres of Pine Barrens to create grassland habitat, as Supervisor Walter has, or pretending that state environmental laws don’t apply at EPCAL

State officials including Peter Scully at DEC, Senator Ken LaValle and East End assemblymen such as Fred Thiele and Dan Losquadro are committed to responsible development at Calverton.

But if the Walter administration and the News-Review still believe the do-nothing federal government should intervene on behalf of incompetent Riverhead government, then it should just take back the land and give it instead to New York State, which would have EPCAL up and running in no time. If the first step in solving any problem is recognizing you’ve got one, then the second is recognizing what the actual problem is and doing something about it.

Mr. Amper is the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, an environmental nonprofit group based in Riverhead.

06/06/12 7:00pm
06/06/2012 7:00 PM

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | A firefighter drags a hose during the April wildfires in Riverhead Town.

The Suffolk County Legislature approved a resolution to drill fire suppression wells in the Pine Barrens during their session Tuesday.

The resolution, which directs the county’s well-drilling unit to drill wells on county land capable of producing 400 gallons of water per minute, was sponsored by Legislator Ed Romaine after the April wildfires that claimed more than 1,000 acres of Pine Barrens.

“The Manorville area was hit by two large wildfires in April, one of which destroyed homes and displaced residents,” said Legislator Romaine. “The lack of water in the Pine Barrens continues to be a major concern. With little development and even fewer mains, water is a scarce resource. These wildfires clearly highlight the need for fire wells in this area.”

The resolution also authorizes the county to seek agreements with private homeowners and municipalities to drill well locations on their property for firefighters to use.

The plan to drill fire suppression wells would not harm the local ecosystem, environmental groups said, though they added that conducting more “controlled burns” more often would help prevent future fires from getting out of control.

The controlled burns, in addition to other steps such as fire breaks and timber and firewood harvesting, have proven effective in reducing the risk of brush fires, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.

Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper agreed, saying wells alone would only assist in putting them out once they’ve begun.

Mr. Amper said the county should take “proactive” steps to reduce wildfires by burning roughly 1,000 acres over the course of the year in smaller fires to prevent massive fires from swelling out of control.

“You have to work with Mother Nature or she’s going to fight with you and eventually she’s going to win,” he said.

County Executive Steve Bellone can now sign the legislature-approved resolution or veto it.

psquire@timesreview.com