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Flanders chief raises concerns over wildfire mitigation plan

Joe Petit

The good news for the Flanders Fire Department is that the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission is close to finalizing a plan to reduce the threat of wildfires in the community.

The bad news? The department’s chief believes the commission is looking to begin its project in the wrong location off Route 104. 

Speaking at a two-hour meeting at the David W. Crohan Community Center Tuesday, Flanders Fire Chief Joe Petit said he believes existing access lanes should be cleared first around the area of Pleasure Drive before a proposed three-mile long lane is cleared farther west at Brookhaven Avenue.

“I’ve never heard anyone say they have concern about Brookhaven Avenue,” said Mr. Petit of the area where the 12-foot wide path would be cleared. “Our concern has been about Pleasure Drive from the beginning.”

After the meeting, Mr. Petit said he’s “frustrated” because he’s been asking for help with clearing the existing paths along Pleasure Drive for nearly eight years and, as of now, he’ll have to continue to wait.

“My concern is being addressed somewhat, but I just feel like the time and effort that’s being put into the Brookhaven Avenue area should be redirected toward Pleasure Drive,” he said.

As Mr. Petit expressed concerned about location, other residents worried the Brookhaven Avenue path might be used illegally for dirt bike riding or dumping.

William Bowman of Land Use Ecological Services in Medford, the project’s consultant, said during the meeting that equipment needs are forcing the work to begin at Brookhaven Avenue. A bulldozer is needed to clear the fallen dead trees covering the overgrown access road at Pleasure Drive, he said, and his company does not own one.

“We have some ability to clear out the trees along the path that aren’t rooted too much, but we’ll be reaching out to other agencies to get that access work done,” he told the nearly 50 audience members. “Our work is focused more on the [shrubs and small trees] near the path.”

Another challenge with clearing the access road along Pleasure Drive is some of the parcels are owned by private individuals, said John Pavacic, executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission.

Mr. Pavacic said he believes the clearing process could be expedited if the community reached out to elected officials and asked that those properties are made a priority for acquisition. Wildfire mitigation measures are easier and less costly if they are done on public land, Mr. Pavacic explained, as opposed to government agencies asking property owners for permission to do the work.

The proposal, which is estimated to cost between $225,000 and $300,000, is expected to be finalized in October and the commission could vote on its approval as early as Oct. 21. The project is being funded through the state environmental protection fund and much of the land is owned by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Suffolk County Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Conservation.

Some of the project’s objectives include scaling back underbrush and small trees growing near larger ones, which heightens the threat of wildfires. A plan to restore woodlands habitats in the northern portion of the Sarnoff Preserve is also included in the project.

Mechanical thinning of the woods with a forestry mower is planned near Brookhaven Avenue and with chain saws for the areas near Pleasure Drive. That work is scheduled to take place between November and March. Prescribed burns would then start in April.

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Photo caption: Flanders Fire Chief Joe Petit expressing his concerns Monday night at the David. W. Crohan Community Center over a proposed wildfire mitigation plan.