The conflict over the expansion of Kent Animal Shelter in the Core Preservation Area of the Pine Barrens is getting personal. What’s worse, it’s unnecessary.
First, there’s no dispute: Kent Animal Shelter is providing a needed and useful service. Most impressive is the successful placement of thousands of homeless animals with caring families. So, nobody is against Kent. The obstacle is that state law prohibits development in the Core Preservation Area of the Pine Barrens in order to protect the island’s purest supply of drinking and surface water. That’s good, too.
The only exceptions to the ban on development are when someone who applies for a waiver can demonstrate that they would have no beneficial use of their property without one — or that they are providing essential public health and safety that can only be supplied in the Pine Barrens core. Kent clearly can’t meet the first requirement and the public health and safety provision “applies generally only to public agencies like LIPA, school districts, ambulance districts and municipalities and is only granted in extraordinary circumstances of demonstrated public health and safety,” in the words of the Pine Barrens Commission. Again, Kent doesn’t qualify.
So, Kent now argues that its spaying of feral cats helps control the spread of toxoplasmosis, a disease spread mostly by the consumption of undercooked meat. There is no evidence that the East End has a significant incidence of toxoplasmosis and certainly it is not a significant health threat. The American Bird Conservancy (which has its own problems with feral cats) tells us that “studies we have reviewed indicate that trap-neuter-release programs are not effective at reducing feral cat populations.” Unfortunately, nothing that Kent can do would make a dent in the feral cat population.
Kent also claims that contamination of groundwater and surface water will be reduced by installation of a newer and larger cesspool. Alas, Kent’s proposal would double the amount of allowable discharge, based on the increase in intensity-of-use of the property.
Environmentalists’ biggest concern about the Pine Barrens Commission granting Kent a hardship for which it does not qualify is the precedent it would set. Using the health and safety excuse, CVS might build a big pharmacy in the core, or a developer might construct a 250-bed nursing home.
So, what’s to be done to resolve this public interest conflict? Let’s obey the law, protect water quality and expand Kent’s good work for animals. Why not move the shelter from its sensitive and already contaminated location to a place outside the Pine Barrens? Any of the three Pine Barrens towns — Riverhead, Southampton or Brookhaven — can spare three acres to solve this dilemma. The Riverhead Town Board has already discussed a land donation or swap. Kent says it can afford the construction, but not the land. In the interest of the East End’s two- and four-legged population, let’s find Kent, as well as the pets it places, a new home!
Mr. Amper is executive director of the Pine Barrens Society.