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Town officials call for partnership to save former Aquebogue duck farm

Riverhead Town Board members are renewing an effort to preserve a 94-acre former duck farm in Aquebogue.

Councilman Frank Beyrodt asked his colleagues to ramp up efforts to preserve the parcel during a work session last Thursday. Mr. Beyrodt, who is the liaison to the town’s open space committee, said the property is “a very important, environmentally sensitive” parcel that’s a top priority of the committee.

“The only problem is that there’s no money for preservation currently,” he said, proposing the Town Board draft a letter to several agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Environmental Conservation, Suffolk County, Peconic Land Trust and Nature Conservancy asking for their support.

Mr. Beyrodt said the former duck farm, which has struggled with contamination issues, has now provided a habitat for native species to return to the area.

He called for urgency, citing development pressure on the fragile site.

The Broad Cove property, located on Terry’s Creek adjacent to Indian Island County Park, is listed as a high priority parcel for preservation on a master list kept by the town.

But the property’s Tourism/Resort zoning could allow for development of bed-and-breakfasts, country clubs and more intense uses like a hotel and spa.

Developers have pitched a 500-unit resort and spa at the site, which would require a special permit approval by the Town Board.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said in an interview last Thursday that the county appraised and made an offer to purchase the property to owner Stanley Weiss in 2015. “We made what we thought was a fair market offer and he did not agree to accept it,” Mr. Krupski said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the property would complement the existing hiking and recreation trails at Indian Island and hopes working with multiple agencies will help pool funds. “I don’t know if the market values have come up where the offer can be made for a greater value that he would accept it, but I think it’s definitely a valiant effort,” she said.

Deputy Town Attorney Anne Marie Prudenti said that, although some environmental groups and the state DEC have expressed interest in preserving the parcel, there hasn’t been a “meeting of the minds” to make it happen.

The idea to partner with other agencies comes nearly a year after the state DEC notified Riverhead officials about its interest in purchasing the Broad Cove property for conservation purposes using Environmental Protection Fund monies.

In January, the Town Board approved a resolution to support the DEC acquisition, which has stalled due to the pandemic, Ms. Prudenti said last Thursday.

When she reached out to the DEC in August, she was told that they remain interested in the property, but now lack adequate funding for state acquisitions due to Covid-19.

“The ability to bring all of the different entities who have expressed keen interest in preserving this parcel really could accomplish the goal of preservation,” she said last Thursday.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard, voicing support for circulating the letter. “I’d hate to see it developed.”