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Jul 7, 2008 3:53 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Planning Board members call for review of Speonk subdivisions

Jul 7, 2008 3:53 PM

As the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation begins its investigation to pinpoint the source and extent of a plume of contaminated groundwater in Speonk, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. has written Governor David Paterson urging that the state provide an actual timeline for the remediation work.

Mr. Thiele, who mailed his letter to the governor on Monday, said the DEC has been investigating the contamination, known as the Speonk Solvent Plume, since 1999. However, DEC officials only launched a serious investigation of the plume earlier this summer and have not yet provided a specific date for when the cleanup work would begin.

“My office has received letters and phone calls for years from constituents who have complained about odors and possible contamination at these locations,” Mr. Thiele wrote in his letter. “It has taken far too long for the DEC to create a timeline.”

Meanwhile, the Southampton Town Planning Board started the process of withdrawing an earlier decision that would have allowed the construction of a new subdivision on land that is located above the plume. If the board follows through on its decision, the developer will most likely be forced to complete a more extensive environmental review of the property.

The 57-lot Woodfield Gables subdivision, proposed for 160 acres on the northeast corner of Speonk-Riverhead and Old Country roads, sits atop the northern edge of the plume that extends at least 1.5 miles to the south, toward Moriches Bay. The Planning Board gave the subdivision a negative declaration, meaning that it would not require further environmental review, in the fall of 2006, before board members were aware of the pollution and ongoing DEC investigation.

Last Thursday, July 3, the Planning Board voted to begin the process of rescinding that negative declaration, giving the property’s owner, Tom Datre, three weeks to respond before the board fully nullifies its decision due to “substantive new information,” possibly as soon as Thursday, July 24.

Mr. Datre declined to comment on the latest development, asking that his attorney, David Gilmartin Jr. of Southampton, speak in his stead. Mr. Gilmartin was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Planning Board members are split as to what their next action should be after they rescind their earlier decision. Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty said last week that he believes that the environmental concerns can be met if Mr. Datre submits an environmental assessment form. However, fellow member Jacqui Lofaro said she would like the board to issue a positive declaration on July 24, meaning that Mr. Datre would have to submit a more costly and extensive environmental impact statement.

“The recision of a negative declaration is logically followed by the issuance of a positive declaration,” said Ms. Lofaro at the July 3 meeting. “That means a coordinated review of information with public input. The public is given an opportunity for greater participation in the review.”

Board members were also concerned about a smaller, three-lot subdivision, known as the Goss Subdivision, that has been proposed for North Phillips Avenue in Speonk. That parcel is also located directly above the plume.

“How, in good conscience, could we let this go ahead?” asked Planning Board member Alma Hyman. The board only examined a proposed reconfiguration of the lots during last week’s meeting.

Mr. Finnerty said that project might require a more extensive environmental review because the property is located on top of the plume. He added that the Planning Board could stop allowing subdivisions only if the Suffolk County Health Department stopped issuing permits, or if the Town Board enacted a moratorium that prohibited new development on land situated on top of the contamination. A 13-lot subdivision known as Serenity Estates, also on North Phillips Avenue, has been on hold since 2006.

Town Supervisor Linda Kabot said that a building moratorium in Speonk would be unlikely. “The Town Board has to be very judicious,” she said.

Ms. Kabot explained that the town can adopt only development moratoriums that relate to the municipality’s land use laws. She said that was the criteria when the town enacted a building ban in 2004 in order to complete a study that focused on the hamlets of Speonk, Remsenburg and Eastport.

“It has to be for a local purpose,” said Ms. Kabot, adding that the DEC and Suffolk County Health Department deal with pollution-related issues. It would be the responsibility of the Planning Board, she said, to make sure that anyone who planned a building project on land that sits above the plume received the appropriate state and county permits.

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