Agreement Reached to Preserve Conscience Bay Watershed Land

Purchase Involves No State Funds and Will Help Preserve Water Quality

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Assemblyman Englebright, DEC Officials, and local leaders gathered at the end of Watson Lane in Setauket to announce that an agreement has been reached to preserve as open space the 28 acre Diocese Property.
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Assemblyman Englebright points out the importance of the Diocese Property to the water quality of our coastal waters using an aerial map of the Conscience Bay Watershed. From left to right, Assemblyman Englebright pictured pointing at map, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, DEC staff member Heather Amster, and, in foreground, Regional Director Peter Scully.


Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) joined with NY State DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, and DEC Regional 1 Director Peter Scully to announce that New York has reached agreement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center to purchase one of the largest remaining open space parcels in Setauket.

The 28.3-acre wooded parcel, which fronts NY State Route 25A and is across from Setauket's main commercial center, is listed as a priority for preservation in the State's 2009 Open Space Plan. (Click here to see map of the Conscience Bay Watershed Diocese Acquisition #11190.) It is also the largest privately-owned undeveloped parcel in the immediate drainage of Conscience Bay - making it critical to the long-term maintenance of the water chemistry and ecological viability of this shallow embayment. Part of the Port Jefferson Harbor Complex, Conscience Bay has one of the most restricted tidal flow exchanges of any of the North Shore's major bays. Preservation of these woodlands will help prevent runoff from roads and related contaminants from entering the estuary.

The $5,450,000 transaction is made possible by $5 million in Natural Resource Damages (NRD) funding from Northville Industries and $450,000 from a Long Island Sound Study grant awarded to the DEC by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Northville had settled a DEC enforcement action related to a spill at the company's East Setauket terminal in the late 1980s by funding a $25 million natural resources restoration and cleanup plan.

As a result, the acquisition will not utilize State funds.

"This agreement will not only protect this property as open space, but also will help protect water quality in Conscience Bay and Long Island Sound," Commissioner Grannis said at a news conference, joined by Assemblyman Steve Englebright, DEC Region 1 Director Peter A. Scully, and local officials. "Situated in the Long Island North Shore Heritage Area and in close proximity to a local school, preservation of this land will help connect people to nature and help foster a green and healthy community."

Regional Director Scully credited the EPA's Long Island Sound Study Office and DEC's Bureau of Marine Resources for helping to make the acquisition possible.

"The fact is that without the award of a $450,000 grant under the Long Island Sound Study, we would not be announcing this agreement to preserve this parcel today," said Director Scully. "We are very grateful to EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck and her staff, and to the DEC Bureau of Marine Resources for the important role they placed in advancing this initiative."

Assemblyman Englebright noted that the purchase marks the culmination of a successful effort to use funds from the Northville settlement to benefit the Three Village area. The $5 million had been advanced to the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission as start-up funding for the Pine Barrens Transfer of Development Rights program in 1995 and was returned to DEC in 2005.

"With this preservation initiative, DEC has fulfilled the promise it made to the people of this community that these funds would be used for the long-term benefit of the area that suffered the impacts of the Northville spill," Assemblyman Englebright said. "This is a gift that will literally last forever, and benefit our community for generations. I want to thank Commissioner Grannis for making sure that this commitment to our community was kept, and Regional Director Scully for navigating this process to a conclusion over a very long period of time."

The rolling wooded property, which has been owned by the Diocese since 1977, has more than 1,200 feet of frontage on Route 25A. Zoned for single family residences, the property could have been developed for as many as 25 new homes, which would have increased both the demand for government services and costs for the local school district. Instead, the property will remain as open space, preserving community character, connecting people to nature and providing protection to the surface and groundwater resources of the Setauket area.

Further, the preservation of the parcel will greatly bolster ongoing efforts to create a greener, healthier community. The Diocese property is situated between Detmer Farm, which was preserved in 2006 through the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program, and the 30-acre Setauket Elementary School. It will provide a natural link to the new Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Bike Path, which will eventually run from the south side of Route 25A across from Detmer Farm to Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station.

The NRD funds are part of a $25 million restoration plan approved by DEC in 1995 and funded by Northville to resolve violations related to a 1987 gasoline spill at the company's East Setauket terminal. Northville discovered the spill during the installation of a groundwater monitoring well. The discharge, from a hole in an underground pipeline in the terminal, ultimately reached the watertable, 100 feet below the land surface.

Under the direction of the DEC, which worked in close cooperation with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Northville commenced an extensive investigation of the contamination, and undertook cleanup activities to recover gasoline from the groundwater.

Northville agreed to fund a clean-up and restoration plan that included strict remediation and closure criteria. The funds have been used, in part, to purchase and preserve open space in both the Central Pine Barrens and South Setauket Pine Barrens Special Groundwater Protection Area. In November 2006, DEC announced that cleanup activities associated with the spill were complete.

Earlier this year, the State issued a new Open Space Plan, which provides a comprehensive blueprint for achieving New York's conservation goals (http://www.dec.ny.gov/press/55707.html). The 2009 State Open Space Plan contains four main Action Agenda Items:
"The updated plan continues New York's conservation legacy while providing a broader approach that encourages local governments and non-profits to become involved in open space planning," Commissioner Grannis said. "Preserving the Conscience Bay Watershed parcel at no direct cost to state taxpayers showcases the creative methods DEC is undertaking to carry forward this stewardship legacy."
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