Nature Notes: A Raging Battle

Two warring camps, environmentalists and pro-developers

There is a raging battle going on throughout Long Island’s two non-city counties, Nassau and Suffolk. It splits the inhabitants into two camps, environmentalists and pro-developers. 

One day’s reading of Newsday or watching News 12 highlights that battle. Two of the hottest spots of contention in Nassau are the Hub, that area surrounding the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, and the Garvies Point development project in Glen Cove. In Suffolk County, people are worked up about the Heartland Town Square project at the former Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center in Brentwood, the Hub development in the area surrounding the Ronkonkoma train station, the Huntington Station redevelopment, the Hills, a luxury development in East Quogue, and many more. 

Most of these highly contested developments not only have hundreds of domiciles — condos, work-force units, and modest-income apartments — but extensive commercial areas, as well. The so-called second and third railroad lines out to Ronkonkoma are halfway through installation. They will feed central Suffolk the way the umbilical tube feeds the fetus until birth.

Some of you may remember the plan to build a super highway along the Ronkonkoma moraine between central Southampton Town and East Hampton Town out to the beginning of Napeague. In fact, there were two plans championed by the New York State governor at that time. Both were met with formidable opposition, Halt the Highway One and Halt the Highway Two. The land through which this multi-lane highway would travel has since been put into preservation or developed.

It’s bad enough now, but if you have driven in Nassau County or western Suffolk during the daytime recently you would get an idea of what it would be like if during the non-winter months on the South Fork you had two major thoroughfares connecting Montauk with Hampton Bays — two times as much traffic.

It is not just traffic increases that environmentalists here are concerned about, it’s the amount of potable water that is available, the already contaminated underground water that feeds the surface waters, the noise, the lights, the air befouled with ozone and carbon dioxide. New York State and the counties keep publishing plans to accommodate this increased development. In the case of the 1,000-plus unit Heartland development and commercial center, the septic waste and other water uses generated by such a development would generate some 450,000 gallons of wastewater each day. The developers say they plan to take care of that problem and connect Heartland to the Southwest Sewer District. In fact, the Suffolk County Legislature, the ultimate controller of septic flow, is slated to take up that very topic in the near future.

But don’t be blind to what’s happening on the South Fork, the groundwater supply for which is threatened with wide-scale contamination. Different consulting companies as well as town planners are too often quick to say we can minimize any would-be deleterious impacts of development by the use of new septic systems. Of course these will cut down the amount of nitrogenous wastes entering the groundwater, then the ponds and tidal creeks, but the groundwater is already contaminated with a bunch of chemicals that, taken together, are harmful.

On the South Fork, we don’t have the luxury of a third, deeper aquifer that central Suffolk has to draw from in the future. We only have two underground freshwater layers, the upper glacial and the magothy, below it.

And much of those two are already sullied, as we see now in the hamlet of Wainscott.

Recently, the Sand Land sand and gravel pit on Middle Line Highway just east of Millstone Road in Noyac has been heavily scrutinized by the Suffolk County Health Department, which found elevated levels of a number of chemical contaminants. That facility has been ordered to cease mining operations, but if it weren’t for the Noyac Civic Council, a group of unpaid concerned citizens, that facility would probably still be ablaze with activity.

In East Hampton Town, the Wainscott sand and gravel pit a few hundred feet north of Georgica Pond on the north side of Montauk Highway used to have a pond in its center, at times as large as 10 acres or more. On the 2010 Suffolk County Tax Map for East Hampton, the page for the sandpit parcels shows an outline of that pond, which no longer exists. The Wainscott hamlet study to be aired this evening by the town’s consultant has suggested some ways to develop that formidable piece of property in the immediate watershed of Georgica Pond. It would seem to me that first the property has to be examined in detail just as the Noyac sandpit has been recently.

Since the New York State Departtment of Environmental Conservation has exclusive jurisdiction over such sand and gravel mines, it has to step up as well, as it did begrudgingly in the Noyac sandpit matter. In a recent conversation with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., he agreed that towns have to have a bigger say in managing sandpits within their jurisdiction and said that there is a movement afoot in the Legislature to make that happen.

If the majority of Wainscott homeowners, having recently discovered fire-retardant pollutants in their well water and now hooking up to Suffolk County Water Authority water, had their say, it is my belief that they would almost unanimously opt for an open space preservation, nondevelopment solution.

Larry Penny can be reached via email at