By GREGORY ZELLER //
Officials at the Middle Island Solar Farm want to set the record straight on a few things, and their patience is wearing a little thin.
Exactly two weeks after the Town of Brookhaven Planning Board approved a scaled-down phasing plan for the creation of a large solar farm on Moriches-Middle Island Road, company officials are calling on the town to forge ahead. On Tuesday, MISF issued a statement “urging the Town of Brookhaven to begin formal discussions on future phases of the Middle Island Solar Farm.”
But first, some housekeeping: While they’re pleased with the Planning Board approval and some other recent developments, company officials are not thrilled with everything that’s happened since the planners granted their blessings – or with certain ongoing characterizations of the MISF project and its backers.
On the positive side, there was Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to pursue an expansion of Long Island’s Central Pine Barrens conservation area by 800 acres in Shoreham – part of the governor’s ambitious 2018 state spending plan – while excluding the Middle Island Solar Farm property, located slightly east of Shirley’s Brookhaven-Calabro Airport.
That decision, according to MISF, “underscores the governor’s commitment to preserving trees and promoting solar in New York State.”
But legislation that would bring the MISF property into the expanded conservation zone has been re-introduced in the State Legislature and is proceeding through State Senate and State Assembly channels.
Referencing “more than a dozen rare plant populations” and “25 distinct ecological communities,” the bipartisan legislation – originally sponsored last year by State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) – is part of “our efforts to preserve environmentally sensitive property,” LaValle said in a June 2017 statement.
The MISF shredded that rationale Tuesday, suggesting the legislation – specifically, the move to include the MISF property in the expanded protection zone – “has nothing to do with conservation, but has everything to do with keeping the unsustainable status quo and destroying renewable solar projects.”
Such back-and-forth jabbing has muddied the entire MISF application process, which has featured not only top-level political jockeying in Albany but local resistance from conservationists and critics who doubt the farm’s ability to produce what MISF Managing Partner Gerald Rosengarten – who has lambasted the entire approval process as “rotten” – claims it can produce.
The company also bristles at suggestions that it’s not willing to discuss future development on its 100-acre wooded lot, where it had originally proposed a mile-long array of 67,000 solar panels capable of generating 19.2 megawatts of electricity.
The company, which has the green light to begin construction on about 40 acres, wants stakeholders on every side of the issue to know: “We are now and have always been very open to a discussion with the town on the remaining phases of this project.”
“We believe that developing solar and saving trees is absolutely possible in the context of our project,” the company said Tuesday. “And we urge the town to work with us to accomplish that goal.”
As an example of its willingness to horse-trade on phases of the project beyond the 40-acre opening act, MISF noted it is open to moving “part of the acreage” of its solar farm from its Mastic property to the Brookhaven Town Landfill property.
That idea is “worth further exploration,” MISF said, noting it could help the company reach its megawatt ambitions while leaving nearly 60 acres – more than half of the company’s property, which is zoned for L1 Industrial uses and might otherwise be “fully developed as a carbon-intensive manufacturing facility” – in pristine natural condition.
“We seek a formal discussion with town officials on that option,” MISF said. “We look forward to next steps in the discussion with town officials.”