ALBANY, New York, December 14, 2009 (ENS) – The State of New York has agreed with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center to purchase one of the largest remaining open space parcels in Setauket to help protect the water quality along Long Island’s North Shore.

Announcing the purchase Thursday, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis said, “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.”

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 commissioner said.

The 28.3-acre parcel is listed as a priority for preservation in the state’s 2009 Open Space Conservation Plan and is the largest privately-owned undeveloped lot in the immediate drainage of Conscience Bay. Grannis said this makes it critical to the long-term maintenance of the water chemistry and ecological viability of the embayment.

The $5.45 million transaction is made possible by $5 million in Natural Resource Damages 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 land acquisition will not need to utilize state funds.

“Land conservation is now more important than ever,” said Congressman Tim Bishop, who has introduced legislation to provide tax incentives to promote open space. “By using federal dollars and the settlement funds, this property transfer will help protect the North Shore’s ecosystem without placing a financial burden on local taxpayers.”

“One of the best ways to protect water quality is by preserving our dwindling open space,” said Judith Enck, U.S. EPA Regional Administrator. “I applaud this agreement and am proud that EPA was able to make a significant contribution to the effort by helping to fund the program through the Long Island Sound Study.”

The Long Island Sound Study, developed under the EPA’s National Estuary Program, is a cooperative effort between the EPA and the states of Connecticut and New York to protect and restore the Sound and its ecosystem. In 1994, it created a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan to guide federal, state and local governments to improve water quality, restore and protect habitats, and help the public to foster environmental stewardship.

This property, which has been owned by the Diocese since 1977, is vacant and wooded with more than 1,200 feet of frontage on the busy stretch of Route 25A across from the Setauket Commons Shopping Center. The property is zoned for single family residences and could have been developed for as many as 25 new homes. Instead, the property will remain as open space, protecting the surface and groundwater of the Setauket area.

The Natural Resource Damages 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. The discharge, from a hole in an underground pipeline in the terminal, ultimately reached the water table, 100 feet below the surface.

Under the direction of the DEC, which worked in close cooperation with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Northville undertook cleanup activities to recover gasoline from the water table.

Northville signed an Order on Consent in which the company agreed to fund a cleanup 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.

State Assemblyman Steven Englebright said, “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. This is a gift that will literally last forever, and benefit many future generations.”

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