The Amazon rainforest has been referred to as the “lungs of the Earth.” Remsenburg resident John Barry refers to 160.1 acres of land Southampton Town is looking to preserve as the lungs and the kidneys of the area.
“It’s an important function in filtering out rainwater and giving us a consistent supply of clean water,” he said. “To protect 160 acres of land that’s just so important to the preservation of the community and the life we currently have is an opportunity I’d hate to see pass us by.”
The Remsenburg-Speonk Union Free School District Board of Education president joined many others at a January 14 town board meeting to support a resolution to purchase four lots along Old Country Road and Speonk-Riverhead Road in Remsenburg and Speonk with $8.6 million of Community Preservation Fund money.
“I think the most important thing is this property lies within the aquifer protection overlay district, reflecting its importance to the preservation of our drinking water resources,” said Phil Smyth, president of the Remsenburg Association, a civic group. “This is keeping with our mission to preserve the bucolic nature of the community and the surrounding area. The association has consistently advocated for open space preservation, including with this property.”
Community Preservation Fund manager Lisa Kombrink said not only are the properties the town approved to purchase in the aquifer protection zone, they lie in the Suffolk County Pine Barrens compatible growth and central Suffolk special groundwater protection areas.
A phase one environmental assessment was previously done on the property, and results of the updated study are pending, Kombrink said.
The surveys of the lots — the largest over 90 acres of primarily vacant woodland, and the smallest, farmland six acres in size — were done to address encroachment issues. There are driveways, wood piles, and a dirt road on the properties. Soil sampling was also done to test for any potentially hazardous chemicals still in the two-mile stretch of groundwater contaminated as the result of a Speonk chlorinated solvent plume discovered by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services in 2001.
“We’re going to look for changes in the review to see if there’s contamination at the site,” Councilman John Bouvier said. The property owner could then clean up the parcels and deal with the encroachment issues, or the town can cancel the purchase. “The onus is on the property owner,” Councilwoman Julie Lofstad said.
Residents who voiced support agreed the property, known to many as the Woodfield Gables subdivision, is beneficial only if preserved.
“The Speonk plume is migrating south toward Moriches Bay,” said Speonk resident Craig Catalanotto. “We feel the best thing for this area is for this parcel specifically to be left as is to allow time and nature to help filter, dilute, and heal the water quality issues.”
The recent Southampton Town Board candidate, who is on the Community Preservation Fund advisory board and is a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee West, said he received calls and emails in support, with not a single person against the acquisition.
“It serves as a natural buffer between the Speonk industrial area and residential areas, primarily to the south,” Catalanotto said.
Former CPF manager Randall Weichbrodt also voiced his support. He served back when the idea to purchase the parcel was initially discussed. Current supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who said this is the largest acquisition the town board has seen, was East Hampton supervisor at that time. Bob DeLuca, president and CEO of Group for the East End, said his organization has been involved monitoring and fighting for the protection of the parcel since 2006.
“We were concerned about the density on this property as well as ancillary concerns like soil vapor intrusion and what it would mean for residents,” he said. “Speonk has enough wounds in the environment as it is. Anything that the town can do to protect these open areas is really going to serve us all in the long run. We hoped this opportunity would come.”