Alec Baldwin, Local Environmentalists Petition For Pine Barrens Commission To Review ‘The Hills’

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The State Pine Barrens Commission is still waiting to review a proposed luxury golf resort community in East Quogue until the draft environmental impact statement is accepted by Southampton Town—despite a petition asking for it to be examined sooner.

Actor Alec Baldwin, of Amagansett, stood by local environmentalists Richard Amper, executive director of Long Island Pine Barrens Society, Robert DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, and Andrea Spilka, president of the Southampton Town Civic Coalition, during a press conference last week pushing a petition that asks the commission to start reviewing the controversial project, called “The Hills at Southampton,” before the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, is accepted by the town.

Standing inside the Dark Horse Restaurant on East Main Street in Riverhead on July 20, the environmentalists spoke to a crowd of about 140 people, arguing that the commission should start reviewing the application right away so its concerns, regulations and policies can be addressed in the developer’s DEIS. Discovery Land Company, the Arizona-based developer, is currently working on its third version of the document—the first two drafts were both deemed incomplete by the town.

The proposal calls for 118 homes—95 single-family homes, 13 clubhouse cabins and 10 clubhouse condominiums—and an 18-hole golf course to be built on 168 acres along Spinney Road in East Quogue. If the Southampton Town Board approves it, the project would involve a zoning mechanism called a planned development district, or PDD, that allows more intensive development in exchange for community benefits.

John Pavacic, executive director of Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, said Monday that the commission will review the DEIS but not until after the town accepts the document.

“The commission will be reviewing the application,” said Mr. Pavacic, noting that the commission is an involved agency for the project. “The town is the lead agency; the lead determines whether the DEIS is complete. Once the town officially accepts the document as complete for public review, it’s then distributed to the involved agencies.”

The petition, which was signed by 120 people, included a letter penned directly to Carrie Meek Gallagher, chairwoman of the commission. Mr. Amper presented Ms. Gallagher and the rest of the five-member board with the petition at the monthly Pine Barrens Commission meeting, which was held in Riverhead a little more than an hour after last week’s press conference ended.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman also sits on the commission, along with Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine and Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter.

Mr. Amper said that Ms. Gallagher addressed the petition during last week’s meeting, noting that the commission has already asserted jurisdiction over the project and would discuss getting the application from the developer sooner. No other discussion related to The Hills occurred at the meeting, Mr. Amper added.

Ms. Gallagher declined to comment on the petition when reached this week, deferring all questions to Mr. Pavacic.

The petition urges the commission to begin its review now, pointing to the project’s potential threat to the Pine Barrens.

“The longer the commission waits, the less they will have to say about protecting the Pine Barrens and the vital freshwater supply that lies beneath the property,” the petition reads in part.

Alec Baldwin, who voiced his opposition to The Hills earlier this year when he recorded a public service announcement commercial, echoed the sentiment of the petition by pushing for the commission to start reviewing the project right away.

“We’re turning to the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission—a non-partisan body created by the state law to protect Long Island’s premier ecosystem and the water that lies beneath the barrens,” Mr. Baldwin said. “We’re asking them to require Discovery Land to submit their proposed project for legally required review by the Pine Barrens Commission without further delay.”

Mr. Baldwin’s speech was followed by a long applause and the audience raising “Save Our Water Save Our Pine Barrens” signs.

Mr. DeLuca and Ms. Spilka stressed during the press conference that it is important to have the Pine Barrens Commission’s input because of its expertise in protecting the environment.

“Whether we like the project or we don’t like the project, let’s give the commission the earliest and the most comprehensive review of the biggest project ever proposed in the Pine Barrens,” Mr. DeLuca said.

“By signing this petition you are letting [the commission] know that you care about this issue and that you are concerned about it,” Ms. Spilka added.

Others who signed the petition after the conference agreed.

“We need to have reverence for our natural resources,” Janice Vandyne of Riverhead said. “To give up something natural, not made by the hands of man, for us to play? That’s not right.”

Justine Diianni of Hampton Bays added that she attended the conference and signed the petition because she does not want to see another development built that has the potential to damage the quality of local water.

“It’s already polluted,” Ms. Diianni said, referring to local waterways. “We just don’t need any more nitrogen unloading.”

Ms. Spilka, who lives in Eastport, said locals need to continue pushing for the application to be reviewed by the Pine Barrens Commission because potential pollution from the development would not be restricted to the hamlet of East Quogue.

“Water itself doesn’t know geographic boundaries,” Ms. Spilka said. “You all drink the same water. We’re all affected by headlines like some of these: ‘More Beaches Shut Due To Bacteria,’ ‘Expert: Brown Tide Back In Bays,’ ‘Erosion Wrecks Beach Campsites’ … Frankly, we need your help and your support. We need people to come out, to go to events to go like this, to put letters to the editors in the papers, to show up at Town Board meetings when we need you.”

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