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Post date: December 16 1999

Appellate Court Upholds Key Pine Barrens Protections

Attorney General Spitzer hailed a New York State appellate court ruling that upheld the State Pine Barrens Law that was enacted to preserve open space and promote responsible growth in the Suffolk County Pine Barrens.

“This is a significant victory for the sensitive Pine Barrens ecosystem and for more than 2.5 million Long Islanders who depend on aquifers under the Pine Barrens for clean drinking water,” said Spitzer. “This decision ensures the viability of the Pine Barrens protection plan that state, county and local officials worked so hard to create.”

The case, W.J.F. Realty Co. v. State of New York , Suffolk County, DEC and Central Pine Barrens Commission, was decided December 6 by a four-judge panel of the Appellate Division, Second Department. The judges unanimously rejected the developer’s appeal and affirmed the 1998 trial court ruling by Justice William Underwood in Riverhead.

The developer’s argument sought to tie the hands of citizens and restrict their ability to protect their communities and environment by seeking to require that taxpayers pay millions of dollars in “damages” due to an alleged deprivation of property. Had the developer succeeded, land use decisions made by local governments would be subject to lengthy and costly court challenges.

“This court decision should encourage communities throughout New York to implement ‘Smart Growth’ policies to preserve open space, community character, historic districts and wildlife habitat,” said Spitzer.

The Long Island Pine Barrens is a sensitive ecosystem made up of thousands of acres of rare vegetation including dwarf pines and scrub oak which overlies the largest source of clean drinking water left on Long Island. If contaminated, the aquifer would take thousands of years to clean itself.

Six years ago, the New York State Legislature revised the Environmental Conservation Law to help protect the Pine Barrens aquifer, wildlife habitat and open space while at the same time promoting compatible growth. Thereafter, municipal, county and state officials worked together to prepare a regional land use plan for the approximately 100,000-acre Pine Barrens area.

Pursuant to the Pine Barrens Law, the Attorney General’s Office represented the Pine Barrens Commission and Suffolk County as well as the State and the State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Attorney General commended Suffolk County Executive Robert Gaffney and DEC Commissioner John Cahill for their cooperation and support in advancing the case.

Assistant Attorney General John Sipos and Deputy Solicitor General Peter Schiff handled the matter for the Attorney General’s Office.