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Post date: February 27 2002

Spitzer Wins Major Case To Protect Long Island Pine Barrens

State Attorney General Spitzer today hailed a federal decision that upheld the Pine Barrens Protection Act, which was adopted by the New York State Legislature in 1993 to protect the unique Pine Barrens ecosystem in Suffolk County.

Judge Thomas C. Platt of the federal district court in Central Islip confirmed the constitutionality of the state law that established the legal framework to protect the Pine Barrens.

"The Long Island Pine Barrens is one of New York's most treasured natural resources. This court victory ensures protection of a unique ecosystem that replenishes the drinking water source for 2.7 million Long Island citizens and is home to many rare species," said Attorney General Spitzer.

The Pine Barrens area protected by the decision is the largest contiguous undeveloped area of pinelands on Long Island. It is all that remains of a vast Pine Barrens ecosystem spread over eastern Long Island, which has been developed over the past 100 years. It contains one of the highest concentrations of rare plant and animal species in New York State including the endangered tiger salamander, the red shouldered hawk, and the globally rare dwarf pitch pine tree. This land area also serves as the recharge area for the Long Island aquifer - the sole source of drinking water for 2.7 million Long Islanders.

Assemblyman Thomas P. DiNapoli, Chairman of the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee and sponsor of the Pine Barrens Protection Act, said: "Attorney General Spitzer has successfully brought about a court decision that affirms the legal foundation of the Pine Barrens Protection Act and articulates its importance in preserving the area's irreplaceable natural resources while protecting property rights. I'm hopeful that this decision will end the costly and lengthy litigation brought by those who seek to thwart the Legislature's efforts to preserve one of the State's most important landscapes and protect the Island's underground water supply."

"As Senate sponsor of the Pine Barrens Protection Act, I am extremely pleased with Judge Platt's decision to uphold this state law," said Senator Kenneth P. LaValle. "The East End is unique to Long Island in that its economy relies heavily on the environment. The Pine Barrens Protection Act has been an invaluable resource to the East End in its ongoing efforts to protect our groundwater, preserve our open space, and protect the habitat for the rare species of the region. The law has also improved the quality of life for East End residents, while protecting the pristine environment on which the East End's tourism industry depends."

After the State Legislature adopted the historic 1993 legislation that established the Long Island Pine Barrens Commission, a coalition of local landowners filed lawsuits claiming that the Pine Barrens protections violated various constitutional rights. Specifically, the property owners claimed that the Pine Barrens law and the subsequent Pine Barrens Land Use Plan violated their due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution. In 1999, Judge Platt dismissed the plaintiff's due process claims, but left pending the equal protection claims which now have been dismissed as well.

In the litigation before Judge Platt, the State and the affected local governments maintained that the state law and land use plan were needed to protect the threatened resources located in the Pine Barrens. The State argued that protecting open space and avoiding urban sprawl were appropriate areas of government land use protections. The litigation spanned six years.

In his decision, Judge Platt found that there was a sound basis for the state law. He agreed that protecting the source aquifer and the unique Pine Barrens ecosystem are legitimate state interests, and that the land conservation plan implemented by the State Legislature furthers those goals.

Specifically, Judge Platt concluded that the Pine Barrens Protection Act promoted the following environmental goals:

  • protection of the largest drinking water source in New York State;
  • preservation of the Pine Barrens' unique and partially endangered ecosystem;
  • promotion of an environmentally sound development and limitation of urban sprawl;
  • planning and facilitating limited controlled fires necessary to protect the Pine Barrens; and
  • safeguarding surface waters in the Pine Barrens.
The case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General John Sipos and Lisa Burianek, Environmental Scientist Jodi Feld, and Paralegal Kim Farrow, of the AG's Environmental Protection Bureau.