Attorney General James and Pine Barrens Commission Announce Agreement With Landscaping Supplier for Illegally Destroying Protected Land on Long Island

Stephen Affatato and His Company Affa Organics Will Restore the Impacted Area of the Pine Barrens They Destroyed and Pay $100,000 Penalty
Pine Barrens Are Home to Long Island’s Primary Natural Source of Fresh Drinking Water

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James and the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission (Pine Barrens Commission) Executive Director Judith Jakobsen today announced a settlement with Stephen Affatato and his company Affa Organics, Inc. (Affa Organics), a landscaping supply business, for illegally removing trees and vegetation from the Pine Barrens, protected land on Long Island. The Pine Barrens are located on top of Long Island’s largest source of drinking water, and their preservation is necessary to ensure residents’ access to clean water. Affatato destroyed acres of this land by bulldozing and excavating soil, cutting down trees, and clearing natural ground cover, harming the Pine Barrens’ delicate ecosystem. As a result of this agreement, Affatato will pay a civil penalty of $100,000, and is required to fully restore the site. Affatato will be required to pay an additional $200,000 if he fails to complete the site restoration.  

“Long Island’s Pine Barrens are among New York’s most precious natural resources, and their protection is paramount to the health of Long Island’s drinking water and our shared environment,” said Attorney General James. “Stephen Affatato ignored the law and destroyed protected land for his own benefit, and now he must repair the damage and restore the area. I want to thank the Pine Barrens Commission for their continued partnership in protecting this critical natural resource on Long Island and ensuring it is preserved for generations to come.”

“One of the most important aspects of our work at the Central Pine Barrens Commission is protecting lands preserved by municipalities with taxpayer dollars so all Suffolk residents as well as visitors can fully appreciate all the region has to offer,” said Pine Barrens Commission Executive Director Jakobsen. “The tremendous efforts of Attorney General James and her office to bring this case to a close demonstrates that she is fully on board with this priority, and for that, we cannot thank her enough.”

The Long Island Central Pine Barrens is a 106,000-acre natural area in Suffolk County that is home to some of New York’s greatest ecological diversity, including many endangered or threatened animal and plant species. In 1993, New York adopted the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act, which established the Pine Barrens Commission to safeguard the Pine Barrens and develop and oversee a comprehensive land use plan for the area. This plan designated 55,000 acres of the Pine Barrens as a core preservation area and specified that any entity seeking to engage in development activities such as clearing, excavation, or construction in the area must apply for and receive a waiver from the Pine Barrens Commission.

In October 2012, Affatato and his company, Affa Organics, destroyed conserved property in the Pine Barrens that did not belong to him. Affatato did not obtain a waiver before removing trees, vegetation, and natural ground cover, and excavating and bulldozing soil into huge piles the property. These violations were observed by Pine Barrens Commission staff on a site visit to the property.

This agreement resolves ongoing litigation regarding the clean-up and restoration of the site. As a result of the agreement, Affatato will implement and pay for a complete site restoration plan, including soil excavation, deer fencing, site grading, replanting of native plant species, sediment and erosion control, and monitoring and reporting, among other requirements. Affatato will also pay a civil penalty of $100,000 and provide $200,000 in the form of a bond or other financial security that must be paid if Affatato fails to follow or complete the site restoration plan. 

Attorney General James and Executive Director Jakobsen would like to thank the Town of Brookhaven, which issued a Notice of Violation in 2012 and was instrumental throughout the case.

“Suffolk County’s Pine Barrens ensure the drinking water for its 1.5 million residents,” said State Senator Monica R. Martinez. “I hope this agreement will send a ripple through the notion that these vast lands can be defiled without consequence.  Thank you, Attorney General James, for holding those who threaten our water supply and our natural resources by impugning the integrity of the Pine Barrens, accountable.”

“Nearly 30 years ago, I helped shape the Pine Barrens Protection Act, pledging to safeguard Long Island's Pine Barrens,” said Assemblymember Fred W. Thiele, Jr. “Today's settlement underscores the commitment to holding accountable those who harm our environment and preserving our natural resources.”

“We should all be grateful that Attorney General Letitia James has wisely used her discretion to protect Suffolk’s sole source of drinking water, said Suffolk County Legislator Steven Engelbright. “Her actions to prevent the criminal despoliation of the Pine Barrens are a necessary and timely warning to all who would destroy the ancient trees that stand as sentinels guarding our purest ground water source area.”  

This matter was handled for the Pine Barrens Commission by Executive Director Judith Jakobsen, Science and Stewardship Program Manager Polly Weigand, and Counsel John Milazzo. 

This matter was handled for OAG by Assistant Attorney General Mihir A. Desai and Section Chief Elizabeth Morgan of the Environmental Protection Bureau under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.