Featured Story

New Preserve site alarms some neighbors: Officials defend actions

Not for the first time, a resident questioned the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board (CPF) about actions taken at the West Neck Preserve at the corner of Nostrand Parkway and West Neck Road in Silver Beach.

Some see it as a senseless clearing of woods to create a parkland or meadows, the opposite of the natural state they’ve come to value.

Doug Sherrod, who lives in Silver Beach, told the CPF members at Monday’s meeting he had been accustomed to hiking in the area, which now appears to have been “clear cut” and reminds him of a park.

There was a time when CPF money was used to buy and preserve property, but no stewardship efforts were taking place. The current board, led by Chairman Gordon Gooding, has taken steps to examine each acquired site, deciding to leave some sites untouched, but taking steps at others that board members felt required work.

Community Preservation Advisory Board Chairman Gordon Gooding. (Credit: Reporter file photo)

That was the case at the West Neck Preserve, Mr. Gooding said.

Trees in the area would die and had to be removed, he said, while denying the aim is to create a park at the previously wooded area. It was not clear cutting that occurred at the site, he said, but an effort to restore the property. Had the land not been preserved, it could have been purchased by a developer who could have built three houses on the site, he said. There was no intent to damage wildlife and he predicted as the site develops, wildlife that lived in the forested area will return.

Tim Purtell, a CPF Board member, chairman of the town’s Green Options Committee and a leader of the Friends of Trees, said native shrubs will be planted. Member Kathleen Gerard said birds and insects will find a home there.

Supervisor Gerry Siller said he doesn’t think anything done at the site was “radical.” The efforts were not to replace non-native plantings at the site but to remove “invasives” that would choke out growth of other trees, shrubs and plants.

“It wasn’t a clear cut,” Mr. Siller said. “All that was done was improvement of the property,” he said.

“We’re not looking for a manicured park,” Mr. Gooding said.

The property was loaded with debris that people had tossed there and that had to be cleaned up, Town Engineer Joe Finora said.

The members appealed to neighbors to allow time for the site to be completed. Mr. Gooding offered to meet with Mr. Sherrod and any others to show what has been done, what’s planned and to listen to ideas neighbors might have.

Resident Bert Waife has notified the Reporter that no permits were issued to allow either removal of a house on the site or clearing of any trees there.

Supervisor Gerry Siller raised the topic at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting that inquiries were made to state officials prior to any work at the site and was told a permit would only be needed for construction, not reclamation of a site. What was done there was to remove invasives and trees that were dying and the house was removed, but there are no plans to replace it.

This spring, the site will be re-vegetated.

Town Engineer Joe Finora said the work there was “selectively targeting invasive species” that destroy plantings native to the area. Sandra O’Connor, whose family owned the site for several generations, said she’s been fielding calls from area neighbors complaining about what they saw as clear cutting at the site and suggested town officials might put out an artist’s drawing of what the site will look like when work is completed.

Craig Wood, who is a town assessor and outdoor enthusiast, said there are two schools of thinking about land preservation. One is “don’t touch anything” on acquired land. Another, to which he subscribes, is to be able to use the open spaces and preserve them by removing invasives and opening up areas to hikers and others who want to enjoy preserved sites.

Mr. Waife said he heard there were turtles killed at the site as a result of heavy machinery brought in to take down the trees and questioned the cost of Public Works Department staff handling the work. Although he asked if the job was put out to bid, it would not be if it could be done in house, since those workers are already on the payroll. Up to 10% of money the CPF receives for land acquisition can be used for work on sites and ongoing maintenance, according to Mr. Gooding.

Because the equipment used belongs to the town, there was no charge for that and so CPF paid an hourly charge for the workers.

Mr. Waife asked if the CPF could use funds for stewardship purposes. Ongoing maintenance of sites is in the hands of the CPF; they use volunteers who keep an eye on preserved properties.