Supervisor concerned about possible non-permitted wetland work on Poospatuck land

Unkechaug Nation leader blames town for lack of communication and ‘failures’


Suffolk County GIS aerial photos of land within the Unkechaug Nation Poospatuck area, near the juncture of Poospatuck Creek and the Forge River, in Mastic, have been released by Brookhaven Town supervisor Dan Panico, displaying what looks like “filling” of wetlands with concrete and other materials.

The photos, Panico said, show “clear and troubling” leaching into the creek.

“The attached photos show clear evidence of the filling of wetlands with what looks like concrete and other materials that are clearly not permitted by the DEC,” Panico said of his concerns.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said they are currently evaluating the concerns raised by the supervisor, who discovered the activities of Unkechaug Nation members on or adjacent to their reservation lands, to determine any steps to protect public health and the environment. 

Panico, as well as Suffolk County executive Ed Romaine and Legis. James Mazzarella, also relayed the message to New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul in a letter. Upon request for comment, Hochul’s office deferred to the NYS DEC.

According to the letter, these activities show the destruction of regulated tidal wetlands from filling and grading activities, the creation of adverse water-quality impacts to the adjacent coastal waters, namely in the form of sedimentation resulting from fill activities, and the deposition of fill and bulk material of unknown source and material along approximately 165 feet of shoreline.

New York State has designated the area in and around the Poospatuck Reservation as a disadvantaged community, requiring greater care and environmental attention.

Mazzarella, appalled by the situation, cited the time and expense undertaken to save the Forge River, namely by the newly established Forge River Sewer District and taxes paid by local residents.

“As members of a community, we have a social responsibility to each other. Our responsibility extends to the stewardship and care of the environment. Atop that responsibility is the law,” he said. “While I certainly respect the sovereignty of those on the Poospatuck Reservation, the environmental laws of New York State apply and the apparent filling of wetlands with highly questionable materials raises significant concerns.”

“The people of the community have collectively chosen to invest in the health, wellness, and restoration of the Forge River,” he added. “Therefore, to see such an apparent disregard for the wetlands and the creek that leads to the Forge is deeply disturbing. The State of New York must step in here.”

However, according to chief of the Unkechaug Nation, Harry Wallace, neither town nor county representatives have reached out to the nation seeking a solution to any potential issues. He also stated that the nation was not currently doing any work to the shoreline and have reached out to and are working with the NYS DEC to help protect it.

According to the DEC, they have engaged in initial conversations with the Unkechaug Nation earlier this month on concerns raised by the town of Brookhaven regarding activities of nation members on or adjacent to reservation lands. The DEC formally requested consultation with Nation Leadership and through that engagement will determine next steps to protect public health and the environment.

“Once again, we are being scapegoated for the failure of the town and the county to protect our shoreline. They have bulkheaded the areas surrounding our lands, resulting in tremendous erosion to our lands; they are destroying their wetlands and complaining about us,” Wallace said. “The nation has not engaged in destroying our wetlands, and anything going on would be private. The nation is not doing any work on our shoreline other than trying to protect it.”

He also stated that with open discussion and communication, reasonable solutions can be made.

“This town supervisor and county legislator have never spoken to a representative of the nation; they never spoke to our people about a possible direct complaint. [Instead] they send complaints to the news,” he added. “They try to attack us for their failure and we will resist with every fiber of our being. I have protected the rights of this nation for the last 30 years and will as long as I am alive.” 

Wallace also noted that the nation has been a founding member of the Forge River Project and noted that they were “intentionally left out” of the county’s sewer project.

“There are so many wrongs [done] in an attempt to hurt us, and now we are being blamed for something else,” he added. “We get blamed for everything; it is a disgrace to send out this letter without communicating with us.”

Still concerned, Panico, Romaine, and Mazzarella stated that in the absence of mitigation, the erosion/sedimentation activity will continue to occur and could be further exacerbated by future storms.

Panico, Romaine, and Mazzarella implored the governor to help fix the situation, requesting the state’s leadership to determine the extent of the environmental impacts caused by the ongoing sedimentation of the creek; determine the extent of the fill and grading activities and their impact on regulated wetlands; and conduct testing to determine if toxic materials were used for any aspect of the filling and shoreline stabilization work that has been completed. 


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here