State officials announced Friday that they have reached a $5 million deal with local resident Gene Smith to purchase his nearly 100-acre parcel of property in Middle Island known as Gene’s Four Seasons.
Mr. Smith, a Yaphank resident and Vietnam veteran who has earned four Purple Hearts, said the majority of the sale to the state will go toward his effort to help homeless veterans. When asked how he felt about the deal, Mr. Smith said he felt “relief.”
“Now I can do what I wanted to do and that is to help out the veterans,” he said.
The process hasn’t been easy for Mr. Smith, who originally wanted to turn the wooded land, located on the north side of East Bartlett Road, into a camp ground when he purchased it in 1984.
Due to various zoning issues, and the land being declared part of the Pine Barrens Core Preservation area, Mr. Smith has been trying to sell the property for preservation since the 1990s. But due to the economic downturn, many of those deals fell through, he said.
Mr. Smith’s attorney, Kenneth A. Auerbach, said a deal was almost reached about two years ago, but it too fell through after the state removed $50 million out of the Environmental Protection Fund.
“The state would have been absolutely crazy not to have bought this parcel,” said state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens. “What a great way to celebrate Earth Day.”
The parcel is the largest remaining privately-owned parcel in the core preservation area of the Long Island Pine Barrens.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko said it is “a vital piece of open space in the Carmans River Watershed.” The town is currently working on a plan to protect and preserve the waterway.
“Today is a major step forward of protecting a jewel of a resource known as the Carmans River,” Mr. Lesko said.