On a wooded slope high above Cold Spring Harbor, barely a sound could be heard. Blue strips of sky and the waters below sliced between the bare trees.
Lisa Ott, president of the North Shore Land Alliance, stood on what once was a truck path for the property's farm, feeling more hopeful that the space might stay untouched forever. The nonprofit organization has been awarded a $500,000 state grant to help transform 31 acres of the private property into a public preserve -- which supporters say is critical to protect the harbor's health.
The Town of Huntington, Suffolk County and the Old Westbury-based alliance want to purchase 31 of the 42 acres of the DeForest-Williams estate, with an estimated price tag of $8 million.
Ott said the state grant sends a strong message about the acquisition: that it is "worthy, important and environmentally significant."
Town and county officials lauded the award.
"This grant solidifies the North Shore Land Alliance's participation in the public-private partnership making this very important purchase and demonstrates the state's support of this project," Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said.
"I think this is a great collaborative effort that is good government," said Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport).
The alliance has been working on the preservation effort for about seven years and started collaborating with the county and town in June 2011.
The alliance has raised about $1.2 million -- $625,000 of which it used to purchase a one-year option on the land last summer, a move that followed the town's approval of a 15-lot subdivision on the property last March.
The grant from the most recent regional economic development council contest brings the alliance closer to the $2 million it predicts it needs to raise. Under the current plan, the alliance and town would each pay 25 percent of the property's purchase price and Suffolk would pay the rest.
Ott said an offer was made and extended for 60 days until the estate could provide its own appraisal, which it did in the last few days. The county has 60 days to respond, she said.
If the offer is accepted, the acquisition would have to move through several planning steps, including a title search and survey, and then go to the legislature for final approval.
Ott recalled her feelings as she stood high on that hill, "surrounded by trees with the songs of birds the only noise you could hear."
"I thought about how different it would be if this wonderful, natural world was replaced by another large development, the detrimental impacts such a development would have on the community and the pristine harbor below, and how sad it would be if others could not experience the beauty and the tranquillity we experienced while there."