Photo above – The proposed site of the Kings Park Railyard (Credit – Surface Transportation Board)

Perhaps the most heavily discussed and debated municipal Smithtown issue is that of the Kings Park Railyard, an initiative that hopes to facilitate waste and construction debris disposal off Long Island. The project has an additional sense of urgency due to the impending closure of the Brookhaven landfill later this year.

However, the project has gained opposition from some members of the community, who cite environmental concerns, neighborhood characteristics, and quality of life as their primary reasons.

The project, proposed by Carlson Corporation, aims to establish a freight yard off the Port Jefferson rail line by Fort Salonga, Commack, East Northport, and Kings Park by Townline and Pulaski roads promises some economic growth and increased job opportunities for the region. It also will assist in transporting ash that is currently sent to Brookhaven’s Landfill prior to its closure in the future. Proponents of the project, including members of the Town Board, argue that it is the first of many steps in a multi-year process to get rid of waste out of the Town of Smithtown.

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R-Kings Park) wrote in a letter to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) previously that “The town is supportive of Townline’s petition because there is mounting pressure on towns and villages due to the anticipated 2024 closing of the Town of Brookhaven’s Yaphank landfill facility. Smithtown’s residential and commercial solid waste and residential construction debris (“C&D”) is currently disposed of at the Brookhaven landfill. Smithtown’s solid waste is converted to ash at the Covanta waste-to-energy facility which then delivers the ash to the Brookhaven landfill. Alternative means of disposal and carting of C&D and ash off Long Island will be mandatory soon for municipal and non-municipal waste facilities.”

However, not all residents share this optimistic outlook. Many express deep-seated concerns regarding the potential negative impacts on their daily lives, citing safety concerns and the environment. Chief among these concerns is increased noise and air pollution from freight operations, heightened traffic congestion on local roads, and potential environmental degradation due to increased industrial activity. Many residents stated they moved to the area for its quiet, residential character and worry about the impact this will also have on their home values and quality of life in their homes and neighborhoods.

Environmental and safety concerns also loom large in the opposition’s arguments. Critics fear that the freight yard could lead to air and water pollution, posing health risks to nearby residents and wildlife including asthma in children. Furthermore, worries about potential accidents involving freight trains and trucks carrying hazardous materials have fueled anxiety among those living close to the proposed site. Many acknowledge this site is necessary but are not pleased with the location choice.

Despite these apprehensions, supporters of the Town Board’s decision point to stringent regulatory measures and ongoing assessments that will accompany the project. They argue that modern technologies and regulatory oversight will mitigate potential risks and ensure the project operates in harmony with the community and environment. Additionally, proponents highlight the economic benefits that could accrue from the freight yard, such as job creation and increased tax revenue, which they believe will strengthen Smithtown’s fiscal health and support local infrastructure improvements.

The STB is a federal agency tasked with regulating and deciding disputes regarding railroad projects, rates, mergers, and line sales, in addition to other transportation concerns.

The STB’s Office of Environmental Analysis recently issued its Final Environmental Assessment for the project. In November 2022, Townline filed a petition seeking the STB’s approval for the project.

The proposed line would add 5,000 feet of new rail off the LIRR line. It would also add two daily New York Atlantic Railway (NYA) trains to the LIRR line five days per week. NYA facilitates freight rail service on the LIRR line alongside passenger trains.

As Smithtown prepares for the next phase of the Carlson Corp Freight Yard Project, both supporters and opponents are gearing up for continued dialogue and engagement. The Town Board’s decision marks a pivotal moment in Smithtown’s development trajectory, where the delicate balance between economic progress, pragmatic solutions and community well-being hangs in the balance.

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