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Friday, July 12, 2024

LI Life and Politics: Call for Trains to Haul Waste off Long Island

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By Hank Russell

A group of local elected officials and union leaders converged at Brookhaven Town Hall on June 14 to call on the state Legislature, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Kathy Hochul (D) to bring rail access to a parcel located across the street from the Brookhaven landfill on Horseblock Road. The group said shipping waste off Long Island by rail would save money and the environment, reduce truck traffic and solve the region’s solid waste crisis.


Brookhaven Town Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Center Moriches) said the rail access issue has been “hijacked” and “not covered by the media,” adding, “Rail access has always been relegated to Parcel D.”


Panico said the parcel is currently not zoned for a waste transfer station. In order to get the zoning change, the Town Board would have to approve it. Some said they “would run to” the Federal Service Transportation Board and seek to override local zoning. “The Town Board has shown time and time again that we will not be a rubber stamp for anyone,” he said.


This is a critical issue not only to Brookhaven but to the entire region,” said Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R-West Islip). “This initiative for rail access goes a long way.”


“We need a state-of-the-art rail terminal to get refuse and C&D (construction and demolition material) off our Island,” added Matt Aracich, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties. “It’s not a matter of politics, This is not Suffolk versus Nassau or state versus the region. … Make it so it’s an economic issue for the region.”


If the landfill closes and no rail service is available, Aracich said, then there will be more diesel trucks on the road. “There will be more traffic on the roads,” he said. “More traffic means more emissions. More traffic means more time, and that’s the biggest problem that we have; we’re congested as it is.”


Building the terminal would create 3,000 jobs “and that’s the economic development we’re looking for,” Aracich said. “This is something that’s going to move Long Island forward.”


SMART Chairman Andrew Simon was more direct. “I see this [rail access terminal] as a no-brainer,” he said. “The safest way to move this [waste] material is by train. It’s the safest way to get trucks off the road and to make sure we have jobs is by train. … I’m surprised we’re even having this discussion.”


Simon said this terminal will mean an increase in employment and a growing economy. “The East End economy is growing,” he said. “Why aren’t we growing with it?”


According to Panico, without a rail system after the landfill’s closure, it will result in an increase in illegal dumping, increased construction and renovation costs, and devolving traffic conditions in the form of tens of thousands of additional commercial truck trips as a result of the need to drive C&D off-island.


A rail system would “take tens of thousands of trucks off the roads,” Long Island Builders Institute Chairman Mike Florio said. He noted that Long Islanders already face a high cost of living and traffic on the roadways. By not allowing the railway system to be built, “it will drive up … costs.”


Chris Valsamos of Hauppauge Industrial Association also spoke. “This will not only alleviate the logistical burdens but it will enhance economic efficiency, make Long Island more attractive and invite new businesses as well as retain businesses that are still here. … This job growth will mean … greater economic prosperity to our community.”


Rail systems would be more fuel-efficient, said HIA, adding that 100 tons of waste can be transported by rail freight over 500 miles on one gallon of gas. New York State Senator Mario Mattera (R-St. James) said only 1% of all waste is currently being shipped via rail. Meanwhile, 200,000 trucks are on the road each year.


“This is a necessity, this is a must,” Mattera said of the rail system. He also noted the landfill’s closure has been extended by two years to 2026 and that “we can’t be kicking the can down the road” when it comes to the solid waste crisis.


He also called for environmental groups to support the cause because if there is no regional rail system, that means more trucks and more pollution.


“We got the property to do this,” Mattera said. “Let’s get it done.”


Brookhaven Highway Superintendent and former New York State Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) remembers the “dysfunction and institutional inertia” in Albany.


“This [rail system] makes perfect sense,” Losquadro said. “It’ll accomplish our environmental goals, it’ll accomplish our economic goals.”


He pointed out the traffic that motorists experience on the Cross Bronx Expressway and crossing the George Washington Bridge because the Bronx-Queens Expressway can no longer handle the stress of the truck traffic. “If someone [outside Long Island] saw what we had to experience [on the roads], they’d be mortified,” he said.


“We are here to say, in no uncertain terms, this must happen now.” Losquadro said, “The later we start, the further out we are.”


Panico called out the media again. “They have to find who stands to benefit from this project not getting done,” he said. “The money’s not going to come from our [elected officials’] pockets. It’s coming from the pockets of the businesses and the taxpayers that we represent, That is the unavoidable conclusion that we will arrive at if this [project] does not occur.”


He does not understand why this project is being held up in Albany, “if perhaps they didn’t care about the environment or perhaps they were doing it to stifle competition”


If the resolution fails, Panico said, Parcel D will not become a rail-based waste transfer station, but rather a diesel-served truck warehouse covering “hundreds of thousands of square feet” across the street from the landfill.


“We are going to push our state delegation to get this done. It’s not going to die today.”


For more from Hank Russell or Steve Levy of Long Island Life and Politics, visit: www.lilifepolitics.com