Despite Appeals, Rail Terminal Deal Approved
Homeowners and representatives of lawmakers from Glendale and Middle Village found common ground with some Suffolk County residents in voicing their opposition to the proposed sale of over 250 acres of public land to the operators of the Brookhaven Rail Terminal during a public hearing before the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge last Thursday, Sept. 13.
In the end, however, their opposition went for naught, as the law authorizing the $20 million transaction was overwhelmingly passed by the 18-member legislature later last Thursday. Just two lawmakers representing eastern areas of Suffolk County-Legislators Kate Browning and Edward Romaine-voted against the measure.
The Queens contingent-which included representatives for State Sen. JosephAddabbo and City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) President Robert Holden and Middle Village residents Ed Cataldo and Anthony Pedalino-warned Suffolk County lawmakers that the deal would ultimately lead to an expansion of the Brookhaven Rail Terminal and, subsequently, bring more freight rail traffic to Glendale and Middle Village.
They told the legislature that both Queens neighborhoods are overburdened with noise and rail pollution stemming from freight movement along lines leading into Glendale’s Fresh Pond Railyard, which is reportedly operating at or near full capacity.
“It’s not just affecting your community, but ours” as well, said Pedalino, who lives near the CSX rail line near 69th Place in Middle Village. “We’re living with it now, and it’s only going to get worse.”
As previously reported, the Brookhaven Rail Terminal opened in September 2011 with the goal of transporting more freight (specifically crushed stone aggregate) by rail and taking trucks off the Long Island Expressway and other area roads. The terminal is linked by rail to the Long Island Rail Road’s (LIRR) Greenport and Montauk branches, and all trains heading to and from the Brookhaven terminal must pass through the Fresh Pond Railyard.
Suffolk County entered into a sale contract with Oakland Transportation, the operator of the Brookhaven Rail Terminal, to sell 250 acres of publicly-owned land adjacent to the Yaphank site earlier this year. The deal, which needed the approval of the county’s legislature to move forward, was reportedly negotiated by the office of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone as part of an effort to help the county close a budget gap.
News of the deal prompted Civics United for Railroad and Environmental Solutions (CURES)-a coalition of civic groups in Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village advocating for improvements to freight rail traffic in the area-to send letters to the legislature’s presiding officer, William J. Lindsay, stating their opposition to the deal.
Letters were also sent by lawmakers around Queens and Community Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri urging the Suffolk County Legislature to postpone their vote until the state take actions to improve rail operations at the Fresh Pond Railyard, namely the replacement of high-polluting diesel locomotives with more fuel-efficient engines.
Can’t handle any more
During his testimony before the legislature last Thursday, Cataldo- who also lives near the CSX line in Middle Village which connects to the Fresh Pond Railyard-presented enlarged images of freight cars parked along the line. Many of these containers, he stated, housed putrescible household waste which left nearby residents exposed to foul odors.
Early morning idling and coupling of locomotives along the line also exposes homeowners to noxious diesel fumes, forcing residents to keep their windows closed, Pedalino added. These conditions, he and Cataldo asserted, would only get worse if left unaddressed by the time an expanded Brookhaven Rail Terminal opens for business.
Alex Maureau, representing Addabbo, echoed those sentiments in reading a statement from the state senator. He added that the Fresh Pond Railyard, which covers 15 acres and includes 10 tracks, “cannot handle any more rail traffic” in its current state.
“If this deal goes through, it will jeopardize the health and quality of life of many residents in Queens and Long Island,” Maureau quoted Addabbo, adding that what residents in Glendale and Middle Village living near the rail lines “are going through can only be described as intolerable.”
Addabbo, through Maureau, requested that the deal be postponed “until the existing conditions are mitigated for the sake of my constituents as well as yours.”
Lydon Sleeper, Council Member Crowley’s chief-of-staff, also warned legislators of the legal implications of the sale being approved. Once completed, he stated, any activity conducted by the railroad on the sold land falls under federal regulations in the Interstate Commerce Act and out of the hands of both Suffolk County and the state governments.
He indicated that the law complicated efforts by state and city lawmakers to alleviate problems associated with freight rail traffic.
“You can’t dictate the terms,” Sleeper said. “You are ceding your right to negotiate without including some type of benefit for your constituents.”
Opponents in Suffolk County
Much like their counterparts in Queens, Suffolk County residents speaking at last Thursday’s hearing shared many of the same concerns about the land sale and the impact of a potentially-expanded Brookhaven Rail Terminal.
Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Connie Kepert stated that the terminal, with the newly acquired land, has the potential to grow into the largest intermodal freight rail facility in the United States. Though supporters of the rail terminal argue that it would reduce the amount of truck traffics on local roadways, she asserted that “the enormous expansion … will impact roads and the quality of life in the community.”
She urged the legislator to institute conditions to the sale such as the installation of buffers around the rail terminal, prohibiting access of trucks to local roadways and outlawing the shipment or storage of hazardous and/or solid putrescible waste.
Local activist Adrienne Esposito also criticized the operators of the Brookhaven Rail Terminal for failing to publicize a plan as to what they intend to do with the 250 acres of new land. She and other speakers in attendance pointed out that the terminal operators were previously cited by the state Department of Environmental Conservation for mining sand and burying waste products on site.
“What will they use it for? We don’t know,” she said. “What we don’t know is usually what hurts us the most.” Esposito called the vote on the law “the Judas vote” and asked members of the legislator, “will you betray the public trust for 40 pieces of silver?”
“We have listened for months for the Brookhaven Rail Terminal” to announce its plan for the new land, added Suffolk resident Kathleen Madigan, noting that they have not made clear what they will do with the new land.
“You are opening a Pandora’s box,” she told the legislature. “We elected you to protect our health and welfare. This is a bad deal.”
Rocky Point resident Peter Oleschuuk also took offense to a statement made by Suffolk County Deputy Executive Jon Schneider to Newsday the day before about Queens residents planning to attend last Thursday’s hearing. Schneider was quoted as saying, “Unless those folks from Queens are coming out with a $20 million check for the county, I would suggest they stay home.”
“We love New York, we’re all neighbors,” Oleschuuk commented at last Thursday’s session, calling Schneider’s comment “extortion.”