Civics want information on
Brookhaven Rail Terminal purchase

Long Island Advance

August 9, 2012  
Story By:  LINDA LEUZZI, Editor

Concerns from residents about the proposed $20 million sale of the former Legacy Village property to Oakland Transportation LLC and Nevada 5 Inc., both applicants from Farmington Hills, Michigan, under the Brookhaven Rail Terminal aegis, were heard loud and clear at the county legislature during Tuesday night’s public hearing.
Nine people came to speak, representing civic groups including Friends of Wertheim president Claire Goad, former Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization president MaryAnn Johnston, Yaphank Taxpayers Civic Organization president Chad Trusnovec and Friends of Wertheim founding member and first president Marty Van Lith, who also helped implement the Great South Bay Estuary Act. “We have lots of questions and the public would like to be better informed,” Van Lith said. “If the county sells it right now as is, we will have no meaningful local input into the zoning.”

The targeted Aug. 21 vote intended to sell the property — 230.8 acres of the old Legacy Village parcel, which included 90 acres of an industrial area under the old Levy plan — has been tabled so that more public hearings can take place, said Legis. Kate Browning’s aide Josh Slaughter. Browning pushed for public meetings with local civics and the Longwood and South Country school districts before the vote was taken. “They won’t be able to take a vote on this until at least Sept. 5,” Slaughter said.
“The nine speakers who came had concerns and questions,” Slaughter said. “Hopefully on Aug. 21 when we have the next public hearing, there will be answers.”
Brookhaven Rail Terminal has been touted by many officials as an asset to the Yaphank area and to Long Island. The premise, reducing the number of long haul trucks off the road via their terminal, a 3.4-mile spur off the Long Island Railroad, an intermodal freight facility, has been championed as an environmental boon because of its shipping potential. Right now, according to BRT, their principal commodity shipped in is crushed stone aggregate. The site is located along the central LIRR main line, the primary artery for LIRR passenger trains operating between eastern Long Island and New York City. It’s also the primary route for the majority of freight customers on Long Island served by the New York & Atlantic Railways.

BRT currently owns 88 acres in Yaphank off Sills Road.

BRT spokesperson Judy White was asked what the plans are for the property.  “They don’t have specific plans at this time,” she answered. “The property was made available and the county contacted the rail company.” Davis indicated with the proposed sale, BRT could expand its rail operations, contiguous to what they own now. When pressed for specifics, Davis said, “This is a purchase of opportunity. There aren’t a lot of people building freight sites on Long Island; it’s less than 1 percent. There’s also a market for refrigerated, climate control warehousing. The need for that is stronger than originally expected.” Davis said $40 million had already been invested and there were inquiries from companies looking to bring in flour from North Dakota, and biofuel from the Midwest. “We’ve been contacted by steel manufacturers and from people in the wind industry.”

Suffolk County planning director Sara Lansdale said that the proposed county property did not include the original residential portion of Legacy Village. “We’re not selling behind the soccer field area,” she said. “We’re selling the industrial part. Three tax lots and a right-of-way. [The property] goes all the way down to Horseblock Road and the northern portion is the Long Island Railroad. It’s the furthest west of the Carmans River.”
Chad Trusnovec, president of the Yaphank Taxpayers Civic Association, who attended Tuesday night’s public hearing, expressed frustration. “We’ve just spent two years going back and forth with the Carmans River watershed study and there’s some protection and now you’re saying they’re going to develop it nearby?” he said. “The county and the town keep pointing fingers at each other. It’s like Moe, Larry and Curly regarding who will take responsibility. They’re [BRT] mining sand at an alarming rate and going down deep.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said the land sale was a complete contradiction in purposes. “This land is less than a mile away from the Carmans River so it will have a profound effect, and we don’t want to go the way of the Forge River,” he said. “The county continues to compromise the environment to produce one-shot revenue sources.”

The selling price was questioned by Councilman Dan Panico. “This is quite a large tract of land, not only in the area, but on an island where a contiguous 230 acres is becoming a rarity,” he said. “At first blush, $20 million sounds low.”

But Lansdale said the county believes the price is fair. “The county worked with a broker and reached out to over 100 potential developers to market this property,” she said of last year’s attempt. “We received a very meager response and none anywhere near the amount of this money. At last week’s Ways and Means committee meeting, the potential buyer described this as a purchase of opportunity, that the land is more valuable to them than to anyone else because of the nearby rail yard.”
Panico and Councilwoman Connie Kepert both expressed environmental concerns about the proximity. “This property is smack dab in the middle of the two-to-five year contributing area of the Carmans River,” Panico said.

Kepert, who was on vacation, wrote in an email, “The Town of Brookhaven is seeking to dedicate $30 million to acquire sensitive lands within the contributing area.” Panico and Kepert pointed out if the county sells the property to a rail terminal operator, the town’s jurisdiction is limited.  Back in 2007 in a U.S. Court of Appeals Declaration, John Turner, then Brookhaven’s director of the Division of Environmental Protection, stated the adjacent property was in a deep flow recharge zone and was ecologically part of the Long Island Pine Barrens.

The county’s Council on Environmental Quality member Mike Kaufman, who supervised the preparation of the county property’s environmental impact statement last year, which was adopted, said overall concerns about its septic flow were untrue. “It won’t be to the east,” he said. “The septic flow for the entire property will flow into a sewage treatment plant, the gold standard. Once it flows into the STP, it’s treated and it has to meet DEC standards because it’s discharged into the groundwater. Once discharged, it flows southeast, not into the fresh water portion of the river. It will flow southeast into the saltwater portion, below Route 27, where it will undergo tidal dispersion, which will heavily limit the impacts.”

Kaufman added the septic flow would undergo two regulatory processes. “It’s subject to the county’s SEQRA analysis and we mandated for the sale to occur it had to have mitigation, so the county mandates and BRT has to hook into [the STP],” he said. “The actual development of the parcel is subject to federal regulation, which means NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act].”

Legis. Rob Calarco said BRT has been contacted by Tropicana Products, Inc. as a possible site to ship orange juice in containers. “And they’ll need a bottling plant,” he said of potential users. “[BRT] mentioned farmers out east looking to ship their produce without having to go through tolls. I’m looking for them to make the commitment that they will abide by town regulations. They have done some things that lead people, including me, to question their operations. They will have to address them before I make my approvals.”